Report: What are we doing to Middle School English Learners? Findings and recommendations for change from a study of California EL Programs: Researh Report


STUDENTS: English Language Learners


Walqui, A., Koelsch, N., Hamburger, L., Gaarder, D., Insaurrald, A., Schmida, M., Weiss, S., and Estrada, P.






This two-phase research project, conducted by WestEd and funded by the William and Flora Hewlett
Foundation, aims irst to map the current landscape of programs and interventions for English Learners in
districts in California with the highest percentage of ELs in their schools, and then to contextualize through
case studies what happens at the middle school and classroom levels.
The irst phase of the study presents a broad picture of the education of English Learners in California middle
schools. In this phase, the study focused on how districts translate state mandates for the education of English
Learners, and, in turn, how schools reinterpret district guidelines for site implementation.
In the second phase, study researchers investigated the speciic instructional context of middle schools
through case studies of ive middle schools that were selected by triangulation of student data (substantially
higher than average EL performance on standardized measures), survey responses, and district nominations.
A key goal for this phase was to inspire school change by providing descriptions of promising approaches.
What researchers found in the case study schools, however, was a need to identify as well elements of EL
instructional programs that need to be changed or strengthened. The hope is to contribute to more informed
decisions in the future for improving the education of English Learners.
This report is organized by into ive sections. Section I describes salient issues in the ield of educating
adolescent English Learners, with a particular emphasis on the education of English Learners in California
middle schools. Section II describes the study methodology, including the criteria and processes for selection
of schools, data collection, and limitations of the research design for both phases of the study. Section III
presents study indings for Phase 1. Phase 1 indings address coherence of middle school programs for English
Learners within and across districts and schools and the degree to which school practices are consonant
with district policies. Phase 2 indings are presented in Section IV. These indings cut across individual case
studies, addressing key issues in school culture and leadership, academic pathways for ELs, and teaching and
learning practices that are promising as well as those that relect tensions in the literature on the education of
adolescent English Learners. Enduring challenges in the education of English Learners and recommendations
for practice and research comprise Section V. Appendices include the full individual case studies represented
in the cross-case analyses and the research protocols for both phases of the study.
It is hoped that policy makers, other education decision makers, and practitioners will ind recommendations
from both phases of this study useful as they consider ways to strengthen and reform the education of middle
school English Learners.


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