Closing the educational gap between children who are learning English and those who are native speakers is the goal of researchers in the College of Education and Human Development (CEHD) at Texas A&M University, and the U.S. Department of Education (ED) has awarded a $16.3 million grant to the university to help accomplish that goal.
The grant, known as the Investing in Innovation Fund, rewards institutions with a record of improving student achievement and includes an investment from ED of $14.82 million and private sector funds of $1.48 million.
Based on the research of Rafael Lara-Alecio and Fuhui Tong, Texas A&M professor and assistant professor of educational psychology, respectively, in a five-year longitudinal randomized trial study called English Language Learning and Acquisition (ELLA), the grant will allow researchers to validate intervention efforts and determine the degree of impact on English acquisition and comprehension.
Texas A&M President R. Bowen Loftin cited the program as an excellent example of the university providing leadership in a vital area, noting that “teaching the acquisition of the English language and literacy acquisition are foundational, essential skills to success in school and life.”
He said the program will improve the intervention with children by preparing teachers to work more effectively with them.
“Our students will be actively engaged in the conduct of this research and intervention program,” Loftin added. “We are preparing and facilitating the development of leaders within the educational fields, as they are actively engaged in the research and evaluation activity.”
Lara-Alecio is the principal investigator and program director for the validation program, ELLA-V. “After years of research, we are so glad to move ahead with the ELLA-V stage of our program,” he said. “We have the support of more than 25 districts across Texas and we feel this program will have a positive impact on thousands of children across the state.”
The program is estimated to impact more than 600 teachers and 15,000 students across the state over the next five years.
The validation stage of the program, now underway, will be implemented over the next five years. ELLA-V will validate intervention methods used at each of the four grade levels of kindergarten through third grade (K-3).
Texas A&M was one of eight awardees to be selected from 727 nationwide applications. CEHD Dean Douglas Palmer expressed his support and appreciation of the faculty who are working on this project.
“These faculty are engaged in research that will have a positive impact on the education of students in Texas and can serve as a national model,” said Palmer. “This program builds off years of ongoing research in the area of English acquisition and affords the opportunity to close the achievement gap between English learners and their native English-speaking classmates.”
The original research provides promising insight to K-3rd grade intervention in English language learners. ELLA-V aims to bridge the gap for students with a lower level of English proficiency.
Partnering with Lara-Alecio and Tong is Beverly Irby, a professor at Sam Houston State University. A team comprised of Bob Slavin and Alan Cheung from Johns Hopkins University will evaluate program progress and findings.
The grant comes at a time when more than 830,000 Texas students were English language learners in the 2010-2011 school year. If successful, the statistics also provide the framework for a national upscale of the project. English language learners comprise more than 21 percent of enrollment within schools across America, of which 79 percent are Spanish-speaking.
A successful foundation in English has a direct correlation with achievement in other subjects as well, officials noted.
“What we have found, and what we have always assumed, is that successful English acquisition leads to higher grades in math and science, among other areas of learning,” said Lara-Alecio.
A number of graduate and undergraduate students at Texas A&M will also have an opportunity to work on this state and national leadership project. Palmer noted, “This engagement of our students in this research project reflects the mission of the college to prepare the next generation of leaders who will transform lives.”
“We can’t think of a better way to serve the citizens of Texas than to provide and test best practices in classrooms across the state in a very rigorous and scientific manner,” said Lara-Alecio. “We are serving future generations of learners in Texas and, as findings are validated, are ready to expand further into applications across the United States.”
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