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Education Lab is a project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

May 8, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Learning in two languages boosts student achievement, study says

In our ever-global world, more and more parents want their children to be fluent in more than one language. Dozens of public schools in Washington state offer classes where teachers spend part of the day speaking English, and part speaking another language — usually Spanish or Chinese.

For English-speaking students, one benefit is the chance to become fluent in a second language at a young age. The benefits for non-English speakers in such programs might even be greater.

Last week, researchers at Stanford University released yet another study that backs the value of the dual-language approach.

Over 10 years, the researchers tracked about 18,000 English-language learners in San Francisco and found that, by middle school, students in dual-language programs outperformed those in English-only programs on a number of tests. The dual-language students even did better than those in bilingual programs where students got some support in their native language.

Students in English-only classes had the highest scores in early elementary grades, researchers said, but the students in dual-language classes caught up a few years later, then passed them.

The results should douse fears that dual-language programs handicap students, they said.

“A lot of people worry that students in bilingual and dual immersion programs might never catch up, but this study shows convincingly that they do catch up and, in many ways, outperform their peers over time,” said Sean Reardon, one of the researchers, in a prepared release.

That runs counter to the views of California voters who, back in 1998, essentially banned bilingual education in their state. The only way San Francisco schools could offer bilingual instruction was to get parents to sign waivers.

In Seattle, educators say the value of dual immersion programs has been shown in a number of other studies, too, as well as some of the district’s own data.

In Seattle, for example, Latino students in the dual-language program at Concord International pass state tests at a higher rate than those who are in the school’s regular classrooms — especially in math.

In all, Seattle Public Schools has four dual-immersion programs, and Bellevue School District has a number, too, including the recently expanded Jing Mei Elementary.

The Stanford researchers think dual immersion works best because students who are learning English learn a lot not just from the teacher, but also their English-speaking peers, and they don’t fall behind academically because they get instruction in their native language while they’re learning English.

Comments | More in News | Topics: dual-language programs, English as a second language, Jing Mei Elementary


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