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San Francisco's bilingual programs as effective as English only, study finds (features research by Sean Reardon)

March 17, 2014
Education Week
English language learners in San Francisco Unified School District's bilingual programs show similar rates of English fluency in fifth grade as those taught in English-only classrooms.
Lesli A. Maxwell

By the time they reach 5th grade, English-language learners in San Francisco's public schools were equally proficient in English regardless of whether they had been in a bilingual program or had received all their instruction in English, a recent study from Stanford University researchers has found.

Though ELLs who were in bilingual education programs in San Francisco lagged in the earlier grades, they also scored similarly on the state's academic tests and had virtually the same rates of reclassification to English-fluent status by 5th grade as their ELL peers who were in the district's English-immersion program.

One notable exception: By 5th grade, higher numbers of Latino ELLs in bilingual programs reached the "mid-basic" level of achievement on the state's English/language arts exam than their Latino ELL peers in English-immersion. Mid-basic is a score of 325 on the state's former ELA exam (out of 600 points) and was the required minimum score to be considered for reclassification to English-proficient status, among other criteria. (California this year is not giving its old state tests as it transitions to the common-core aligned tests designed by Smarter Balanced.)

These results shedding light on the effectiveness of four distinct instructional programs offered to ELLs in the San Francisco district come just as there's growing momentum to repeal California's 15-year-old restrictions on bilingual education in public schools. For years, debates over the most effective methods of English-language instruction have often gotten snarled in political and ideological disagreements.

The study—commissioned by the San Francisco district and conducted by Sean Reardon at Stanford—compared the progress of English-learners as they moved from kindergarten through elementary grades and into middle school by looking at their scores on California's annual English-language proficiency tests, the rates at which they were reclassified as English-fluent, and their scores on state exams. The study also looked at the differences in effectiveness between the district's two largest groups of ELLs: Chinese speakers and Spanish speakers.

Read the full story in Education Week.

Read an article about San Francisco Unified's bilingual programs in SFGATE.

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