Characteristics of bilingual programs with high-achieving students

iStock_000018120666XSmallHigh-achieving bilingual students were studied recently by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) funded by the U. S. Department of Education. Researchers Maria Robledo Montecel and Josie Danini Cortez identified 10 bilingual programs whose students met high achievement goals on standardized tests.

The schools were located in elementary and secondary schools and Title 1 and Title 7 schools in Texas, Oregon, Illinois, Utah, Florida, Massachusetts, California, New York and Washington, D.C. They ranged in size from 219 to 1,848 students and included instruction in Spanish, English, Russian and Navajo. The 10 participating schools had similar profiles, including high-poverty, high average attendance, high percentage of bilingual students, low retention and dropout rates, and few migrant students.

In these schools bilingual students were adequately represented in gifted programs and not overrepresented in special education programs.

Characteristics of effective programs

These successful bilingual programs were similar in many ways.

  • They were grounded in an enriched rather than a remedial instructional model. Initial reading instruction was always provided in the student’s native language, with English literacy usually being introduced in third grade. The majority of the administrative and teaching staff in these schools were proficient in two languages, allowing for open communication between the school personnel and the students and families. Students in these schools did not leave bilingual programs until they demonstrated full English proficiency in reading and writing, and grade-level achievement in all content areas.
  • All adults — administrators, staff, teachers, parents and community leaders — were well informed of the rationale for bilingual education and shared a commitment to it. While leadership styles varied, all leaders demonstrated total and unwavering commitment to their students’ achievement and to the bilingual program. There was open and frequent communication between principal, faculty and staff as well as involvement of faculty and staff with the community.
  • The school’s vision was published and disseminated throughout the school and community. Its expectations for students’ achievement were clear, and all adults, including language-minority parents could state the purpose of the school’s program in their own words.
  • Bilingual parents experienced validation and respect in the classrooms, regardless of their social or economic backgrounds. The integration of the community culture with the school environment made an enormous impression on the parents and stimulated them to be involved in the school.
  • Rigorous academic standards applied to all students. Assessment was frequent and was used for diagnostic purposes. It included measures in the students’ native language, and all tests were aligned with the approved curriculum standards.
  • Teachers supported and learned from one other through weekly team planning and team teaching. For example, regular teachers worked closely with bilingual teachers to identify content area vocabulary to be studied. This intensive communication, coupled with alignment across the curriculum and assessments, resulted in a well-articulated instructional plan.
  • The curriculum in these effective bilingual programs reflects and values the students’ culture and adheres to high academic standards. Teachers were willing to do whatever it took to enable students to reach these goals. They valued diversity and knew how to create an environment that is accepting and inclusive.

Researchers at the IDRA believe these characteristics can serve to guide teachers and administrators in the ongoing assessment and improvement of their bilingual education programs.

“Successful Bilingual Educational Programs: Development and the Dissemination of Criteria to Identify Promising and Exemplary Practices in Bilingual Educational at the National Level,” Bilingual Research Journal,Volume 26, Number 1, Spring 2002, pp. 1-27.

Published in ERN September 2002 Volume 15 Number 6

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