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Bilingual-Education Column

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Language-minority children who are immersed in English instruction appear far more likely than those taught mostly in their native language to enter mainstream classrooms by 7th grade, according to a study of children in El Paso schools.

By 6th grade, the schools mainstreamed 99 percent of those limited-English-proficient students who had been educated mainly in English after entering 1st grade.

Of L.E.P students taught mostly in their native language, however, 35 percent remained in transitional bilingual programs at the end of 7th grade, the researchers found.

The study was commissioned by Research in English Acquisition and Development Inc., an independent organization in Washington that has issued other reports critical of native-language instruction.

"In a time of tightening school budgets, the data argue that transitional bilingual education may not be the most cost- effective way to educate language-minority children,'' asserted a READ press release on the report.

The researchers compared L.E.P students taught in immersion programs with those taught in transitional bilingual programs, in which, during their first four or five years of school, most of the instruction was conducted in Spanish and 60 to 90 minutes a day were set aside for English-language instruction.

The researchers examined the two groups' performance in grades 4 through 7 in language, reading, mathematics, and vocabulary on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills.

The study found that students whose teachers used transitional methods were not better off academically than those whose teachers used immersion.

In fact, 4th-grade students in immersion programs tended to outscore their peers in transitional programs, although this gap in performance disappeared by 7th grade.

When it came to an area not measured by the basic-skills test, the development of oral-English fluency and capacity, 74 percent of immersion teachers and just 36 percent of transitional teachers felt their programs were successful, according to the study.

Despite their especially high poverty rates, Hmong refugees appear to be learning English as quickly as other groups, according to a researcher who extensively studied 125 Hmong households in the Green Bay, Wis., area.

Ray Hutchison, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Wisconsin in Green Bay, said about 70 percent of Hmong children born here use English as their primary language.

Hmong parents appear to have some regrets in pushing their children to learn English, however, because the Hmong language has a central role in their religion and culture, Mr. Hutchison said.--P.S.

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