With More Exposure to Science, English-Learners’ Achievement Soared

By Corey Mitchell — January 19, 2017 2 min read
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Integrating innovative science courses and English-language instruction can dramatically boost student achievement and test scores in the sciences, along with reading, and writing, according to a new study from the Oakland, Calif.-based Education Trust West.

The report, “Unlocking Learning: Science as a Lever for English Learner Equity,” explored how six districts, ranging from rural to urban and all with sizable English-learner populations, taught science to the students.

The curriculum in each district was aligned to the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of common science standards adopted by states that emphasize scientific inquiry along with engineering and design, and prioritize experimentation over memorization. The study notes that conducting experiments in teams forces ELL students to communicate, allowing them to practice their problem-solving and English-language skills at the same time. The researchers also noted that many key science vocabulary words are Spanish cognates, which means they’re accessible to Spanish-speakers who have a base of science knowledge in their native language.

To better prepare teachers to serve as science teachers for ELLs, the districts teamed up with science education institutions, including the Lawrence Hall of Science at the University of California, Berkeley and the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco, to access in-person and virtual training sessions.

The results were stark, with some of the districts seeing meteoric test score increases. As a result of the revamped curricula, many ELLs performed just as well, and sometimes better than, their native-English speaking peers on standardized science exams. They also outperformed English-learners at schools that offered few or no science classes for ELLs, sometimes scoring two to three times higher on tests than high-achieving peers who didn’t have access to the new courses.

The Education Trust West analysis argues that the progress made in the six districts offers hope to other school systems where ELLs, who represent roughly one in five students in California, are struggling with science instruction.

Across the state, many of the million-plus English-learners don’t have access to high-quality science courses. In places where native English speakers do, their ELLs peers often miss out because they’re referred for more English instruction, forcing them to miss content-based courses such as science and social studies.

Here’s a look at the report.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.