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Research & Reports

Early (Pre-K)

English Language Learners: Boosting Academic Achievement

Author: American Educational Research Association

Summary: With nearly one in twelve public school children receiving special assistance to learn English, researchers are investigating effective ways to teach English literacy and boost academic achievement for ELLs. This American Educational Research Association brief estimates that with explicit phonics instruction and frequent assessment, young ELLs can master the basics of English literacy. To sustain academic achievement, vocabulary and comprehension strategies must continue to develop in a structured, supported, and inclusive learning environment.

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Tags: Bilingual Instruction; Bilingualism / Biliteracy; Comprehension; Fluency; Instructional Programs; Language Proficiency; Phonics; Phonological Awareness; Placement; Spelling; Transfer of Literacy Skills; Vocabulary;

Target Population: Preschool, Elementary

Research Questions the Report Poses: In spite of the debate over bilingual versus English-only education, the fundamental question remains: What are the best ways to teach English literacy to English language learners, and what rate of achievement in English is realistic to expect?


  • ELLs need the same kind of reading instruction that works for native speakers, more of it, and they need to be watched carefully so they get help adjusted to their language development needs as soon as they encounter problems;
  • ELL students can learn basic English reading skills in two years, but their chances of falling behind later in school are greater than native English speaking children;
  • There is no evidence that the extra teaching that ELLs need can be effectively offered in "pullout" programs that are not closely integrated with the main literacy program;
  • ELLs benefit from lengthening the school day and/or year; and
  • ELLs need teachers who can deliver reading instruction shown to be most effective, and these teachers need intensive professional development

Policy Recommendations:

  • Give English language learners extra time and instruction in literacy, either through longer school days or extended years;
  • Assign the best teachers to English learners and provide professional development in effective teaching strategies;
  • Use proven techniques for teaching basic word recognition skills, including phonics and phonological awareness;
  • Provide lots of practice reading and frequent assessments to pinpoint children's reading strengths and weaknesses;
  • Provide structured academic conversation, built around books and other subject matter activities to build vocabulary and comprehension; and
  • Provide several years of intensive, high-quality instruction to help students master the vocabulary, comprehension, and oral language skills that will make them fully fluent in speaking, reading, and writing English.

Resnick, L.B., Ed. (2004). English Language Learners: Boosting Academic Achievement. Research Points, 2(1). American Educational Research Association: Washington DC.

Getting Ready for Reading: Early Phoneme Awareness and Phonics Teaching Improves Reading and Spelling in Inner-city Second Language Learners

Author: M. Stuart

Summary: Previous studies demonstrate that phoneme awareness training, particularly when combined with letter–sound teaching, results in improved reading and spelling development. This study builds upon those findings by including children learning English as a second language, who have typically been excluded from previous studies.

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Tags: Instructional Programs; Phonics; Phonological Awareness;

Target Population: Preschool, Elementary

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • Is it possible to accelerate phonemic awareness and skills in ELL children by using a specified whole class teaching procedure ("Phonics Handbook") for 12 weeks during the first year of formal schooling?
  • If so, does this acceleration lead to more successful development of reading and spelling skills at the end of the second year at school?


  • Early, structured, focused and rapid teaching of phoneme segmentation and blending skills and of grapheme–phoneme correspondences does accelerate development of these skills and acquisition of this knowledge in 5–year–olds, including ELLs.
  • Acquiring these skills and developing reading and writing abilities early (at beginning of formal schooling, if not before) gives students a long–term advantage in school.
  • Most children can very rapidly acquire the concepts and knowledge taught, and can do so without the necessity for small–group teaching.
  • Because the materials used here were designed by a teacher for teachers to use, the positive results demonstrate that teachers need very little training or support to use these materials to good effect.

Policy Recommendations:
None given

Stuart, M. (1999). Getting ready for reading: early phoneme awareness and phonics teaching improves reading and spelling in inner–city second language learners. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 69, 587-605.

Preschool and School Readiness: Experiences of Children with Non-English-Speaking Parents

Author: Jill S. Cannon, Alison Jacknowitz, and Lynn A. Karoly. Public Policy Institute of California.


Recently much attention has been given to the importance of preschool attendance in preparing children for kindergarten. Educators and researchers agree that attendance in center-based preschool programs can be especially important for English language learners because it gives them a head start, both in learning English and in developing essential school readiness skills. A recent study by the Public Policy Institute of California examined the effect of preschool attendance on one particular sub-group of ELLs, linguistically isolated children, or children who have little or no exposure to English in their home environments.

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Tags: Content Areas: Math;


The findings of this study showed a positive association between preschool attendance and early reading scores, measured early in the kindergarten year. In fact, the relationship was somewhat stronger for linguistically isolated children than for other ELL children. There was not, however, a significant positive relationship between preschool attendance and kindergarten mathematics scores. The researchers concluded that while preschool continues to be a useful strategy for preparing ELL children for kindergarten, preschools may be missing an important opportunity to help linguistically isolated children develop the early mathematics skills that, along with reading skills, are predictive of later success in school.

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:
Public Policy Institute of California 500 Washington Street, Suite 600 San Francisco, California 94111

Cannon, J.A., Jacknowitz, A., and Karoly, L.A. (2012).