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National Literacy Panel

Ensuring Academic Success for English Learners

Author: Laurie Olson, UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute

Summary: This report highlights nine elements of a strong academic program for ELLs based on three decades of research. Recommended best practices include accessible preschool programs, support for newcomers of all ages, and a focus on English language development.

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Tags: Books and Other Reading Materials; Curriculum; Differentiated Instruction; Intervention; Language Proficiency; Motivation; Parent Involvement and Outreach / PTA; Reading;

Target Population: Preschool, Elementary, Middle, High School

Research Questions the Report Poses: What strategies or programs can educators adopt to create schools in which ELLs learn and thrive?

A comprehensive system of schooling for ELLS includes the following nine elements:

  • High quality and accessible preschool education
  • Supports for newcomers to meet needs of transition
  • A comprehensive program of English Language development
  • A program providing full access to challenging curriculum
  • High quality instruction and materials
  • Inclusive and affirming school climate
  • Valid, comprehensive, and useful assessments
  • Strong family and community partnerships
  • Schools structured to meet the particular needs of English learners.

Policy Recommendations:
Recommendations include:

  • Invest in building a qualified educator workforce;
  • Build a meaningful accountability system for English learners;
  • Assure that educators have the materials they need to deliver high quality English Language Development;
  • Demonstrate new models of successful schools for English learners

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:

University of California

Linguistic Minority Research Institute

4722 South Hall

Santa Barbara, CA 93106-3220

Olsen, L. (2006). Ensuring Academic Success for English Learners. University of California: Linguistic Minority Research Institute.

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.

Improving Literacy Outcomes for English Language Learners in High School: Considerations for States and Districts in Developing a Coherent Policy Framework

Author: National High School Center, Nanette Koelsch

Summary: This overview from the National High School Center examines the roles of states and school districts in supporting English Language Learners. Among the key findings: ELL students who access accelerated and enriching academics, rather than remediation, succeed at higher levels. In addition, Latino ELL students are overrepresented in special education. In order to build the capacity of teachers to appropriately identify which ELL students would benefit from special education services and which would benefit from more inclusive strategies, states must be explicit about what is expected of professional development and teacher preparedness.

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Tags: Comprehension; Instructional Programs; Intervention; Language Proficiency; Latino ELL Students; Placement; Writing;

Target Population: Middle, High School, Post-Secondary

Research Questions the Report Poses: What issues should states consider to improve schooling for English language learners?


  • ELLs need high quality instruction focused on advanced literacy skills and not just on language acquisition; and
  • Immersion-only programs lead to increased special education placements
  • Latino ELLs are overrepresented in special education and lower tracked classrooms;

Policy Recommendations:

  • States and districts need to redesign literacy work for ELLs in high schools to change from remediation to academic enrichment; and
  • States and districts need to ensure that ELLs participate in rigorous, college preparation courses and receive support so that they can succeed in these courses

To order a hard copy of the report, contact:

Koelsch, N. (2006). Improving literacy outcomes for English language learners in high school: Considerations for states and districts in developing a coherent policy Framework. National High School Center .

National Literacy Panel's Executive Summary

Summary: In 2002, the U.S. Department of Education charged a panel of experts, chaired by Timothy Shanahan, with reviewing and compiling research on literacy attainment for language-minority students. The panel's report, Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners, identifies factors that support literacy development of language minority students in the classroom. It also discusses various findings on parent involvement and home literacy experiences and offers suggestions for reducing the over-representation of English language learners in special education.

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Tags: Bilingual Instruction; Comprehension; Latino ELL Students; Transfer of Literacy Skills;

August, D. and Shanahan, T. (2006). Developing Literacy in Second-Language Learners: Report of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth. Center for Applied Linguistics, Lawrence Erlbaum Associates: Mahwah, NJ.

Teaching English Language Learners: What the Research Does — and Does Not — Say

Author: Claude Goldenberg

Summary: This thorough review offers a comprehensive summary of existing research on issues related to the education of ELLs. Dr. Claude Goldenberg focuses on two major reviews of research, one by the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth, and the other by the Center for Research on Education, Diversity, and Excellence (CREDE). Topics covered include: bilingual education, oral language development, reading instruction, curriculum, instructional methods, assessment, and accommodations.

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Tags: Bilingualism / Biliteracy; Comprehension; Differentiated Instruction; Language of Instruction; Language Proficiency; Phonological Awareness; Transfer of Literacy Skills; Vocabulary;

Target Population: All

Research Questions the Report Poses:

  • What is the state of our knowledge regarding policies and practices of instruction of ELLs-what do we know and what remains unanswered?
  • From the current body of research, what conclusions can we make about effective policies and practices?


  • Most ELLs actually were born in the U.S., though most of their parents were born elsewhere.
  • By far, the majority of ELLs-80 percent-are Spanish speakers. This is an important fact to bear in mind, since Spanish speakers in the U.S. tend to come from lower economic and educational backgrounds than either the general population or other immigrants populations. Consequently, most ELLs are at risk for poor school outcomes not only because of language, but also because of socioeconomic factors.
  • A majority of ELLs (60%) are in essentially all-English instruction. Of these 12% receive no additional support or services, 50% receive some "LEP services" (Limited English Proficient), and 40% receive some instruction incorporating native language.
  • Teaching students to read in their first language promotes higher levels of reading achievement in English, probably due to "knowledge transfer" across languages, though it is not automatic.
  • What we know about good instruction and curriculum in general holds true for ELL s., ie benefits of explicit instruction of phonics, writing, and comprehension; contextual explanation of vocabulary; cooperative learning; interactive teaching.
  • Effects of "culturally-accommodated instruction" are uncertain.

Policy Recommendations:
Instructional modification for ELLs:

  • Make English texts accessible by choosing familiar content.
  • Build vocabulary in English.
  • Use the primary language for support.
  • Support ELLs in English-only settings also.
  • Assess knowledge and language proficiency separately.
  • Add time for ELLs to learn (extended day, after school, extended year, summer school, extra years to earn a diploma).
  • Promote productive interaction between ELLs and English speakers.

Goldenberg, C. (2008). Teaching English language learners: what the research does&mdash and does not&mdash say. American Educator, Retrieved from

What Does Research Tell Us About Teaching Reading to English Language Learners?

Author: S. Irujo, The ELL Outlook

Summary: In this article, Suzanne Irujo discusses the findings of the National Literacy Panel on Language-Minority Children and Youth in the context of her own experience as an ELL teacher. Irujo organizes her discussion around the five essential components of reading instruction identified by the National Reading Panel (phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension) and offers specific recommendations for enhancing ELL reading instruction in each of those areas.

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Tags: Comprehension; Curriculum; Differentiated Instruction; Fluency; Instructional Programs; Intervention; Language Proficiency; Phonics; Phonological Awareness; Reading; Struggling Readers; Transfer of Literacy Skills; Vocabulary;

Target Population: Elementary, Middle, High School

Research Questions the Report Poses: What does research tell us about teaching reading to English Language Learners?


  • Literacy in the native language is an advantage.
  • ELLs cannot develop phonological awareness in English until they are familiar with the sounds of English; once phonological awareness has developed in any language, it transfers to other languages that are learned.
  • Systematic phonics instruction can be very effective in helping ELLs learn to decode words: the most effective reading programs for ELLs combine systematic phonics instruction with a print-rich environment that provides exposure to appealing reading materials in varied genres.
  • ELLs cannot achieve fluency in oral reading before they have achieved fluency in speaking: self-consciousness about accents and errors can affect reading fluency.
  • ELLs need more vocabulary instruction than their native-speaking peers, with different vocabulary words and vocabulary teaching techniques.
  • ELLs are more likely than native speakers to lack the background knowledge necessary for understanding texts

Policy Recommendations:

  • Substantial coverage of the five essential elements of reading instruction-phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary and comprehension-helps.
  • Reading programs for ELLs should include intensive language development as well as instruction in literacy strategies and skills.
  • Instruction needs to be adjusted to meet the needs of ELLs.

Irujo, S. (2007). What Does Research Tell Us About Teaching Reading to English Language Learners? Haverhill, MA: The ELL Outlook.