University study aids ESL program in Tennessee

Teachers in Nashville, Tenn. are implementing changes based off a GW study to make instruction more effective in public schools grappling with an influx of non-native English speakers.

The Center for Equity and Excellence in Education – housed within the Graduate School of Education and Human Development – conducted a study in the spring of 2009 on how English language learners in the Metro Nashville Public School District were taught in 2006-2007 and 2008-2009.

Dr. Barbara Acosta, an English Language Learner specialist with the CEEE, said her group was approached in early 2009 by the Appalachia Regional Comprehensive Center – an educational organization working to improve standards for English as a Second Language students – after the MNPS District in Tennessee reported issues educating non-native speakers.

About 22 percent of students in the Nashville school district aren’t native English speakers, an increase from 2005 when the number of students whose first language isn’t English was 15 percent, according to a recent report by The Tennessean newspaper.

Data from the school district show that the ELL population, which includes recent immigrants, has more than doubled in the past five years, from 3,988 in 2004 to 9,734 in 2009.

Nicole Chaput-Guizani, executive director of ESL for Metro Nashville Public Schools, said GW’s study outlined four areas in which Nashville needed to improve its ELL programs.

These included program design, inclusion of the ELL students, finding effective school leaders for these students and outreach to parents.

“The district is working on collaborating professional development in all content areas, ESL endorsement programs for all teachers and better multicultural outreach,” Chaput-Guizani said last week.

The ARCC – which works with the Tennessee Department of Education – has a contract with GW to perform studies designed specifically to assist with the technical aspects of employing ELL programs in Tennessee schools.

Acosta said GW’s study “examined [English Language Learner] students’ academic growth as well as progress on Tennessee’s English language proficiency assessment.”

The school district’s ELL Center has helped increase the number of students proficient in English from 13 percent in 2003-2004 to nearly 48 percent in 2007-2008, according to data from the MNPS District website.

Acosta said working with the Nashville school district was “one of a number of similar evaluation studies GW-CEEE has conducted over the years,” however the average number of studies performed by CEEE “varies depending on need and on the particular contracts we have during a given period.”

Funding for CEEE’s studies comes from a variety of entities including the U.S. Department of Education, foundations, and state or local departments of education.

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