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BEE Project team contributes new knowledge on bilingual education

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BEE Project team contributes new knowledge on bilingual education

April 24, 2023

In 2018, a team of researchers at the UNC Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute (FPG) and George Mason University (GMU) launched the Bilingualism, Education, and Excellence (BEE) Project, which was funded by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES) within the U.S. Department of Education.

The BEE Project is led by FPG Advanced Research Scientists Doré LaForett, PhD, and Ximena Franco-Jenkins, PhD, along with GMU’s Adam Winsler, PhD. The project’s beginnings stemmed from a pilot study, conducted by LaForett and Franco-Jenkins, which itself came about from conversations with the principal of a local Spanish-English dual-language elementary school who had questions about students’ classroom engagement and social interactions as they related to students’ home language and classroom language of instruction. Building on the classroom engagement component of the pilot study, LaForett and Franco-Jenkins partnered with Winsler to design a study to take a deeper look at classroom engagement―and other experiences of students in dual language programs―which became the BEE Project.

The BEE Project set out to understand how students’ experiences in different dual language education models are related to their end-of-year academic outcomes. Four schools in three North Carolina school districts—with a total of 203 kindergarten through third grade students from 35 classrooms—participated in the BEE Project, which was conducted between 2018 and 2022.

Dual language education programs follow either a 50/50 or 90/10 language allocation model. As such, classrooms participating in the study used one of those models to provide instruction in Spanish and English. Students in the 90/10 model classrooms receive 90 percent of instruction in Spanish and 10 percent in English but the 50/50 model can be achieved in multiple ways. Some of the classrooms used an approach involving a pair of teachers, where students either switched teachers at mid-day (50/50 switch) or every other day (50/50 alternate, or A/B) to get half of their instruction in English and half in Spanish. Meanwhile, other 50/50 classrooms had one bilingual teacher who taught students in both languages.

The BEE Project team is still analyzing the data collected and results for the study’s main research questions are forthcoming. While that work continues, they are sharing some valuable information from their data that education settings should consider regarding home language surveys. Such surveys are used to identify students who might be classified as English Learners. While there is no standard survey recommended for use, most ask about the language practices of two parents/adults in the home—but this can be problematic. LaForett, Franco-Jenkins, and Winsler found that students who have a third adult in the home can be misclassified if the survey isn’t capturing that person’s language―and, many English Learners have more than two adults living in the home. So, ultimately, this means those surveys are underestimating the amount of Spanish or English that is being used at home. For that reason, the research team felt it was critical to collect data on the third adult.

In doing so, they found that more than 35 percent of dual language education students in their sample had a third adult at home and home language classification changed for 12 percent of those with three adults at home. LaForett says for perspective, think about rates of medical misdiagnosis, “The rate in the U.S. for medical misdiagnosis is about 5 percent—so this misclassification rate is much higher than what we’re seeing in medical literature.” Just like how a medical diagnosis helps to give information on whether a person might benefit from some kind of service, support, or intervention, misclassifying students’ home language can lead to students not receiving the services and resources they need for success. And it can also lead to students receiving services they do not need, which can place an unnecessary strain on the teachers and/or school systems.

In addition to recommending that home language surveys include another adult, Franco-Jenkins points to another important element to consider regarding measurement—looking at home language and language proficiency as separate constructs. “In dual language settings, all students are learning regardless of their home language, so we cannot make assumptions about proficiency based on home language,” says Franco-Jenkins. “You could have third graders who are fully bilingual, but their home language environment is primarily Spanish-speaking.”

Both LaForett and Franco-Jenkins recently attended the Society for Research in Child Development 2023 Biennial Meeting, where they were able to share some of their initial findings.
To learn more about the BEE project and what's to come, read this article authored by BEE researchers LaForett, Franco-Jenkins, and Winsler: Learning About Students’ Experiences in Dual Language Education: The Bilingüe, Educación y Éxito Project (BEE Project) in the Spring 2023 issue of Soleado Newsletter of Dual Language Education of New Mexico (DLeNM). And from Inside IES Research, read this recent blog post titled, "Bilingüe, Educación y Éxito: Learning from Dual Language Education Programs."