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Effects of the Implementation of Proposition 227 on the Education of English Learners, K-12: Findings from a Five-Year Evaluation: Final Report

By Tom Parrish, Amy Merickel, Maria Pérez, Robert Linquanti, Miguel Socías, Angeline Spain, Cecilia Speroni, Phil Esra, Leslie Brock, Danielle DeLancey


How should English learners be taught? What can state and local education leaders do to better support these students’ academic progress? Conclusions from a five-year evaluation have been released by a team of researchers from AIR and WestEd. The report, based on the study of 1.5 million California English learner and 3.5 million English-fluent and native-English speaking students, includes detailed findings and policy implications for education in California and nationwide.

In 1998, California voters passed Proposition 227, mandating that California English learners be taught overwhelmingly in English through immersion programs not normally expected to exceed one year; bilingual instruction was to be permitted only through the granting of a special waiver. Has this been a good thing for students?

The California legislature commissioned AIR and WestEd to conduct an exhaustive evaluation and provide some answers. Key findings include the following:

  • Since the passage of Proposition 227, students across all language classifications in all grades have experienced performance gains on state achievement tests.
  • During this time, the performance gap between English learners and native English speakers has remained virtually constant in most subject areas for most grades.
  • That these gaps have not widened is noteworthy given the substantial increase in the percentage of English learners participating in statewide tests, as required by federal and state accountability provisions.
  • Limitations in state data make it impossible to definitively resolve the long-standing debate underlying Proposition 227 as to whether one instructional model is more effective for California’s English learners than another. However, based on the data currently available, there is no evidence to support an argument of the superiority of one English learner instructional approach over another.
  • The likelihood of an English learner meeting the linguistic and academic criteria needed to reclassify them to fluent English proficient status after 10 years in California schools is less than 40 percent.
  • Interviews with representatives of schools and districts among the highest performers in the state with substantial English learner populations further supported the finding that there is no single path to academic excellence among English learners.
  • The factors identified as most critical to their success were staff capacity to address English learners’ linguistic and academic needs; schoolwide focus on English language development and standards-based instruction; shared priorities and expectations in educating English learners; and systematic, ongoing assessment and careful data use to guide instruction.

The final report and its appendices, and interim reports from 2002, 2003, and 2004, are available as pdfs.

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Copyright: 2006
Format: PDF
Publisher: American Institutes for Research and WestEd