New programs help English-language learners


A growing immigrant population increases the need for programs to help English-language learners.
A growing immigrant population increases the need for programs to help English-language learners.


As educational opportunities in the United States attract the families of students from across the globe, the need for effective methods in educating English-language learners (ELLs) continues to increase.

The ELL population has more than doubled since 1990 and numbers more than 5 million students today. The Pew Hispanic Center estimates that by 2025, there will be 18 million ELL students in the U.S. The most recent statistics available from the U.S. Census Bureau, from 2003, estimate the foreign-born population to make up 11.7 percent of the U.S. population.

Foreign-born and other non-English speaking students not only have to learn how to speak English, but also how to learn in English. And with about 80 percent of ELLs speaking Spanish as their first language, many education companies are creating products that feature both Spanish and English to help Spanish-speaking students feel more comfortable as they master a new language.

Several companies, including Pearson, Curriculum Advantage, American Education Corp., and Lexia Learning, offer either separate ELL products, or ELL components built into existing curriculum packages.

Lexia Learning’s Lexia Reading features instructional support in both Spanish and English.

The company aims to help students ages four and older acquire and improve essential reading skills, while supporting educators in monitoring and informing reading instruction in classrooms, schools, and district-wide. Lexia Reading includes an auto-placement tool, helping new students quickly begin using the software at their individually suited skill level.

The program is designed as a supplemental instructional tool for students in pre-kindergarten through fourth grade, as a tool for remediation for older students who are still struggling with reading, or for ELL students who enroll in U.S. schools above the elementary level.

Lyman Hall Elementary School, in Georgia’s Hall County Public School System, piloted Lexia Reading during the 2006-07 school year. The school is 98 percent English-language learners, and after the 18-month pilot, the results were so impressive—roughly a 43-percent gain in state test scores—that the program has expanded to all students in all 21 of the county’s elementary schools.

Aaron Turpin, executive director of information and technology with the Hall County Public School System, was Lyman Hall’s principal during the pilot.

Turpin said the school saw gains not only in English and language arts, but in math as well, because many of the standardized test questions include math word problems.

“One of those things that’s neat about Lexia is the instructional passages help the English-language learners build background knowledge,” Turpin said. “And of course that’s critical, especially when you come from areas of Central America with high poverty—these students don’t have the background knowledge required. So as a result of the reading skills [practice], they also acquire the background knowledge.”

Turpin said Lexia’s reporting tools help teachers pinpoint the exact areas where they should focus, as well as helping them monitor student progress and plan lessons.

“While all of the instruction is in English, the directions are in English and Spanish. The students can click on the little icon and can hear the directions in Spanish, so they’re actually getting the full instruction and they’re not being confused by not understanding what they’re supposed to be doing,” he added.

“Lexia’s design is expressly intended to give explicit, structured, and hierarchical skills acquisition. At the same time, it’s highly motivating and engaging, so students enjoy the time and the work they put into the program,” said Bob McCabe, chief education officer for Lexia.

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