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Authors

  1. McCardle, Peggy PhD, MPH
  2. Leung, Christy Y. Y. BS

Article Content

Nearly one in five Americans speaks a language other than English at home; among Americans speaking languages other than English, the largest single language group is Spanish speaking (U.S. Department of Commerce, 2004). The increase in the total group of language minority individuals has been dramatic, with their proportion in the U.S. population increasing by nearly 50% over the past decade. Thus, it should not be a surprise that English language learning (ELL) students are the fastest growing subgroup in the U.S. public school population, with an annual increase of approximately 10% (U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights, 2003, as cited in McCardle, Mele-McCarthy, Cutting, Leos, & D'Emilio, 2005).

 

English language learning students are widely distributed in the nation. Whereas in 1992, only 15% of teachers had one or more students designated as Limited English Proficient in their classrooms, the figure had grown to 43% by 2002 (Zehler et al., 2003). Currently, there are more than 51/2 million language minority students in the United States, 80% of whom speak Spanish as their first language. The other 20% speak a total of 440 different languages. Thus, today's teachers must be prepared to teach students who are in the process of learning English, and who represent various levels of proficiency both in English and their other language.

 

Some of these students struggle with classroom learning tasks simply because they are in the process of learning English; others may have the additional challenge of a learning disability or language disorder (Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004a). Identifying whether an ELL student has a language or learning disability is challenging, as highlighted in a special issue of the journal Learning Disabilities: Research and Practice in February 2005 (McCardle, Mele-McCarthy, Cutting, & Leos, 2005).

 

To understand the key issues in teaching English literacy to children who are also in the process of learning the English language, and to determine what approaches to instruction are optimal in teaching the largest single-language group-Spanish-speaking students-federal agencies developed a partnership to fund research in this crucial area. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development (NICHD) has funded research on language development, reading, and reading disabilities for more than 30 years. However, not until 1999 was there a call for funding that exclusively focused on issues involving bilingual or ELL children. The changing demographics of the United States were forcing schools to come to grips with having to educate large numbers of language minority children. In what then represented an unprecedented collaborative effort, the NICHD and the U.S. Department of Education issued a research solicitation1 that resulted in the funding of nine grants supporting 14 projects to study reading development of ELL children. The resulting network, the Development of English Literacy in Spanish-Speaking Children (DELSS), began in 20002. The network has been highly productive, and four of the five articles in this issue are based on data collected in DELSS projects.

 

Since the funding of this jointly sponsored network of research studies, both the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences and the NICHD have continued to fund additional projects addressing the development of English and English reading in ELL children and adults. The NICHD alone has funded more than 15 additional grants, which have included not only studies of the English literacy development of Spanish speakers but also studies of ELL students who speak Tagalog, Chinese, Korean, Hmong, and French. The projects have included descriptive studies of student learning over time, as well as projects investigating experimental approaches to instruction and studies of the effectiveness of specially designed interventions.

 

Language development is clearly an important foundational ability to literacy. To contribute to its understanding, the NICHD is also funding work on bilingual language development. The institute recently brought together researchers focusing on bilingual and cross-linguistic language development to share perspectives and ideas on how to move these areas of research and their practical implications forward (McCardle & Hoff, 2006a). The resultant research agenda (McCardle & Hoff, 2006b) calls for studies of bilingual development from preschool through adolescence, examining more closely the links between language and literacy learning. The agenda also calls for research that will examine more closely and contribute to understanding the environmental, social, and cultural contexts in which bilingualism develops and the role that those contexts play in reading development.

 

As noted above, attention has also focused on the challenge of recognizing learning disabilities as distinct from limited language proficiency that is simply part of learning a new language (McCardle, Mele-McCarthy, Cutting, & Leos, 2005). Researchers are seeking the best measures with which to make such distinctions. They also are seeking to understand the linguistic (Proctor, Carlo, & August, in press; Goldstein, 2004) and cultural factors (Demmert, 2005; Genesee, Paradis, & Crago, 2004b) that impact assessment, instruction, and intervention. Federal agencies have come together to jointly sponsor various workshops that have resulted in research agendas that address these issues and that call for additional measurement development, for guidance in the identification of learning disabilities in ELL students, and the intersection of neurobiology, language, and literacy in ELL individuals (McCardle, Mele-McCarthy & Leos, 2005; McCardle & Demmert, 2006; McCardle & Demmert, in press).3 Much remains to be learned if, as a nation, we are to do our best to educate ELL children, and provide them with the best educational and employment opportunities the United States can offer.

 

REFERENCES

 

Demmert, W. G. (2005). The influences of culture on learning and assessment among native American students. Learning Disabilities: Research & Practice, 20(1), 16-23. [Context Link]

 

Genesee, F., Paradis, J., & Crago, M. B. (2004a). Assessment and intervention for children with dual language disorders. In S. F. Warren & M. E. Fey (Eds.), Dual language development & disorders (Vol. 11, pp. 193-213). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. [Context Link]

 

Genesee, F., Paradis, J., & Crago, M. B. (2004b). Language and culture. In S. F. Warren & M. E. Fey (Eds.), Dual language development & disorders (Vol. 11, pp. 27-37). Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. [Context Link]

 

Goldstein, B. A. (2004). Bilingual language development & disorders in Spanish-English speakers. Baltimore: Paul H. Brookes. [Context Link]

 

McCardle, P., & Demmert, W. (Eds.). (2006). Improving academic performance among American Indian, Alaska Native, & Native Hawaiian students: Report of a national colloquium, I-Programs & practices [Special issue]. Journal of American Indian Education, 45(1). [Context Link]

 

McCardle, P., & Demmert, W. (Eds.). (in press). Improving academic performance among American Indian, Alaska Native, & Native Hawaiian students: Report of a national colloquium, II-The research [Special issue]. Journal of American Indian Education. [Context Link]

 

McCardle, P., & Hoff, E. (Eds.). (2006a). Childhood bilingualism: Research on infancy through school age. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters. [Context Link]

 

McCardle, P., & Hoff, E. (2006b). An agenda for research on childhood bilingualism. In P. McCardle & E. Hoff (Eds.), Childhood bilingualism: Research on infancy through school age. Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters. [Context Link]

 

McCardle, P., Mele-McCarthy, J., Cutting, L., & Leos, K. (Eds.). (2005). Learning disabilities in English language learners: Research issues and future directions [Special series]. Learning Disabilities: Research & Practice, 20, 1-78. [Context Link]

 

McCardle, P., Mele-McCarthy, J., Cutting, L., Leos, K., & D'Emilio, T. (2005). Learning disabilities in English language learners: Identifying the issues. Learning Disabilities: Research & Practice, 20(1), 1-5. [Context Link]

 

Proctor, C. P., Carlo, M., & August, D. (in press). Complicating the simple view: An intralinguistic analysis of variation in the English reading of Spanish/English bilingual Latina/o children. Journal of Educational Psychology. [Context Link]

 

U.S. Department of Commerce. (2004, June). Annual estimates of the population by sex, race, and Hispanic or Latino origin for the Unties States: April 1, 2000 to July 1, 2003. Retrieved July 31, 2006, from the Population Division, U.S. Census Bureau Web site: http:/www.census.gov/popest/national/asrh/NC-EST2003/NC-EST2003-03.pdf[Context Link]

 

Zehler, A. M., Fleischman, H. L., Hopstock, P. J., Stephenson, T. G., Pendzick, M. L., & Sapru, S. (2003). Descriptive study of services to LEP students and LEP students with disabilities. Volume 1: Research report (OELA Contract No. ED-00-CO-0089). Arlington, VA: U.S. Department of Education, Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students (OELA). [Context Link]

 

1HD 99-012, Development of English Literacy in Spanish-Speaking Children. Available from http://grants.nih.gov/grants/guide/rfa-files/RFA-HD-99-012.html[Context Link]

 

2For specific information about network projects and their publications and measures developed, see the network Web site at: http://www.cal.org/delss[Context Link]

 

3For summaries of these workshops, see the Child Development and Behavior Branch, NICHD, Web page at: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/crmc/cdb/p_lang.htm#interest[Context Link]