Researchers at the University of Houston have received a $1.7 million grant to investigate the unique challenges adolescent immigrant students face when entering U.S. schools for the first time, and to develop reading interventions to accelerate their literacy.
Project LISTO (Longitudinal Investigation for Successful Transitions and Outcomes), funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences, will be the largest study of academic outcomes for adolescent immigrant English learners ever conducted.
Jeremy Miciak, associate research professor of psychology at UH’s Texas Institute for Measurement, Evaluation, and Statistics (TIMES), will lead the four-year project. For years, he and his team have studied English learners – students who speak a language other than English at home and who have to learn English at schools – but this is the first time they will study immigrant English learners who enter schools in later grades, like middle school and high school.
“There is a significant difference between a student who enrolled in kindergarten and has been learning English for a number of years and a student who grew up in a foreign country, and who has primarily been educated in a different language,” said Miciak. “Because of these differences, immigrant youth who enter in later grades are often excluded from research on English learners. For this reason, we believe it is really important to study immigrant youth specifically, in the hopes of improving instruction and outcomes for these students.”
Across the four years of the project, the research team will follow 600 predominantly Hispanic students in several Texas school districts to establish the rate at which students learn to read in English. The team will use those findings to build a risk model to help better identify which students may experience the most difficulties learning to read in English, a necessary step to provide intensive reading interventions for students most at risk.
The comprehensive study findings will be made available to assist educators and policy-makers as they work to provide a quality educational experience for students who are new to the United States. According to the latest data from the Texas Education Agency, the percentage of Texas students identified as English learners grew from 16.9% in 2009-10 to 20.3% in 2019-20.
The ultimate goal of the project is not to show which schools are succeeding or failing, but to help schools better serve their students, according to Miciak. “We want to identify important instructional factors that relate to student outcomes.”
The research project also offers a unique educational opportunity for UH students, who will serve as paid research assistants for the project. Their role will include administering bilingual assessments and potentially providing reading interventions for immigrant children who are struggling to learn to read in English.
“I’m excited and proud that we’re able to offer paid research assistant positions for UH undergrad students,” Miciak said. “It’s a really fantastic way for undergrads at UH to get involved in research. It’s also a great way for our research team to leverage the diversity of the UH community to conduct high quality, bilingual research.”