Do Teachers Perceive That Their Main Instructional Materials Meet English Learners' Needs?

Key Findings from the 2020 American Instructional Resources Survey

by Andrea Prado Tuma, Sy Doan, Rebecca Ann Lawrence

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Research Questions

  1. Do teachers perceive that their main materials meet the needs of ELs, provide digital instructional materials for use by ELs, and provide texts that are linguistically appropriate for ELs?
  2. To what extent do teachers modify their typical lessons to make them more appropriate for ELs?

English learners (ELs) are 10 percent of U.S. students; in some states, they comprise as much as 20 percent of the student body. Despite continued growth in the EL population, schools nationwide have struggled to support ELs, and researchers consistently find wide, persistent academic achievement disparities between ELs and non-ELs.

Equitable access to academic content is critical in addressing persistent achievement gaps between ELs and native English speakers, but schools and teachers face several challenges in enabling this access. Teachers report feeling inadequately prepared to work effectively with ELs and might lack of core subject-area materials and tools that are accessible to ELs or that provide language scaffolding.

In this Data Note, researchers draw on data from the spring 2020 American Instructional Resources Survey to examine both teachers' perceptions of whether their main English language arts, mathematics, and science materials meet the needs of ELs and the modifications that teachers make to make those materials more appropriate for this population.

Key Findings

Most teachers agreed that their materials adequately served the needs of ELs, but few strongly agreed

  • Between 68 and 78 percent of teachers somewhat or strongly agreed with the statements that their main materials met the needs of ELs, that the materials provided digital instructional material for use by ELs, and that the materials provided individual texts that were linguistically appropriate for ELs.
  • A third or less of teachers strongly agreed that their main materials served their ELs' needs; math teachers were least likely to strongly agree.

Teachers serving fewer ELs were less likely to strongly agree that their main materials met the needs of ELs

  • Only 28 percent of teachers reporting teaching between 25 to 49 percent of ELs strongly agreed that their main materials met the needs of ELs.
  • Nearly half of teachers who reported serving classrooms with 75 to 100 percent ELs strongly agreed with the same statement.
  • Teachers with a mix of ELs and non-ELs might not have access to materials that meet the needs of both populations.

Teachers serving classrooms with more than 10 percent ELs reported modifying their materials the most to meet EL needs

  • Between 10 and 28 percent of teachers serving classrooms with more than 10 percent ELs reported making extensive modifications to meet EL needs.
  • Interestingly, teachers with 75 percent or more ELs in their classroom were slightly less likely to report making extensive modifications.
  • Teachers that perceived their materials as not meeting ELs' needs were more likely to make extensive modifications.

Recommendations

  • Teachers serving classrooms where fewer than half of their students are ELs likely need better instructional materials to meet the needs of those ELs, particularly in mathematics.
  • Teachers serving heterogenous classrooms likely need guidance and professional development on how to modify instructional materials to make them more appropriate for ELs.
  • School districts and state education agencies should ensure that they consider ELs when making decisions about curriculum selection and adoption.
  • Especially during the coronavirus disease 2019 pandemic, it is important to develop libraries of EL-inclusive digital materials and provide supports and PD for teachers who might be struggling to differentiate instruction in a virtual environment.

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The research described in this report was conducted by RAND Education and Labor and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. For this document, different permissions for re-use apply. Please refer to the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation section on our permissions page.

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