Expertise | Evaluation

Evaluation of English Language Learner Programs in Orange County Public Schools

Florida’s Orange County Public Schools (OCPS)—the 11th largest school district in the nation—serves more than 30,000 current and former English language learners (ELLs). The district includes students from 212 countries who speak 105 languages, with Spanish the predominant language spoken.

In April 2013, the district engaged Metis Associates following a competitive request-for-proposals process, to conduct an evaluation of the implementation and effectiveness of the four research-based models of programming that are used by OCPS to teach English for Speakers of Other Languages (ESOL). These models are: mainstream instruction, sheltered instruction (in which instruction is provided in English with teachers using research-based ESOL pedagogical methods to make the content comprehensible to the students), bilingual education (students receive the majority of their instruction in their native language at the start of kindergarten, and gradually increase the proportion of instruction received in English until they reach proficiency), and dual-language instruction (which aims to develop both native language and English proficiency skills through content-driven instruction in both languages for all core-subject matter).

The evaluation included a formative phase, to help guide the district in making decisions about program implementation, and a summative phase to analyze results of the program. To assess these various models, Metis collected and analyzed data from multiple sources and respondent groups, including interviews with OCPS district and school administrators; site visits to 15 OCPS schools, which included classroom observations; administrator, teacher, and parent surveys; reviews of program documentation; and analyses of student achievement data.

Metis’s study found many positive outcomes. Teachers and administrators cited benefits of each model—whether promoting full immersion in the English language, mastery of two languages, or hybrid approaches—and they believed that these programs had positive impacts on their students’ social development and ability to acclimate to American culture. Some educators, however, expressed concern that a more sheltered environment does not provide enough opportunities for ELLs to benefit from support from their English-proficient peers. An interesting finding was that, although significant achievement gaps exist in reading and math between ELLs and students whose first language is English, former ELLs actually demonstrated greater proficiency rates on state tests than other students whose first language is English.

The district is acting to implement Metis’s recommendations that it streamline its guidelines and expectations for each program and provide more training to teachers about the forms that each model should take. Metis also suggested database improvements so that the system can assess the outcomes of each model separately—which is one of the goals of the district.