Supporting English Learners in STEM Subjects

Supporting English Learners in STEM Subjects


The expectation that all students, including English language learners (ELLs), achieve high academic standards has become even more evident and complex to date as a result of several key factors. First, as the school-aged population continues to grow more racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse, ELLs can now be found in virtually every school in the nation. Second, the science and mathematics education landscape has changed significantly resulting from the new visions in these fields, and the challenges posed by the new academic standards for all students. Third, the need to integrate new knowledge and perspectives from the language arts with knowledge from science and mathematics learning, instruction, and assessment has surfaced as a critical component of the potential strategies to be employed in addressing ELLs' current science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) education situation from pre-K-12 grades. The key challenges today include both enabling educators to better support this student subpopulation, as well as increasing the number and quality of research activities focused on how best to support ELLs' success in these subjects. In response to this challenge, the Board on Science Education (BOSE) of the National Academies of Sciences will conduct a consensus study focused on identifying instructional practices and professional development approaches for teachers, as well as the policies that are needed to support ELLs' accomplishments in science and mathematics education. The study will synthesize a wide range of research literatures relevant to improving ELLs' STEM learning, and provide a comprehensive understanding of how best to simultaneously support English language development and deep learning in the context of new and more challenging standards in science and mathematics. The study will also provide a framework for future research that can help to identify the most relevant and pressing questions for the field, as well as increase the number and quality of proposed research activities focused on ELLs in STEM.

To conduct the consensus study, BOSE will convene a multidisciplinary committee of experts who will synthesize the most relevant research on related subjects. The committee will include professionals in the fields of science and mathematics education, curriculum development, learning and instruction, linguistics, and assessment to address key sets of research questions: (1) Based on research-informed and field-tested models, strategies, and approaches, what are promising approaches to support ELLs (including ELLs with disabilities) in learning STEM? Given the diversity within the ELLs' population, what has worked, for whom, and under what conditions? What can be learned from these models and what additional research is needed to understand what makes them effective? What commonly used approaches may be less effective?; (2) What is the role of teachers in supporting the success of ELLs in STEM? What is known about the biases teachers may bring to their classrooms with ELLs and how these can be effectively addressed? What kinds of curriculum, professional development experiences, and assessment are needed in order for STEM teachers to improve their support for ELLs in STEM?; (3) How can assessments in STEM (both formative and summative) be designed to reflect the new content standards and to be appropriate for ELLs? What assessment accommodations might need to be considered?; (4) How do policies and practices at the national, state, and local level constrain or facilitate efforts to better support ELLs in STEM (including policies related to identification of students)? What kinds of changes in policy and practice are needed?; and (5) What are the gaps in the current research base and what are the key directions for research, both short-term and long-term? The committee will work over a 30-month period to synthesize relevant research literature and prepare a final consensus report, including results, conclusions, and recommendations. The study will address an issue of national importance and will inform future research on challenges directly related to ELLs, diversity, and equity in STEM education. This issue is particularly relevant to programs such as Discovery Research K-12 that supports efforts that reflect the needs of the increasingly diverse population, and Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers, which supports strategies for recruiting and selecting participants from identified groups currently underrepresented in STEM professions, careers, and education pathways. The report will target a broad audience of stakeholders, including teachers, school district administrators, researchers, congressional staff, and federal agencies that fund educational research and set policies related to ELLs.


Principal Investigator(s): 


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2016 - 2020



National Academy of Sciences District of Columbia

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