Dual Language SchoolsBEYOND THE NUMBERS!

Author Photo: Kathleen Leos

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2019 or the Nation’s Report Card states: 70% of the nation’s 4th grade English Learners scored AT or BELOW BASIC in reading. The average reading score at a basic level for all U.S. students is 208 while ELS scored 191 vs non-ELS 224.

The purpose of the national reading assessment is to determine how well students understand what they read at grade-level as well as compare reading comprehension among and between student groups.

NAEP’s description of the basic level 4th grade reading: example

‘Fourth-grade students performing at the Basic level should be able to locate relevant information, make simple inferences, and use their understanding of the text to identify details that support a conclusion. Students should be able to interpret the meaning of a word as it is used in the text.

NAEP Achievement Level Cut Scores 2019
Average 4th grade reading score Basic is 208.
Proficient is 238
Advanced is 268
Average 4th grade EL reading score is 191 versus non-EL reading score is 224.

ELs do not read at grade level in English in the 4th grade.

BELOW are comparative charts: current status of EL v non-EL, 4th grade reading achievement gap, based on the 2019 NAEP scale scores.

4 categories: year, jurisdiction, demographic group for years 2019, 2017, 2015.

Photo of: Data Table Figure 1

Photo of: English Learners Chart

Photo of: Non English Learners Chart

The statistics regarding the EL versus non-EL achievement gap have not changed for 30 years. However, missing has been the large body of published empirical research from education neuroscience which illustrates the profound impact language and dual language development has on reading achievement, comprehension and executive function in English and the students’ primary language.

Educators no longer have to guess how language learners attain or exceed grade-level reading achievement goals. Simply implementing instructional strategies designed according to how the brain learns and acquires knowledge in two languages, can change results!



The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development’s congressionally commissioned reading panels, the National Reading Panel (2000) for English speaking students and the National Literacy Panel (2007) for Spanish-speaking students, identified the same five essential elements that must be explicitly taught for all children to learn to read accurately with comprehension: phonemic awareness, phonics, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension. Critically, the Literacy Panel noted that their study did not review research related to language or multiple language development and its relationship to reading or comprehension. This aspect of language’s role in reading for English and Dual Language Learners was for the education neuroscientists to discover.


Beginning in 2005, the newly established field of education neuroscientists published scientific findings on not only how learning is influenced by ‘how the brain develops’ but also how language and specifically dual language learning increases cognition, reading comprehension, and executive function such as working memory, focus, concentration, and delayed gratification; skills successfully utilized by prominent CEOs. Subsequent edu-neuro research identified a signature ‘bilingual brain map’ noting how additional neural regions are activated during dual language learning, not witnessed in monolingual learners. Bilingual brain research conducted over the past ten years clearly illustrates the cognitive, social, and academic advantages accorded students learning to read and communicate in two or more languages.


Language is the foundation of learning and the key to reading. Learning to read in two languages increases comprehension, maximizing reading achievement.

What is Language?

Language is the specific capacity “internal brain neural networking systems (nature) and external intentional interactive development (nurture) for developing, acquiring and using complex systems of communication. The dimensions of language development include linguistic skills in speaking, listening, reading, and writing. Language uses logical structures and real-world references to process, convey, and assign meaning, as well as to manage and revolve obscurity. (GILD)

Learning language/s is a complex process which must be explicitly taught in the home, school and community. According to Dr. Lily Wong Fillmore and Dr. Catherine Snow, ALL teachers need a solid background in linguistics. Since this is not often possible, the authors outlined several essential language development components for EL and DLL reading and comprehension in What Teachers Need to Know About Language (2000). (2) The importance of students learning to read in two languages is further underscored by the bilingual brain research conducted by Dr. Laura-Ann Petitto et al. (2009) (3) Listed here are some of the critical language components students must master in two languages to become proficient bilingual or dual language readers.


Photo of: Language Compenents

Photo of: Components of Language


The challenge for teachers is that they must not only be experts in teaching specific academic content but also facilitate language processing and dual language reading development within the context of form, content, and use of the language at grade-level. This is no easy task. To date, few institutions of higher education offer teacher certification programs that include education neuroscience, dual language research, and reading ‘theory to practice’ courses which could unequivocally transform education.


The discoveries uncovered by brain researchers on the profound impact language and dual language learning and reading has on academic performance are indisputable. New education systems which establish a ‘sequential learning process’ beginning with the family, to early childhood, through postsecondary education is required. Education that delivers expert neuroscience research, informed instruction in teaching dual language development, reading, and content knowledge will ensure our English, dual language, and all students move beyond the numbers!

1) SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2015, 2017, and 2019 Reading Assessments.

2) Fillmore, Lily & Snow, Catherine. (2000). What Teachers Need to Know About Language.

3)Petitto LA, Dunbar KN. Educational Neuroscience: New Discoveries from Bilingual Brains, Scientific Brains, and the Educated Mind. Mind, Brain and Education : The Official Journal of the International Mind, Brain, and Education Society. 3: 185-197. PMID 22545067 DOI: 10.1111/j.1751-228X.2009.01069.x