COE grant sees positive results for teachers of English Learners

Several North Texas schools saw notable improvements in science and math test scores among English Learners (ELs) after their teachers participated in the UNT College of Education’s Title III National Professional Development Project NEXUS grant. The $985,000 grant funded by the U.S. Department of Education recently concluded a five-year run of providing professional development and learning opportunities on sheltered instruction and English Language Proficiency Standards for teachers of ELs at 14 Denton ISD and Lewisville ISD schools.  

The Project NEXUS grant was developed to help middle and high school math and science teachers to better reach English learners from multiple language backgrounds. Since its inception in 2012, the project has delivered professional development to 200 teachers.

Data from the Texas Education Agency show that at McMath Middle School in Denton ISD, one of the schools that participated in the EL teacher training at UNT, only 27 percent of ELs achieved “Satisfactory Standard” or “Above End of Course” in the science STAAR tests in 2013-14. That number is significantly lower than the 75 percent of all students at the campus. By 2015-16, the percentage of ELs achieving “Satisfactory Standard” or “Above End of Course” had increased to 65 percent, compared to 83 percent of all students.  

At Denton High School, another school that participated in EL training, the percentage of ELs who performed at “Satisfactory Standard” or “Above End of Course” in the math STAAR tests was 52 percent in 2013-14, compared to 76 percentage of all students at the campus. By 2016-17, the ELs percentage had risen to 65 percent, compared to 76 percent of all students at the campus.

Nexus faculty and staff
Pictured, from left, UNT students and pre-service teachers Jerónimo Figueroa and Ashley Denney, Region 10 ESC consultant Dr. Cynthia Jaird, and UNT student and pre-service teacher Chloe Hawkins-Decaire at the luncheon celebrating the conclusion of Project NEXUS.

Dr. Rossana Boyd, director of Project NEXUS and director of UNT’s Bilingual/ESL Teacher Education Program, said many factors have contributed to improved educational outcomes for ELs, and she’s proud that the professional development offered through Project NEXUS likely played a role.

“What these numbers show is that we’re helping narrow the achievement gap of English learners compared to all students by giving teachers additional knowledge, instructional skills and strategies to teach their subject matter in comprehensible ways that benefit ELs,” Boyd said. “We heard teachers say, ‘I’ve had English learners for years, but I didn’t know what to do for them.’ One of our goals was to help meet that challenge.”

In addition, the grant provided scholarship funding for three current teachers to earn their master’s degree in Curriculum and Instruction with a focus on ESL education; all three are graduating this fall.

“I wish all my colleagues could have had this experience,” said Britni Rowlett, a teacher in Lewisville ISD and one of the three master’s scholarship recipients. “Our students deserve the best we can give, and everyone in this program is working to make that possible.”

The grant also aimed to enhance the instructional skills of UNT students studying to become math and science teachers. It provided review sessions and reimbursements for students taking the TExES ESL Supplemental exam to add English as a Second Language (ESL) Education to their initial teacher certificate. Current UNT College of Education student Jerónimo Figueroa, who is studying for certification to teach mathematics in grades 4-8 with ESL, said the review sessions helped him prepare for life as an educator.  The grant also provided professional development to UNT Teach North Texas students who aspire to be grades 7-12 teachers, with the Region 10 Education Service Center serving as a partner.

“I’m an ESL student myself, and it was really helpful to see the time and commitment teachers put in to reach English Language Learners,” Figueroa said. “I feel like I’m very prepared for what to do with my lesson plans when I become a teacher.”

UNT students also received hands-on learning and networking opportunities by attending state and national conferences such as the National Association for Bilingual Education conference (NABE), the Teachers of English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and UTeach at UT Austin. 

UNT is one of the top producers of bilingual teachers in the state. Of the 143 teacher preparation providers in Texas, UNT ranks third in certification of bilingual and ESL educators between 2012 and 2017.

“The statistics from the Texas Education Agency show that the UNT Department of Teacher Education and Administration is not only producing more bilingual and ESL teachers than most programs, but we’re also producing better educators for our growing population of English learners,” said Randy Bomer, dean of the UNT College of Education.