• by María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D. and Josie Danini Cortez, M.A. • IDRA Newsletter • January 2002 •

Editor’s Note: Recently, the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) conducted a research study with funding by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA) to identify characteristics that contribute to the high academic performance of students served by bilingual education programs. A series of six articles in the IDRA Newsletter describes this research study’s significant findings. The November-December 2001 issue featured the major findings in student outcomes and assessment, as will this fifth installment.

Dr. María “Cuca” Robledo Montecel, Ph.D.Research finds that exemplary bilingual education programs hold school staff accountable for their students’ success, while providing them with the support and tools they need. These programs also nurture meaningful parent and community involvement. Our study of 10 exemplary bilingual education programs confirms this.

IDRA researched school- and classroom-level indicators of successful bilingual education programs. Our extensive review of current research provided a strong theoretical framework with indicators conducive to successful programs for limited-English-proficient (LEP) students.

These indicators were framed as research questions in 10 areas: leadership, vision and goals, school climate, linkages, school organization and accountability, professional development, parent involvement, staff accountability and assessment, staff selection and recognition, and community involvement.

This article provides IDRA’s major findings in the second set of five of the 10 school-level indicators; the first five were presented in the November-December 2001 issue of the IDRA Newsletter.

Five main questions guided the research for school-level indicators. Each question had a more detailed subset of questions. The questions that guided the research for five of the school level indicators follow.

Professional Development – What are the demographic characteristics of professional staff, and what opportunities for professional development are provided (Milk et al., 1992; Villarreal, 1999)?

  • Do fully-credentialed bilingual and English as a second language (ESL) teachers receive training that is aligned with the instructional plan prepared for LEP students?
  • Do teachers also receive training and technical assistance as needed, particularly regarding best practices in bilingual education and ESL?

Parent Involvement – What is the type, level and quality of parent involvement in the school and the bilingual education program (McLoed, 1996; Robledo Montecel et al., 1993)?

  • Do parents feel welcomed and play different roles (leadership, decision-making, resource) in the educational process?
  • Does the school provide opportunities for parents who do not speak English to participate?
  • Do parents meet with teachers and administrators to discuss their individual and team responsibilities?
  • Together, does the team provide support to ensure that LEP students reach the goals established for all students?
  • In the same way, do students outline the ways in which they will be responsible for their own learning?
  • Are these responsibilities shared with parents?
  • Do students, parents and teachers discuss and reinforce the importance of meeting those responsibilities in ensuring success?

Staff Accountability and Student Assessment – How do staff hold themselves accountable for student success, and how are students assessed (Berman et al., 1995; Valdez-Pierce and O’Malley, 1992)?

  • Is there alignment of curriculum, instruction and assessment?
  • Does the school assess student progress and continually re-evaluate its capacity to help all students reach high standards?
  • Do the staff believe that assessments must measure authentic work of students and involve them and their parents in the process?
  • Does student assessment and progress monitoring use baseline student data on language and content knowledge to plan and adjust instruction?
  • Are responsibilities for student success clear, and are they shared with all school personnel?
  • Do teachers use periodic, systematic and multiple student assessment measures to inform the instructional decision-making process?
  • Do staff hold themselves accountable for the success of every student?

Staff Selection and Recognition – How are the staff selected and recognized (Maroney, 1998)?

  • Does staff selection and recognition include screening to ensure proficiency in both languages, training for teachers to become action researchers, and adjusting the program to ensure that all teachers are able to serve LEP students?
  • Do teachers feel supported and free to innovate, and are they regularly recognized for their contributions to their students’ achievements?

Community Involvement – What is the type, level and quality of community involvement in the school and the bilingual education program (Moll et al., 1992)?

  • Does the responsibility for the educational success of LEP students rest on the entire educational community of the district, not just on the bilingual education central staff or the bilingual or ESL teachers in the campus?
  • Is the community perceived as an asset that should be integrated into the school resources in a way that values and acknowledges their contributions?
  • Is the community a strong advocate of the program?

Through on-site classroom observations, structured interviews with teachers, administrators and parents and surveys, these are the major findings for each area.

Professional Development

At the schools IDRA studied, bilingual teachers were fully credentialed and continuously acquiring new knowledge regarding best practices in bilingual education. All teachers in the schools received information about bilingual education. Teachers took a pro-active interest in keeping up on best practices and sharing their lessons learned with others.

One non-bilingual education teacher who did not speak Spanish, began taking evening classes to learn Spanish on his own time and at his own cost, so that he could communicate with Spanish-speaking students.

Ultimately, teachers were committed to learning and sharing for the sake of their students. Professional development was perceived as a means to that end. Teachers and administrators reported substantive, appropriate and inclusive professional development with all teachers providing input into professional development.

One administrator explained: “Teachers seek out professional development, and some is provided by the district and school. All of the programs we have are there to support ESL.”

Another commented: “Teachers who go out to workshops have to come back and give presentations on the workshops to other teachers.”

A teacher added: “We as teachers meet and decide what we think needs to be done in the school. We take these needs to the principal and school council and make recommendations. Staff development has more meaning because we make recommendations about it.”

A teacher described: “Our weekly grade level planning is one of the main ways we provide our own staff development. The planning that we do, the work we do at these meetings prepares us for the work we do with students.”

Another teacher said: “[One teacher] cites the sharing of ideas and thoughts among the staff as being the single most important professional development activity. Curriculum planning and mapping at the school helps us see that we are all going the same direction.”

Parent Involvement

At the schools IDRA studied, parents were strong advocates of the bilingual programs and were welcome in their children’s schools, not as “helpers” but as partners engaged in meaningful activities within the school structure. Parents’ experiences were validated and honored in the classrooms, irrespective of their socioeconomic backgrounds.

Some businesses facilitated parent involvement with flextime for work so that parents could participate in school activities during the day.

One teacher stated: “Many of the farmers allow time off for parents to attend English classes, parent meetings and school events. One farmer even posts school events [notices] at his farm for parents to attend.”

Parents reported that they felt they belonged at their children’s school and were very positive about the administration, faculty and staff, saying they believed them to be truly concerned for and committed to their children’s success.

School respondents reported actively encouraging parents to participate in all activities in meaningful ways. They also reported that all parents were knowledgeable and supported the bilingual education program, citing mutual respect and validation toward cultural diversity.

A parent said: “Los maestros permiten que los padres vengan para platicar personalmente con ellos. Yo he mandado una nota pidiendo juntarme con ella. Ese mismo día vienen a buscarme. [The teachers allow parents to come and talk personally with them. I have sent a note asking to meet with her. That same day she came to look for me.]”

Another parent added: “Los niños tienen más éxito siendo bilingües porque cuando llegan a la universidad van a tener más oportunidad encontrando trabajo. El estudiante bilingüe es más exitoso. [The children who are bilingual are more successful because when they get to the university they will have more opportunities to find jobs.]”

Staff Accountability and Student Assessment

The schools studied used multiple assessment measures, including measures in the students’ native language. Rigorous academic standards applied to all students, including LEP students.

Administrators and faculty actively sought appropriate assessment measures and set clear and rigorous standards and achievement levels, sometimes engaging expertise and support from researchers in the bilingual education field. Teachers felt accountable for all of the students. They knew each one individually and adapted their instructional strategies according to the needs and strengths of each. Student assessment was ongoing and used for diagnostic purposes.

Survey respondents confirmed assessment in multiple languages and the disaggregation of data by student group and program. They also reported frequent discussions between the principal and the faculty on student achievement.

An IDRA researcher observed at one school: “Upon further probing, when asked if they felt the pressure from the principal to maintain this level of expectation, they looked startled and replied, ‘No way!’ A teacher explained: ‘We have our high expectations, but it is our colleagues that are pushing us to maintain and stay focused. I know if I lag behind, the teacher next year will come and talk to me and see what it is I am teaching. She’s going to be the one to kick my behind, not the principal!’”

Staff Selection and Recognition

At the model schools, staff were selected based on their academic background, experience in bilingual education and language proficiency. They were also selected for their enthusiasm, commitment and openness to change and innovation.

Teachers were strongly supported, often recognized for their students’ successes. They were part of a team that was characterized as loyal and committed.

Many of the staff stayed in their schools. One group followed their principal from one school to another, implementing a successful program in both. Teachers and administrators also reported positive reinforcement of their students’ academic progress.

Community Involvement

The communities of the schools IDRA studied were well aware of the bilingual education programs and were strong advocates of the programs. Community members formed strong linkages with the schools, sharing staff and building resources, and expertise.

One notable exception was the California school, which was struggling to survive in the context of Proposition 227. There, the community was divided, and the school isolated, left to survive despite the political context. These dynamics appeared to have resulted in a united stand among the administration, faculty, and staff and have mobilized many to actively fight for their students’ rights to an excellent and equitable education.

Teachers and administrators reported active and positive engagement of parents and community members, many in long-term and intensive partnerships. This resulted in shared responsibility and ownership for student success.

A teacher commented, “Senior citizens and retired people come back to work with students.”

Another stated, “We [the school] took a trip to the nursery [on a farm] where students’ parents worked – the hard work was valued and a source of pride.”

A parent added: “La iglesia apoya mucho. El padre de la escuela nos dice a nosotros los padres que también debemos estudíar. También que apoyamos a nuestros hijos. [The church provides much support. The priest tells us that we as parents should also study and support our children].”

Example of a Successful Bilingual Program

A commitment to professional development, strong parent involvement, staff accountability and ongoing assessment, informed staff selection and meaningful recognition, and active community involvement are five indicators that were found in the research sites. One example of such a program is found at St. Mary’s Public School in Mount Angel, Oregon.

St. Mary’s Public School, Mount Angel, Oregon

St. Mary’s Public School’s high expectations of excellence for all learners include teachers and staff as well as students. The principals, teachers, aides and staff work collaboratively, through continuously planning and re-evaluating the school’s program and each student’s progress to ensure success for each student.

Teachers meet weekly in teams by grade level. The Title I reading teacher is included in these meetings. There is ongoing work on projects where data is collected and analyzed, and changes or affirmations are made. Depending on the need, these meetings can be held two or three times per week.

District improvement plans are discussed and teachers often seek, as well as share, strategies to help meet goals. St. Mary’s Public School has a very committed staff. They come early and stay late. It is not surprising to find many teachers at the school on weekends.

All teachers and staff are involved in action research. This shows a commitment to the premise that student learning is the job of everyone at the school and keeps each member of the teaching and support staff accountable to the school’s goals. Everyone looks to each other for assistance in areas where improvement is needed.

For planning during weekly meetings, faculty members are divided into teams. The principal is present at reporting times and works with the team or with individual teachers to get them back on track as needed. These planning meetings and discussions are often lively – teachers are vocal and joyful when test results are reported. There is tremendous support to ensure student achievement.

Native language instruction is supported starting at the kindergarten level. Since the school’s vision encompasses excellence for all students, teachers and assistants strive to always put children first, not curriculum or prep time. The ability to help students is constantly evaluated. St. Mary’s Public School commits itself to being pro-active rather than reactive.

ESL students make up a large part of the student population. The school has been on the cutting-edge of school reform since the current principal came to the school. School site team meetings began 14 years ago, and block scheduling began a year later. The principal instituted site committees before they were mandated, as well as multi-age instruction, which proved to be an uphill battle for support in the community. The school has been involved in Goals 2000 since it began.

Block scheduling allows uninterrupted reading time for students with all support staff. Teachers share students and skill groups and continually assess how students are progressing. The staff ensures that all students are treated equally, regardless of their backgrounds or special circumstances.

Additionally, assistants are treated like teachers; they are involved in training programs and planning sessions; and everyone is involved in making sure the students receive whatever they need to succeed.

Each year, the principal directs staff involvement in new projects. This guarantees professional growth for the staff; teachers and other classroom aides see firsthand how their new efforts benefit students. Moreover, the bilingual program at St. Mary’s Public School has made the faculty more aware of modifying education plans to suit each individual student. School staff and the community are dedicated to making the school special, innovative and visionary.

The school’s valuing of culture and diversity is evident in activities within the school as well as involvement in community events. There are monthly sing-alongs featuring songs from predominant cultures of the area as well as a multicultural winter concert. Assemblies are also held in which the principal gives out awards to students who excel in the classroom and the community.

The community supports the school’s activities and provides ideas and supplies.
Additionally, many cultures are celebrated through studying about and participating in festivals. One proud teacher noted: “All cultures are respected, and there is zero tolerance for cultural bias.”

Within the school, unity among students is promoted through the “Buddy” reading program, schoolwide themes, peer mediating, and tutors and readers from across ages and classrooms. Unity within the staff is boosted by celebrations of teachers’ day, assistants’ day, boss’ day and secretaries’ day, as well as the participation in committee and staff retreats.

Teachers learn from each other through their weekly team planning and team teaching in inclusion models. Teaming develops the curriculum for teaching English-learning students important academic skills.

For example, regular teachers work closely with the ESL teacher to pick out content area vocabulary, which is then studied in classrooms. The vocabulary is presented in both English and Spanish, and a concerted effort is made in all subjects to use the vocabulary words. Such support in planning and instruction ensures English-learners’ skill and knowledge development.

The staff invite parents into the school to participate in school activities at every opportunity. Assemblies are open to parents and extended families. Programs featuring music and dance are specifically developed to show the students’ talents to the community. Teachers also host parent coffees where everyone makes supplies.

Importantly, the school has a migrant liaison who conducts home visits with teachers and offers transportation to the school for open house, parent-teacher conferences and other events. Parents are encouraged to attend school-sponsored curriculum nights, where they are shown the lessons and teaching practices used in the school. St. Mary’s Public School also has home consultants for Spanish and Russian households.

The school sponsors a booth at the annual Oktoberfest celebration, providing funds to the school district. The community is also involved with the homework club, sponsored by the Mt. Angel Youth Commission.

This group, sanctioned and supported by the school, works with students on comprehension and completion of homework assignments. A bond issue has recently passed that will provide additional funding for the youth commission’s homework club.

Furthermore, there are field trips, newsletters, personal letters to the home in the native language, and frequent phone calls from classroom teachers, the ESL teacher and the migrant liaison. Meetings with teachers of English-learners are conducted with the help of interpreters.

One of the favorite functions of the staff and parents is the daily “early morning greeting” time, when parents bring their children to the school. Teachers and staff stand outside the school, weather permitting, and are available to chat with parents, answer questions and generally socialize. This enhances community involvement with the school, particularly volunteering and fund-raising opportunities.

For instruction purposes, St. Mary’s Public School groups its students by content area and level of achievement. In content areas, students are grouped heterogeneously, while in reading, grouping is mostly homogeneous. Student groups flex depending on academic need and remain fluid to allow varying rates of progress.

Classroom organizations range from whole classes in some subjects to small groups in others, such as math, reading and writing. Generally, however, students are grouped by ability rather than age. Cross-tutoring is organized wherein students who excel in specific subjects are paired with students who are having difficulty. Students who help others in one area often find that they themselves need help in another. Through this arrangement, all students benefit.

Each grade has guidelines based on state criteria. The school also has developed its own benchmarks that align with Oregon’s.- Standardized testing, state tests and open-ended assessments are used to measure compliance.

Data is shared at staff meetings, and specific sessions are scheduled for data analysis. There is ongoing assessment and intervention to assure that all students reach end-of-year benchmarks. Yearly plans for each grade level are built on those results and continuously updated, and checklists and quarterly assessments are shared with parents. Data analysis is also presented at staff meetings and district planning meetings.

St. Mary’s Public School supports English-learners with the appropriate instructional strategies, resources and environment. Indeed, its approach to the bilingual education of children has made it a program with exemplary practices.


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María Robledo Montecel, Ph.D., is the IDRA executive director. Josie Danini Cortez, M.A., is the IDRA production development coordinator. Comments and questions may be directed to them via e-mail at feedback@idra.org.

[©2002, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the January 2002 IDRA Newsletter by the Intercultural Development Research Association. Permission to reproduce this article is granted provided the article is reprinted in its entirety and proper credit is given to IDRA and the author.]