by Oscar M. Cárdenas • IDRA Newsletter • September 2001

The Texas Education Agency (TEA) has completed a three-year study effort that has resulted in an important leadership and capacity building package to assist school districts faced with teacher shortages and experiencing enrollment increases of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students. The Texas Successful Schools Study: Quality Education for Limited English Proficient Students was conducted by the Program Evaluation Unit in the Office for the Education of Special Populations. The study, which was released on September 7, 2000, was subsequently supplemented by an Educator User Guide for Administrators and Educational Personnel in February of 2001, a Technical Manual for the Study, and a 48-minute training video in May of 2001.

The three documents and the training video comprise the capacity-building package. They provide extensive detail in written and visual case studies, as well as numerous graphic displays regarding effective assessment and instructional practices of bilingual education programs documented in the seven successful schools. Conducted as part of the Commissioner’s Educational Research Initiative for 1998-99, the study relied on a collaborative effort between TEA, seven elementary campuses selected as success schools, and Texas A&M University – Corpus Christi for research support.

In his introductory remarks in the training video, Commissioner of Education Jim Nelson states: “The Texas Successful Schools Study is a unique project because it shows how limited-English-proficient students can experience academic success and meet the state’s standards as measured by the Texas Assessment of Academic Skills (TAAS). This study is a testimonial to the premise that all children can learn, as it points out the essential features of seven effective and quality bilingual education programs.”

It was not the intent of the study to test hypotheses, causality or seek to explain relationships. The study design relied on descriptive methodology, using qualitative and quantitative methods in obtaining and presenting data over a five-year period to ensure a longitudinal database. The data used for statistical analyses included: teacher and principal questionnaires, teacher and principal interviews, focus-group parent interviews, classroom observations, analyses of student and campus performance data, and a review of the literature. In order to determine the extent of success of the schools in the study, performance of LEP and former LEP students was compared to similar students in a cohort group of external campuses and a TEA comparison campus group.

The seven schools were selected based on prescribed criteria that included: enrollment of 40 percent or more LEP students during the 1996-97 school year; enrollment of 50 percent or more economically-disadvantaged students during the 1996-97 school year; zero TAAS LEP exemptions during the 1996-97 school year; and a rating of either “recognized” or “exemplary” in the Texas school accountability system. The accountability system is based on indicators that include TAAS scores in reading, mathematics, and writing and attendance rates for elementary schools. The seven elementary schools participating in the study were: Bowie Elementary in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District (ISD); Campestre Elementary in Socorro ISD, El Paso; Castañeda Elementary in Brownsville ISD; Clover Elementary in Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD; Kelly Elementary in Hidalgo ISD; La Encantada Elementary in San Benito Consolidated ISD; and Scott Elementary in Roma ISD.

From information obtained as a result of the data collection methods utilized by the study, as well as the student and campus data available through the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS) and the Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS) databases at TEA, the Program Evaluation Unit notes 35 findings supported by the study. Some key findings follow.

  • The categories utilized for LEP student identification in six of the seven study sites were “beginner,” “intermediate” and “advanced.”
  • More than 85 percent of the teachers were trained in bilingual methods and language assessment; knowledgeable of the benefits of second language learning; and confident enough in their training to serve LEP students.
  • Bilingual education was provided to the LEP students as integral parts of the regular school program in all seven study sites.
  • The study sites implemented the appropriate program by focusing on the cognitive, linguistic and academic domains to ensure that LEP students become competent in the comprehension, speaking, reading and composition of the English language.
  • The academic (TAAS) performance of third grade LEP students in the seven study campuses significantly exceeded the performance of third grade LEP students in the cohort comparison group in external campuses.
    The academic (TAAS) performance of former LEP students in fifth grade in the seven study campuses exceeded the performance of fifth grade former LEP students in the cohort comparison group in external campuses.
  • The most significant difference in fifth grade academic performance between former LEP students in the seven study campuses and former LEP students in the cohort of external campuses was noted when students had been in the bilingual education program for five and six years.
  • In the late-exit model, the exiting of LEP students was more evident after students had been in the bilingual education program for six and seven years.
  • Eighty-nine of the 91 teachers (98 percent) that responded to the study survey indicated they assessed the levels of both Spanish and English to ensure an appropriate instructional focus.
  • Principal and district leadership support for LEP students received almost equal responses.
  • Eighty-five percent of the teachers surveyed indicated that parent involvement helped LEP students advance in academic development and in their language development.
  • Teacher preparation, staff training and administrative support were ranked by teachers as the three top factors that contributed to LEP student success.

All of the documents produced as a result of TEA’s study effort are available at Questions regarding the Texas Successful Schools Study: Quality Education for Limited English Proficient Students may be directed to

Oscar M. Cárdenas is senior manager for the Program Evaluation Unit in the Office for the Education of Special Populations at TEA and was principal investigator for this study. Comments and questions may be directed to IDRA via e-mail at

[©2001, IDRA. This article originally appeared in the September 2001 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.]