Estimating the Impact of the Massachusetts English Immersion Law on Limited English Proficient Students' Reading Achievement

Issue/Topic: English Language Learner/Bilingual
Author(s): Guo, Qian; Koretz, Daniel
Organization(s): Harvard School of Education
Publication: Educational Policy
Published On: 1/1/2013

With a growing number of people immigrating into the United States in recent decades, the percentage of 5- to 17-year-olds who speak a language other than English at home increased from 9% in 1979 to 19% in 2003. Whether bilingual education or English-only instruction serves the best interests of LEP students has remained a topic of fierce controversy.

To examine the effects of the English-only Massachusetts ballot initiative, Question 2, on limited English proficient students' academic performance. Question 2 mandated sheltered English immersion as the primary means of instruction for English language learners in Massachusetts.

  • The English immersion law had no statistically significant, negative effect on the MCAS reading performance of the LEP third graders.

Policy Implications/Recommendations:
  • Language instructors should emphasize words' multiple meanings.
  • There is a need for more evaluation of the English-only mandates. Only one state was examined, one grade level, and one test, and only short-term effects were studied.
  • Grades and subjects in other systems that differ in population characteristics, instructional programs, and testing programs should be studied.

Research Design:
Quantitative study

Third-grade students who took the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) test in the spring of 2003 and 2006.

Year data is from:
2003, 2006


Data Collection and Analysis:
Analysis of data on the Grade 3 MCAS reading test in 2003 and 2006.


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