Expert Viewpoint

4 Steps to Improve Outcomes With an Online Literacy Platform for Young ESL Learners

Second grade is a transition year for the English language learners at our school district. It’s the point where students transition to using English fully, and it’s something that we support across 30 different campuses, each of which serves about 600 students.

We have four elementary coordinators who oversee about eight different campuses each. In 2021, most of that oversight happened virtually due to the pandemic, when about 90% of students were learning remotely.

During that period, we wanted to make sure that those students were getting the right reading skill opportunities to practice, not only with a teacher when they weren't remote, but also using a program that was going to reinforce those skills.

To achieve this goal, our team of elementary coordinators worked with the curriculum instruction department to secure the funds needed to rollout an initial implementation of the Lexia Core5 Reading adaptive blended learning program.

4 Steps to Success

Here are four steps we took to make sure we were getting the most out of our new platform:

1. Test out the platform first.

With a special emphasis on the 3,000 second-grade students who were reaching their reading milestones, our district began using the platform for the 2019-20 school year with those students. It’s important to note that 1,549 of those 3,000 third-grade students were emergent bilingual learners. We wanted to try out the program first and see what kind of impact it could make.

After receiving virtual training on their new reading platform right around the time that COVID-19 emerged, our reading intervention teachers and language acquisition aides identified which students needed the highest level of intervention. They then assembled a small-group instruction approach based on Lexia’s online and downloadable teacher resources.

2. Leverage individualized learning.

One of our elementary coordinators really likes how the platform is very individualized and built up from the child’s own starting point. “The literacy platform provides different levels of support,” said Pearl Sanchez. “If a student is having a difficult time with short vowels, the literacy program will scaffold so that he or she can be successful in that lesson before moving up into the next one.”

3. Track and report on the progress.

For the remainder of the school year, we continued with our literacy intervention — using the program for 60 minutes per week, with individual campuses choosing how they wanted to allocate that time. The district’s four coordinators regularly met with the language acquisition aides to review the program’s comprehensive usage reports and performance data for each campus. We made sure that the kids were logging in and retained data at the campus level for usage and performance. We also provided the district leadership team with the data from the beginning, middle and end of the year.

4. Grow it from there.

The results were consistently positive. Even during remote learning about 65% of students were logging into and using the reading intervention platform. That to us was phenomenal, because 90% of our students were learning virtually at the time. We also saw that 65% of those that used the program advanced at least one or more grade level.

When we tested students at the end of the school year, they had completed an average of 17 skills — up from five at the beginning of the year. Because of the data that we shared with the district administrators; the decision was made to do a districtwide implementation across all grade levels for the 2021-22 year. That’s 18,441 PreK–5th grade students benefitting from our literacy program.

District leaders were particularly impressed with the gains made by second grade students who were working hard to acquire a new language, with most of them speaking Spanish at home. We credit our choice of an adaptive blended learning program with helping us achieve our goals in supporting these students in their successes.

About the Author

Maria Arambula-Ruiz is the Bilingual Director in the Curriculum and Instruction department at United Independent School District in Laredo, Texas.