First 5 California Dual Language Learner Pilot Study

Over 60% of children from birth to age 5 in the state of California are dual language learners (DLLs). While the field has advanced considerably in understanding dual language development and education, much work still needs to be done to identify the best practices that support young DLLs in early learning and care settings.

The First 5 California-funded Dual Language Learner Pilot Study seeks to identify the range and distribution of learning experiences for DLLs in California and to better understand how these experiences are linked to positive child and family outcomes. Specific goals of this study are to:

  1. Determine what are effective and feasible practices for DLLs in early learning and care settings, across three content areas: instructional practices, professional development, and family engagement.
  2. Disseminate findings about best practices to relevant stakeholders and practitioners.

Publications and Findings

Math Skills Among Spanish-Speaking DLLs: Implications for Assessment (PDF) is the first publication released from the study that presents findings related to children’s learning outcomes. The goal of this brief was to identify which DLLs might benefit most from being assessed on math skills in the home language. We examined math performance among DLLs from Spanish-speaking backgrounds, as assessed in English and Spanish, among three groups of children: Spanish dominant, balanced bilingual, and English dominant DLLs. We found that most Spanish-dominant DLLs scored higher on math as assessed in Spanish, compared to English. And even within the balanced bilingual group, a substantial number of DLLs scored higher on math as assessed in Spanish. These policy-relevant findings support expert recommendations for assessing DLLs in both English and their home language, particularly for DLLs who are dominant in their home language, to avoid the risk of underestimating their skills.

Quick Facts: How Early Learning and Care Programs Identify Dual Language Learners (PDF) shares findings from a survey of early learning program administrators about ways they identify dual language learners (DLLs) in their programs and the types of information they collect. The brief highlights the variation in approaches to collecting data about DLLs across programs and the frequent reliance on informal methods of identifying DLLs. It underscores the need to have consistent data about the DLLs served in those programs in order for state policymakers to make well-informed decisions about distributing resources to programs to support DLLs, such as staff training and bilingual materials.

Image of teacher and young studentsApproaches to Supporting Dual Language Learners in California’s Early Learning and Care Programs (PDF) shares findings from a survey of administrators from a state representative sample of early learning and care programs who reported on their programmatic efforts to support DLLs. The brief describes the high level of linguistic diversity of children and staff in early learning programs in the state of California, the various beliefs, policies, and priorities that guide their program approaches for DLLs, and the different instructional practices and supports that are implemented for DLLs at the site. The brief concludes with a set of key policy considerations, situated in the context of California’s new Master Plan for Early Learning and Care.

Challenges in Assessing California's Diverse Dual Language Learners (PDF) begins by discussing some of the issues that arise when conducting research with young DLLs and the challenges that result from the lack of high-quality, validated assessments in multiple languages. The First 5 California DLL Pilot Study serves as a case study of how these issues and challenges might be addressed. Next, this paper explains how researchers on the First 5 DLL study have responded to the lack of high-quality assessments in multiple languages by instead using assessments that have either been translated or adapted, again presenting the First 5 California DLL Pilot study as an example. Finally, we conclude with a call to action and discussion of possible next steps.

Professional Development to Support Teachers of Young Dual Language Learners in California (PDF), the most recent research brief, presents findings from a survey of a representative sample of early learning and care programs across the state. Quick Facts: Professional Development to Support Teachers of Young Dual Language Learners in California (PDF) provides an overview of the key findings. These publications present a snapshot of professional development challenges, requirements, and supports for early learning and care programs serving DLLs across the state.

The Landscape of Early Learning and Care Programs Serving Dual Language Learners in California (PDF) presents initial findings from a survey of a representative sample of early learning and care programs across the state. It provides a descriptive snapshot of programs serving DLLs across all types of early learning and care settings, including both center-based and family child care homes. The publication also discusses approaches used to serve DLLs and the challenges of serving diverse populations, especially in light of the COVID-19 pandemic disruptions.

An earlier research brief, The Early Learning and Care Context for Dual Language Learners in California (PDF), summarizes the perspectives of county-level leaders on the context, challenges, and guidance for DLL caregivers in their counties, which in turn impact practices in the classroom. This brief also offers examples of successful practices to support DLLs in their communities and concludes with implications and next steps for the study.

Initial findings from the study indicate that overall beliefs about bilingualism and policies in place to support DLLs are shifting in a direction that promotes the development of young DLLs’ bilingualism. However, there are still systemic challenges that limit implementation of high-quality instruction for DLLs.