What Works for Supporting English Learner Students? A Meta-analysis

Girl with backpack smiling

For over 50 years, U.S. education policy has upheld the right of English learner students (ELs) to meaningful educational opportunity. The past two decades have produced a large number of studies examining the impacts of programs designed to support EL learning. The increased production of rigorous EL intervention research, combined with the uneven effectiveness of EL interventions, warrant a comprehensive, systematic review and meta-analysis to consolidate data across the field and better understand what works and under what conditions. Our study addresses this need.

Study Objectives

  1. To describe the literature base of programs designed to support English learner students.
  2. To understand the factors linked to what works for English learners, as well as for whom and under what conditions.
  3. To provide information to decisionmakers when seeking to design or decide on English learner programming.
In general, EL programs are effective yet some outperform others. We are investigating why some succeed where others do not.

From the more than 5,000 citations identified through our searching, we have identified over 70 randomized control trials contributing more than 800 effect sizes. Our initial evidence suggests that the interventions are effective, and consistently effective, at increasing English Language Arts and English Language Proficiency. The findings also suggest that, while the interventions can impact math achievement, some programs perform much better than others, as evidenced by the large heterogeneity and prediction intervals. Further meta-regression analyses are ongoing. We expect to release results in the summer of 2023.

Image of Ryan Williams
Principal Researcher
Rachel Garrett
Principal Researcher
Joshua Polanin
Principal Researcher