How to support ELL students: A Q&A with Dr. Jim Soland

How to support ELL students: A Q&A with Dr. Jim Soland - TLG-IMG-10242019Dr. Jim Soland, affiliated research fellow with NWEA and assistant professor at the University of Virginia, recently completed a research study exploring the connection between components of social-emotional learning (SEL)—namely self-efficacy—and growth in achievement for English language learners (ELLs).

I sat down with Jim to learn more about his research, discuss the origins and motivations for this study, and determine what the results might mean for educators. His responses were edited for length and clarity.

In addition to your work at NWEA, you are an assistant professor at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. What is the focus of your research?

I have a few areas of interest that most of my work falls under. The first is looking at measurement and growth issues and how they relate to social-emotional learning. The second big one is test engagement work related to some of Dr. Steve Wise’s research. I am also interested in growth modeling and measurement more generally.

English learners start with lower self-efficacy and then there’s a pretty strong association between that initial self-efficacy and how fast they grow in math and reading over the course of middle school.

What motivated this study in particular?

I have always been really interested in English learners and how educators and policymakers can best support them. At the same time, I have been increasingly seeing this really strong relationship between student SEL outcomes and their academic achievements.

Knowing English learners start school with a whole host of challenges—like trying to learn a language and academic content in tandem—I was really interested in whether there was a strong connection between their social-emotional outcomes and growth in achievement.

How did you conduct this research?

I was mainly looking at middle school students. We used MAP® Growth™ assessment data and results from a self-efficacy survey to determine the answers to three questions:

  1. Does self-efficacy differ in ELLs versus non-ELLs?
  2. Do growth patterns in self-efficacy and achievement differ for ELLs versus non-ELLs?
  3. Does self-efficacy affect growth in achievement for ELLs and vice versa?

What did you find? Were you surprised by the results?

It was by and large what I was expecting, which is that English learners start fifth grade with much lower self-efficacy than their non-English learner peers. And there’s a lot of research suggesting that would be the case and positing theories for why. But English learners start with lower self-efficacy and then there’s a pretty strong association between that initial self-efficacy and how fast they grow in math and reading over the course of middle school.

Gaps may be closing more slowly because of that social-emotional component.

We can go one step further and break down the growth a little bit into how much of their academic growth seems to be about that fact that, “Yeah, they’re an English learner and they have a bunch of academic challenges” versus the strong suggestion that their growth is slower possibly due to that lower self-efficacy. Gaps may be closing more slowly because of that social-emotional component. 

You’re discussing your findings and their implications in a live webinar November 14.  What can educators expect?

Fireworks, great visuals, and a page-turning presentation. [Jim laughs] No, I’ll present the results and talk through the implications.

Tweet: How to support ELL students: A Q&A with Dr. Jim Soland https://nwea.us/2qAztQK #edchat #education #teachers #edresearchThere are lots of considerations for teachers in the classroom and school administrators that could very well have a positive impact on growth in achievement and a student’s self-efficacy. Thinking through things like a student’s perception of what they know and can do, or the best time to reclassify an English learner. There’s a lot to explore that can have a significant ripple effect.

What’s next for you and this research?

With a couple of collaborators at Stanford, we’re launching a project where we’re trying to show whether there’s some sort of causal link between reclassification for English learners and their social-emotional learning outcomes. So if we compare students who are basically identical in terms of their test scores, but one English learner was reclassified and the other wasn’t, do they have different self-efficacy, growth mindset, that kind of thing? So in some ways, kind of elevating the study I am going to talk about to the policy level.

Learn more

Want to read more about the relationship between self-efficacy and growth in achievement for English learners? Download the research brief to review the study and the results in a format that’s easy to read and share.