The U.S. Department of Education (DoE) has awarded the 2012 Investing in Innovation Fund (I3) to the Bilingual Education Programs at Texas A&M University.

The $16.3 million grant includes an investment from the DoE of $14.82 million and matching private sector funds of $1.48 million. The I3 rewards competitive institutions with a record of improving student achievement, which is reflected in the ongoing English Language Learning and Acquisition (ELLA) study.

Texas A&M was one of eight awardees to be selected from 727 nationwide applications. Dr. Douglas Palmer, Dean of the College of Education & Human Development, expressed his support and appreciation of the college’s faculty who are working on this project.

“These faculty are engaged in research that will have a positive impact on the education of students in Texas and can serve as a national model,” said Palmer. “This program builds off years of ongoing research in the area of English acquisition – this validation program affords the opportunity to close the achievement gap between English learners and their native English-speaking classmates.”

Based upon the research of Drs. Rafael Lara-Alecio and Fuhui Tong over a five-year longitudinal randomized trial study, the grant will allow researchers to validate intervention efforts and determine the degree of impact on English acquisition and comprehension.

The original research provides promising insight into an intervention involving kindergarten through third (K-3) grade English language learners. ELLA-V aims to bridge the gap for students with a lower level of English proficiency.

Dr. Lara-Alecio, a professor of bilingual education in the Department of Educational Psychology, is the principal investigator and program director for the validation program.

“After years of research, we are so glad to move ahead with the ELLA-V stage of our program,” said Lara-Alecio. “We have the support of more than 25 districts across Texas, and we feel this program will have a positive impact on thousands of children across the state.”

The validation stage of the program, which started January 1, will be implemented over the next five years. ELLA-V will validate intervention methods used at each of the four grade levels of K-3.

Partnering with Lara-Alecio and Tong is Dr. Beverly Irby, a professor at Sam Houston State University. A team comprised of Drs. Bob Slavin and Alan Cheung from Johns Hopkins University will evaluate program progress and findings.

The grant comes at a time when more than 830,000 Texas students were English language learners in the 2010-2011 school year. If successful, the statistics also provide the framework for a national upscale of the project–English language learners comprise more than 21 percent of enrollment within schools across America, of which 79 percent are Spanish speaking.

A successful foundation in English has a direct correlation with achievement in other subjects as well.

“What we have found, and what we have always assumed, is that successful English acquisition leads to higher grades in math and science, among other areas of learning,” said Lara-Alecio.

A number of graduate and undergraduate students at Texas A&M will also have an opportunity to work on this state and national leadership project. Dean Palmer noted, “This engagement of our students in this research project reflects the mission of the college to prepare the next generation of leaders who will transform lives.”

The program has an estimated impact of more than 600 teachers and 15,000 students across the state over the next five years. Lara-Alecio highlights the importance of the work to come.

“We can’t think of a better way to serve the citizens of Texas than to provide and test best practices in classrooms across the state in a very rigorous and scientific manner,” said Lara-Alecio. “We are serving future generations of learners in Texas and, as findings are validated, are ready to expand further into applications across the United States.”