ERIC Identifier: ED279205
Publication Date: 1986-12-00
Author: Simich-Dudgeon, Carmen
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.

Parent Involvement and the Education of Limited-English-Proficient Students. ERIC Digest.

Over the last two decades, there has been a growing body of research evidence suggesting that there are important benefits to be gained by elementary-age schoolchildren when their parents provide support, encouragement and direct instruction in the home, as well as maintain good communications with the school -- activities which are known as "parent involvement". Such findings have led researchers and school personnel to apply parent involvement techniques at higher grade levels and with limited-English-proficient and non-English-proficient (LEP/NEP) students as well. The results to date have been encouraging.


In general, parents may become involved by:

--providing a home environment that supports children's learning needs;

--volunteering to provide assistance in the school as teachers' aides, secretaries, or in other roles;

--becoming activists and decision-makers in organizations such as the local PTA/PTO, or community advocacy groups that advise local school boards and school districts;

--attending school-sponsored activities;

--maintaining open channels of communication with the teacher(s) and continually monitoring children's progress in school;

--tutoring the children at home, using specific learning activities designed by the teacher to reinforce work being done in school (Epstein, 1986).

While most of the activities listed above are undertaken on the initiative of parents, the last activity -- parent-as-tutor involvement -- is, or should be, initiated by the teacher. Schools with newly-established parent involvement programs have noted that parents are willing to become involved, but that they do not know how to help their children with academic tasks at home, and in general, are fearful of doing more harm than good. To counteract this, the teacher must maintain contact with the parents, giving specific assistance with materials and tutoring techniques that will sucessfully reinforce the work being done in school (Simich, 1986; Epstein, 1985a).

Parent involvement in the education of high school students, on the other hand, requires that the parent become co-learner, facilitator and collaborator, a means of support as the high school-age student develops independence and explores future educational options.


For the growing numbers of limited- or non-English-proficient parents, parent involvement of any kind in the school process is a new cultural concept. Moreover, attempts by teachers and school officials to involve such parents in the education of their children is very often interpreted as a call for interference. The overwhelming majority of LEP/NEP parents believe that the school has not only the qualifications, but the responsibility to educate their children, and that any amount of parent "interference" is certain to be counter-productive. The most important task, then, in involving LEP/NEP parents in their children's education is to acculturate them to the meaning of parent involvement in their new social environment.

While most LEP/NEP parents do not have the English language proficiency to engage in many of the typical parent involvement activities, they may be very successfully involved in parent-school collaboration at home. These parents can be taught to reinforce educational concepts in the native language and/or English. Additionally, bilingual community liaisons should be available to bridge language and cultural differences between home and school. An added advantage, of course, is that LEP/NEP parents improve their own general knowledge, language and survival skills as a result of their participation in the program.


Epstein (1985b) has concluded, "the evidence is clear that parental encouragement, activities and interest at home, and parental participation in schools and classrooms positively influence achievement, even after the students' ability and family socioeconomic status are taken into account." Moreover, there may be evidence to support the conclusion that the most useful variety of parent involvement is the contact that parents have with their chidren in the home when such contact is used to encourage and aid school achievement. Significant findings from several parent involvement programs show that:

--Parent involvement in academic activities with children at home consistently and significantly improves parents' knowledge and expertise in helping their children, as well as their ability to effectively evaluate teachers' merits (Bennett, 1986)

--Direct parental involvement at home with children's school work has positive effects on such things as school attendance, classroom behavior, and parent-teacher relations (Gillum, 1977; Rich and others, 1979; Comer, 1980).

--Students who are part of parent involvement programs show higher reading achievement than children who are not. Hewison and Tizard (1980) found that "children encouraged to read to their parents, and to talk with their parents about their reading, had markedly higher reading gains than children who did not have this opportunity."

Moreover, small group instruction during the school day by highly competent specialists did not produce gains comparable to those obtained in parental involvement programs. Results of a longitudinal study of 300 3rd and 5th grade students in Baltimore City show that from fall to spring, students whose teachers were leaders in the use of parent involvement made greater gains in reading achievement than did students whose teachers were not recognized for encouraging parent involvement (Epstein, 1985b).


In the study conducted by Hewison and Tizard mentioned above, several of the participating parents were non-English-proficient and/or illiterate, a condition that neither prevented the parents from collaborating with the school, nor the children from showing marked improvement in reading ability.

A more recent study, the 3-year Trinity-Arlington Teacher and Parent Training for School Success Project, has shown the most comprehensive findings to date concerning parent involvement and limited-English proficiency. This project, the result of a collaboration between Trinity College in Washington, DC and the Arlington, VA Public Schools, was designed to facilitate the acquisition of English language skills by high school LEP students from four language backgrounds (Khmer, Lao, Spanish and Vietnamese) through the development of supportive relationships among the students, parents and school staff. The role of the parent-as-tutor was stressed and facilitated by community liaisons proficient in the native language of the parents. Parents were shown how to collaborate, to be co-learners with their high school-age children in the completion of specially-designed home lessons from the Vocationally-Oriented Bilingual Curriculum (VOBC), a supplement to the ESL program which was in use at the implementation site.

Several locally-developed and nationally-validated measures of English proficiency were administered to the students. Additionally, both parents and students were administered a content test to provide evidence of cultural knowledge gained as a result of the VOBC information exchanged between parent and student. The study showed positively that the VOBC home lessons reinforced ESL concepts and language skills taught to students during regular ESL classroom instruction. Significant gains were also recorded in the English language and survival skills of the parents; and, as a result of their collaboration on the VOBC home lessons, parents and students alike learned a great deal about life in America and about the American school system.

In many LEP/NEP households, parents worked two or three jobs and were often not available to work with their children on the VOBC home lessons. Likewise, many students were unaccompanied minors and/or heads of household, and did not have the luxury of parental involvement. Such cases highlighted another very important finding: in households where parents were not available to work with their children, interaction with guardians and siblings over the VOBC home lessons often provided the same positive reinforcement as when parents participated, possible evidence that home activities could be even more productive if the whole family were to be involved in their completion (Simich, 1986).


To develop a parent-as-tutor, collaborator or co-learner program, the collaboration of all school personnel is essential. Regular classroom teachers, ESL teachers, counselors, and administrators should receive training in how to develop better home and school collaboration with LEP/NEP parents and how to involve them in the education of their children. An essential component of the parent involvement effort is the bilingual community liaison, a highly respected member of the parents' language community who is knowledgeable about the American school system.

Information on the VOBC, Teacher's Guide to the VOBC, a training videotape to supplement the VOBC and other materials developed by the Trinity-Arlington Project may be obtained by writing the National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 11501 Georgia Avenue, Wheaton, MD 20907; (301) 933-9448 or (800) 647-0123.


Bennett, W.J. FIRST LESSONS: A REPORT ON ELEMENTARY EDUCATION IN AMERICA. Washington, DC: Department of Education, 1986.

Crespo, O.L. (comp.). PARENT INVOLVEMENT IN THE EDUCATION OF MINORITY LANGUAGE CHILDREN. A RESOURCE HANDBOOK. Rosslyn, VA: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education, 1984. ED 261 540.

Comer, J.P. SCHOOL PROSE. New York, NY: Free Press, 1980.

Epstein, J.L. "Parent Involvement: Implications for Limited-English-Proficient Parents." In C. Simich-Dudgeon (ed.) ISSUES OF PARENT INVOLVEMENT AND LITERACY. Washington, DC: Trinity College, 1986.

Epstein, J.L. EFFECTS OF TEACHER PRACTICES OF PARENT INVOLVEMENT ON CHANGE IN STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN READING AND MATH. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University, Center for Social Organization of Schools, 1985. (b).

Epstein, J.L. "Home and School Connections in Schools of the Future: Implications of Research on Parent Involvement." PEABODY JOURNAL OF EDUCATION 62 (1985). (a): 18-41.

Gillum, R.M. "The Effects of Parent Involvement on Student Achievement in Three Michigan Performance Contracting Programs." Paper presented at the American Educational Researach Association Annual Meeting, 1977.

Hewison, J., and J. Tizard. "Parental Involvement and Reading Attainment." BRITISH JOURNAL OF EDUCATIONAL PSYCHOLOGY 50 (1980): 209-215.

Rich, D., J. Van Dien, and B. Mallox. "Families As Educators of Their Own Children." In R. Brandt (ed.). PARTNERS: PARENTS AND SCHOOLS. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, 1979.

Simich-Dudgeon, C. TRINITY-ARLINGTON PARENT INVOLVEMENT PROJECT, FINAL REPORT. Submitted to the Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Affairs. Washington, DC: Department of Education, 1986.

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