UCI receives grant to help English-language learners

A UC Irvine professor will receive an $11-million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to expand a reading and writing program that assists English-language learners in Southern California middle and high schools.

Carol Booth Olson, director of the UC Irvine Writing Project, applied for the grant through the Department of Education's Investing in Innovation competition, which celebrates new approaches to improving student achievement, according to a news release.

The money will expand the program that Olson and other professors at UCI's School of Education started to provide 72 teachers in the Santa Ana Unified School District with the training needed to assist English-language learners in understanding, interpreting and writing analytical essays.

About 88% of students enrolled in Santa Ana Unified are not fluent in English, according to district data.

"The project aims to close the achievement gap for English learners by providing high-quality professional development to teachers," Olson, an associate professor of education, wrote. "They tend to be incredibly dedicated but are overworked and deal with large class sizes and other challenges. We treat them as professionals and provide support, materials and ideas."

English learners are defined as students whose knowledge of the language makes it difficult to learn in English. More than 5 million children in the country fall into this category.

"These students might be able to converse and write in English but are unable to write at a higher academic level," Olson wrote. "Our focus is on teaching them how to interpret, analyze, make inferences and draw conclusions in their writing."

Santa Ana Unified students' statewide test scores jumped after the first and second year of the program, according to the news release.

Olson is planning to expand the training workshop to the Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District's three high schools in September.

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