Research Years 1 - 4: The Impact of the SIOP Model on Middle School Science and Language Learning

Deborah Short, Ph.D.
Center for Applied Linguistics

Jennifer Himmel
Center for Applied Linguistics

Jana Echevarria, Ph.D.
California State University, Long Beach

Catherine Richards-Tutor, Ph.D.
California State University, Long Beach



The overall academic performance of English language learners (ELLs) in U.S. schools is problematic with a dramatic, lingering divide in achievement between Caucasian students and those from culturally and linguistically diverse groups (California Dept. of Education, 2004; Siegel, 2002; Biancarosa & Snow, 2004). Part of the reason for the achievement gap is that many teachers are underprepared to make content comprehensible to ELLs who are not proficient in the language of instruction (i.e., English). In addition, ELLs are asked to demonstrate their content area knowledge on high stakes tests, such as those for the No Child Left Behind requirements, before they are proficient. ELLs are being tested in mathematics and reading and tests in science will be added to the battery of assessments they must take.

One promising approach to improve the academic performance of ELLs is the SIOP (Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol) Model, an empirically-tested, research-based model of sheltered instruction developed by researchers at the Center for Applied Linguistics and California State University, Long Beach for the National Center for Research on Education, Diversity & Excellence (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004). It incorporates best practices for teaching academic English and provides teachers with a coherent approach for improving the achievement of their students. Teachers present curricular content concepts aligned to state standards through strategies and techniques that make academic content comprehensible to students. While doing so, teachers develop students’ academic English skills across the four domains--reading, writing, listening, and speaking.

The SIOP Model shares many features recommended for high quality instruction for all students, such as cooperative learning, reading comprehension strategies, and differentiated instruction. However, the model adds key features for the academic success of ELLs, such as including language objectives in every content lesson, developing background knowledge and content-related vocabulary, and emphasizing academic literacy practice. It allows for some variation in classroom implementation while at the same time it provides teachers with specific lesson features that, when implemented consistently and to a high degree, lead to improved academic outcomes for English language learners (Echevarria, Short, & Powers, 2006).

The Impact of the SIOP Model on Middle School Science and Language Learning is a five-year study (2005-2010) evaluating the effectiveness of the SIOP Model. This study is investigating the impact of the SIOP Model on student academic achievement in science, a subject area with high language demands. We plan to scale up the research to multiple sites across the U.S. in a series of controlled, randomized studies.

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Research Questions

  1. What are the effects of the SIOP Model of sheltered instruction on academic language and concept comprehension among English language learners in middle school science classrooms?
  2. What are the effects of an integrated SIOP Model of sheltered instruction (that incorporates findings from other CREATE studies on reading strategies, language development, and text modification) on academic language and concept comprehension among English learners in middle school science classrooms?

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Research Design and Intervention

In Year 1, we developed and pilot-tested SIOP Model lesson plans for Grade 7 curriculum units and related assessments that focused on the acquisition of science concepts and the development of academic language among English language learners. The results of this pilot study were used in our Year 2 study as we trained eight science teachers in the SIOP Model and provided them with SIOP science curriculum units so that they would implement the lesson plans effectively. Control teachers (a total of 4) taught the same science curriculum in their usual manner. Then we tested intervention and control student performance on the assessments and compared the results of students in the SIOP classes to those of control students. There were 649 students in the SIOP classes and 372 students in control classes.

In Year 4 we will expand the study with Treatment 1, Treatment 2, and Control groups in a different district. Treatment 1 teachers will receive SIOP training plus the SIOP science units. Treatment 2 will receive only SIOP training. Control teachers will teach the curriculum as they usually do. As in Year 2, we will test the intervention and control student performance on the assessments and compare the results of the three groups of students.

It is anticipated that the data gathered from Years 2-4 will be combined with the research findings from other CREATE research studies and will ultimately coalesce into a successful school reform intervention for English language learners that will be tested in a randomized study in Year 5.

The SIOP Model is currently being implemented in school districts and used in university teacher preparation programs in nearly all 50 states around the U.S. However, the implementation of the SIOP Model has outpaced the research on its features. This current study’s integration of professional development and curriculum design aligned to state science and language standards is the type of research-based approach that U.S. school districts are seeking to help English language learners develop academic content and language proficiency.

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Biancarosa, G., & Snow, C. (2004). Reading next: A vision for action and research in middle and high school literacy. Report to the Carnegie Corporation of New York. Washington, DC: Alliance for Excellent Education.

California Department of Education. (2004). Statewide Stanford 9 test results for reading: Number of students tested and percent scoring at or above the 50th percentile ranking. Retrieved February 23, 2004, from

Echevarria, J., Vogt, M.E., & Short, D. (2008). Making content comprehensible to English learners: The SIOP model (3rd ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn & Bacon.

Echevarria, J., Short, D., & Powers, K. (2006). School reform and standards-based education: An instructional model for English language learners. Journal of Educational Research, 99 (4), 195-210.

Siegel, H. (2002). Multiculturalism, universalism, and science education: In search of common ground. Science Education, 86, 803-820.


View information on SIOP Professional Development Framework in Years 5 - 6.

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