Implementing a K–12 Dual Language Enrichment (DLE) Program―Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD

English Language Learners (ELL)

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD (PSJA ISD) serves a student population (total = 31,223) that is 0.3% African American, 99% Hispanic, 0.8% White, 0.2% Asian/Pacific Islander, 89% economically disadvantaged, 42% Limited English Proficient (LEP), and 74% at risk.

Students participating in a K–12 dual language pilot program, many of whom started out as English language learners (ELL), have consistently performed better than their peers on TAKS in all subject areas (see Supporting Evidence for more information).

 In this summary, find out how the district:

  • Piloted a K–12 Spanish/English Dual Language Enrichment (DLE) program and gradually expanded it districtwide
  • Provides dual language instruction as enrichment, not remediation
  • Offers core-area content and elective courses taught in Spanish at all school levels
  • Provides primary language instruction and support for newcomers at any grade level, including secondary grades, through the DLE program
  • Provides training and support for teachers to ensure a high degree of fidelity in program implementation 

Strategies that are aligned with research-based best practices in serving ELLs include (see Research Base for more information):

  • Emphasizing a mainstream enrichment approach to bilingual education through dual language programming
  • Supporting literacy development in students’ primary language
  • Providing equal instructional time in English and non-English language
  • Promoting long-term administrator support and commitment and fidelity of program implementation
  • Phasing in implementation grade by grade to adjust and refine programming


  • The district reported that approximately 3.4% of ELLs in the district were recent immigrants.
  • A new superintendent came to the district beginning in 2007–08.

Demographics (2009–10)
Demographics Table. Grade levels served: ECE-12. District enrollment: 31,223. Ethnic Distribution: African American 92, 0.3%. Hispanic 30,792, 98.6%. White 258, 0.8%. Native American 14, 0.0%. Asian/Pacific Islander 67, 0.2%. Economically Disadvantaged: 27,659, 88.6%. Limited English Proficient (LEP): 13,132, 42.1%. At Risk: 23,014, 73.7%.
Source: Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS)

Accountability Rating:
Recognized (2009–10)

Implementation Highlights:
Implementation Highlights. 1994: DLE K-12 pilot begins. 2008-09: Shift from elementary early-exit to one-way DLE. Spring 2009: First cohort of dual language graduates. 2010-11: Additional 5 middle, 2 high schools offer secondary DLE (districtwide).


Program pilot and model components

  • Beginning in 1994, the district piloted a Dual Language Enrichment (DLE) program model in Grades PreK–12 in two feeder patterns of schools (phased in grade by grade at six elementary, two middle, and two high schools) with funding from two five-year Title VII grants.1 The goal was to help ELLs in Grades PreK–5 develop a high level of proficiency in speaking, reading, writing, and comprehension in both English and Spanish, maintaining Spanish language and literacy skills as an enrichment through middle and high school to graduate bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural. To achieve this, the district’s DLE program was designed around the following principles:
    • Provision of dual language learning opportunities for at least 5-7 years with extensive exposure and use of the two languages;
    • Fidelity to the implementation of the program to ensure grade-level language development and content learning; and
    • Provision of dual language instruction as enrichment, not remediation, to challenge and empower students with interactive and authentic activities in an environment of high expectations.  
  • In fall 2001, the first cohort of students entered the DLE program at the middle school level to continue dual language instruction, enabling them to earn high school credit as early as Grade 7 and college hours in Grade 8.
  • In spring 2009, the first cohort of students participating in the DLE pilot graduated from high school with a dual language seal on their diplomas. Over 1,000 additional participants were continuing a dual language education at the secondary level as a result of the pilot.
  • To support program fidelity, the district Bilingual-English as a Second Language (ESL) Department developed and published extensive DLE program resources on its website. Examples included grade-level requirements for elementary 50/50 model implementation (instructional groupings, content-area/language of instruction guidelines, learning centers, computer and supplemental support, and staffing recommendations) as well as secondary program design and implementation guidelines. For more information on the DLE resources provided by the district, see,
  • Model design and components at the elementary and secondary levels were implemented as follows.

Elementary 50/50 DLE model―50% of instruction in Spanish (primary language/L1 for ELL students) and 50% in English (second language/L2 for ELL students) from PreK through Grade 5.

    • PreK–Grade 1: initial literacy in the primary language
    • Grades 2–5: language arts in both languages, Spanish (60 minutes daily) and English (60 minutes daily)
    • PreK–5: mathematics in English
    • PreK–5: Social studies/science in Spanish 
  • Primary language content support for elementary ELL students was provided in a variety of ways. For example, all elementary classrooms included learning centers as part of the model (a minimum of eight, focused on core content areas and electives, depending on the grade level), with a designated period for students to work in centers for supplemental content-area support in small groups. Teachers assigned students to centers in mixed pairs (ELL/non-ELL or by proficiency groupings), and center activities were designed to provide supplemental content support in both languages.
  • In addition, the district’s DLE instructional framework included an alternating “language of the day” component in which a designated language was identified as the language to be used by all students and teachers for non-instructional uses. So, for example, on a Spanish-only day, morning greetings, classroom routines, and lunch and recess communications were all conducted in Spanish. This time allowed teachers to touch base with ELL students and provide L1 support for ELLs in the content areas in which instruction was in L2, for example, in mathematics.

Middle School Partial Immersion 80/20―80% of instruction in English and 20% of instruction in Spanish in Grades 6–8

  • Students who continued in the dual language program in middle school were required to take Spanish language arts, Spanish I, Spanish II/Advanced Placement (AP) as well as one content-area course every year in Spanish.
  • While core content-area offerings in Spanish were based on availability of teachers at a particular campus, course offerings provided in Spanish were linked to the elementary language of delivery (i.e., social studies or science). Typical offerings at district middle schools included:
    • Grade 6: Spanish language arts (one semester) and an elective (one semester) and social studies or science in Spanish
    • Grade 7: Spanish I (for high school credit) and Texas History in Spanish
    • Grade 8: Spanish II/AP (for high school and college credit based on exam participation/score) and U.S. History in Spanish  
  • Newcomer ELLs at the middle school level were integrated into the DLE program, receiving core content-area and elective instruction in all courses offered in Spanish at their campus and additional instruction through ESL classes.

High School—eight credits taken in Spanish required

  • High school students opting to continue in the dual language program chose from a variety of core content-area and elective courses taught in Spanish at their campuses and were required to complete eight high school credits in courses delivered in Spanish in order to graduate with Dual Language Recognition (see below). Of the eight credits, four credits were required in Spanish Language (Spanish I, II, III, IV), half of which should be completed in middle school. Other course offerings were campus-specific and based on availability of staff, including core content as well as elective classes. Examples included Algebra I, Geometry, Physics, Anatomy, Art, and Business Information Management.
  • Newcomer ELLs at the high school level were supported through the DLE program, receiving core content-area and elective instruction in all courses offered in Spanish at their campus and additional instruction through ESL classes.
  • Staff reported that originally dual language students at the high school level were only required to complete six courses taught in Spanish, but the district increased the requirement to eight (starting with the cohort that was in Grade 10 in 2010–11) to make the program more challenging and because students in early cohorts were eager to take more than the minimum required courses in Spanish.
  • Students meeting these requirements graduated with Dual Language Recognition, which included the following:
    • Special Dual Language graduation ceremony
    • Dual Language seal on the student’s diploma
    • Dual Language stole to wear at graduation
    • Dual Language medal

Districtwide expansion

  • In 2007–08, the new district superintendent mandated a shift from an early-exit transitional bilingual model for ELLs at the elementary level to a one-way DLE model (PreK–5) based on the success of the two-way DLE program in place at the piloted schools. The new elementary model was implemented one grade level at a time with full implementation in all elementary schools targeted for 2014. As a result of this shift, elementary ELLs were to continue dual language programming through Grade 5 even if they were able to meet LEP exit criteria earlier.
  • The district also provided continued opportunity for non-ELLs to enroll in the DLE programs at the six district elementary schools that already had capacity as a result of the pilot, assigning interested non-ELLs to identified two-way classrooms with a balance of ELLs and non-ELLs. All other elementary campuses were adding capacity grade by grade to offer sections of two-way dual language instruction for interested students. In addition, the DLE model was expanded to all district middle and high schools so that all students—ELLs and non-ELLs—who participated in the elementary dual language program would have the option of continuing at the secondary level. At the secondary level, the district superintendent required campus leaders to find funding to support the program. Specifically, principals were asked to find campus-level funding for staffing (i.e., teacher incentives to teach their courses in Spanish) and materials. The superintendent was also looking for grants to support the ongoing development and district expansion of the dual language program.

Staffing, training, and resource support for DLE programming

  • To provide the DLE program at the secondary level during the pilot, staff originally thought the district would have to recruit teachers from Mexico. However, when the district asked principals at the pilot DLE campuses to inquire who on their staff would be interested and competent to teach their classes in Spanish, enough qualified teachers volunteered to offer the minimum number of courses required in the district model. Staff reported that many district teachers had been ELLs themselves and/or had a strong Spanish-language background.
  • Staffing qualifications for the DLE program included meeting NCLB highly qualified teacher requirements in the appropriate content area and either bilingual or ESL certification at the elementary level and ESL certification and Title III teacher fluency requirements for oral and written proficiency2 at the secondary level.
  • As the new elementary model and DLE program expansion were implemented, training for elementary dual language teachers at each grade level included a three-day training on the 50/50 DLE instructional framework delivered by external consultants. This training was supplemented with additional district professional development and resources on how to set up and manage classroom learning centers, use of non-negotiable classroom set ups, student pairing, and classroom materials.
  • The district provided a mini DLE institute for middle and high school teachers offering courses in Spanish that provided opportunities to work with teachers who had participated in the pilot and share resources and strategies. Participants also visited the classrooms of pilot teachers to observe instructional techniques. 
  • District Bilingual-ESL Department staff researched appropriate texts and materials for core content-area teaching in Spanish and reported that middle school level Spanish language supplements in social studies were increasingly available. Staff also worked with publishers to access textbooks in Spanish. 
  • Staff reported, however, that teachers offering high school level courses in Spanish had to develop most of their instructional materials themselves, including curricula, classroom assessments and benchmarks, classroom activities, and assignments. As stated previously, secondary campuses were responsible for purchasing materials or providing supplemental pay to teachers providing courses in Spanish.
  • Staff reported that while some other districts offering secondary dual language programs had opted to use English-language textbooks with instructional delivery in Spanish to address this resource challenge, PSJA ISD staff provided support for teachers in locating Spanish-language textbooks and working with textbook representatives.

Program fidelity and monitoring

  • The district provided guidelines and resources on its website to support program fidelity and conducted systematic monitoring to ensure appropriate implementation of the DLE model.
  • In addition, after providing grade-level training, the district’s primary DLE consultants conducted classroom visits during the fall to those teachers who had participated in the training to observe implementation. After the observations, the consultants met with principals and district staff, including the superintendent, to discuss strengths and weakness of DLE model implementation at the target grade level.
  • District staff also provided campus-level training and lesson modeling to ensure implementation fidelity. Additional training and monitoring was provided by researchers and consultants from area colleges/universities.
  • After initial observations, principals were expected to conduct ongoing monitoring of implementation, with support from district staff. The district developed forms for classroom observations that helped administrators assess model “non-negotiables” (for example, classroom set-ups, bilingual pairing, use of standardized opening activities) and instruction (level and rigor of instruction and instructional delivery). The district Bilingual-ESL Department trained principals in the use of the observation forms, and principals conducted walk-throughs twice a year, in December and May. Principals were then able to request additional support from the district department for teachers in areas of concern.
  • These monitoring processes were implemented at the elementary level. At the secondary level, the district was in the process of developing an observation checklist that targeted secondary level DLE classroom practices.


  • DLE model training provided by consultants
  • District-provided DLE training for secondary teachers as well as supplemental training and modeling for teachers at all grade levels
  • DLE program implementation monitoring training for administrators

Resources, Cost Components, and Sources of Funding: 
After the initial grant funding (Title VII) for the pilot DLE program ended, the program was continued and expanded using state bilingual funding for elementary programming for ELLs as per state requirements, with Title III (Part A, English Language Acquisition under NCLB) funding used for supplemental activities as needed. Local funding was used to support non-ELL participation in the elementary DLE program and also for DLE teacher stipends and textbooks and other curriculum materials at the secondary level. Staff reported that state funding awards for middle school Spanish AP performance through the state’s Advanced Placement/International Baccalaureate Incentive Program were used to support programming (resources and teacher incentives).

Cost components included the following:

  • Training
  • Secondary teacher stipends/incentives
  • Content-area materials in Spanish

Lessons Learned 

  • Staff emphasized that the DLE program was an enrichment program, not a remedial program, and that the curriculum was rigorous and provided challenging opportunities for ELLs. With the foundational content-area support in their native language, ELLs experienced continuing success after exiting LEP status. Staff reported that participants were successful on English TAKS in courses they had taken in Spanish, demonstrating both content knowledge and dual language proficiency.
  • Parent interest in the continuation and expansion of the program was a major factor in the district’s decision to apply for a second Title VII grant to continue implementation of the DLE program at the secondary level. As a result of the success of the initial pilot program and local media attention, staff reported that other parents in the district were increasingly interested in the program. One important tangible benefit that interested parents was the possibility of students receiving high school credit at the middle school level for Spanish language courses. The district consequently saw students enroll from private or charter schools in order to have access to the 12 hours of “free” college credit available by taking the AP Spanish Language examination in Grade 8.
  • Staff reported that the number of students introduced to the DLE program through the pilot who opted to continue at the secondary level increased over time.
  • Staff said that minimal turnover of DLE teaching and administrative staff as well as integration of the dual language program into the Bilingual-ESL Department had contributed to the strength of the program.
  • As the program is expanded districtwide, staff anticipated challenges in serving more schools, teachers, and students. Identifying qualified staff, funding for staff incentives, identifying and purchasing quality instructional resources in Spanish, as well as scheduling issues at the secondary level were likely to present challenges.
  • Staff reported that tracking enrollment trends and disaggregating data to monitor outcomes of the DLE cohorts was a challenge due to the ongoing integration of newcomers into the program.

Supporting Evidence

Evidence Type: 
Emerging Practice

Overview of Evidence:
Staff emphasized that the pilot program was open to all students and that during and after the pilot a diverse group of students continued to participate in the program through high school, outperforming their peers in all subject areas. As an example, the district provided high school data for the second cohort of DLE pilot participants compared to district non-participants at the same grade levels. In all subjects, a higher percentage of DLE participants performed at the Commended level on TAKS than non-participants in the same grade level. Across high school grades, 44% of DLE students performed at the Commended level on TAKS reading/ELA, compared to 16% of non-participants; 45% of DLE students performed at the Commended level in mathematics, compared to 13% of non-participants in the district; 27% percent performed at the Commended level in science, compared to 5% of non-participants; and 53% of DLE participants performed at the Commended level in social studies, compared to 21% of non-participants. Chart 1 shows DLE participants’ Commended performance (cohort 2) across Grades 9–11 compared to all other students at those grade levels in all subject areas tested.

Students participating in the DLE program had the option of taking the AP Spanish Language examination in Grade 8 to receive college credit (if they scored a 3, 4, or 5 on the exam). Since 2004–05, when the first cohort of students participating in the DLE pilot program reached Grade 8, the percentage of Grade 8 students taking the AP Spanish Language exam and the percentage of Grade 8 DLE students scoring 3 or above on the exam have increased. Chart 2 shows the percentage of DLE pilot students scoring 3 or above on the AP Spanish Language exam since the first cohort reached Grade 8.

Staff also reported that available data indicated that at least 91% of the first cohort of graduating DLE pilot program participants went on to enroll in higher education. Staff was currently updating data on the percentage of second cohort DLE graduates who went on to enroll in postsecondary institutions.

The district reported that as a result of the pilot program, in the 2009–10 school year, approximately 800 students were participating in the DLE program at the middle school level, and 430 were participating at the high school level. Staff reported that some students opted out of continuing the program as they moved into upper grade levels for a variety of reasons, most often scheduling conflicts.

Percentage Commended on TAKS by Subject Area: DLE Cohort 2/District Non-Participants Grades 9–11 Forty-four percent of DLE Cohort 2 participants passed reading/ELA TAKS at the commended level, compared to the district non-DLE participant average of 16%. Forty-five percent of DLE Cohort 2 participants passed mathematics TAKS at the commended level, compared to the district non-DLE participant average of 13%. Twenty-seven percent of DLE Cohort 2 participants passed science TAKS at the commended level, compared to the district non-DLE participant average of 5%. Fifty-three percent of DLE Cohort 2 participants passed social studies TAKS at the commended level, compared to the district non-DLE participant average of 21%.
Source: District-provided data
Note: Weighted averages are provided for the DLE cohort and district non-participants across grade levels/years (Grade 9=2007; Grade 10=2008; Grade 11=2009)

Percentage of Examinees Scoring 3, 4, 5 on AP Spanish Exam: Grade 8 In 2005, 63% of Grade 8 examinees scored 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Spanish exam. In 2006, 91% of Grade 8 examinees scored 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Spanish exam. In 2007, 60% of Grade 8 examinees scored 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Spanish exam. In 2008, 69% of Grade 8 examinees scored 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Spanish exam. In 2009, 74% of Grade 8 examinees scored 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Spanish exam. In 2010, 75% of Grade 8 examinees scored 3, 4, or 5 on the AP Spanish exam.
Source: District-provided data

Research Base:

Contact Information

Pharr-San Juan-Alamo Independent School District
601 E. Kelly 
P.O. BOX 1150
Pharr, TX  78577
(956) 354-2000

End Notes

1Title VII grants to support bilingual education, language enhancement, and language acquisition programs were administered through the former Office of Bilingual Education and Minority Languages Affairs (OBEMLA) renamed the Office of English Language Acquisition, Language Enhancement, and Academic Achievement for Limited English Proficient Students (OELA).

Under Section 3116(c) of Title III, Part A, a Title III-funded Local Education Agency (LEA) must ensure that all teachers in a language instruction educational program for LEP students are fluent in English and any other language used for instruction, including oral and written fluency. Under the latest guidance available from the U.S. Department of Education, this applies to all of the Title III-funded LEA’s teachers who provide instruction in English AND any other language, regardless of whether or not they are paid with Title III funds.