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Ongoing Research Projects

Sustaining Dual Language Immersion: L2 Outcomes in a State-Wide Program 
Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, Fernando Rubio, and Doug Tharp 
Submitted to The Modern Language Journal (November 2019)

Dual language immersion (DLI) as an alternative model to monolingual English-medium education has expanded rapidly over the past ten years. As DLI continues to grow across the country, stakeholders look to research to demonstrate sustainability and scalability of DLI programs. Drawing on 224 schools, the study reported in this article investigated whether partner language, or L2 growth of Chinese, French, Spanish, and Portuguese students in a state-wide DLI program sustained into the secondary level; to what degree students met L2 performance benchmarks; and whether targeted L2 outcomes were attained during program scale-up. The longitudinal analysis of L2 assessment data shows that middle school DLI students performed at ACTFL Intermediate Mid to High levels of proficiency in listening, speaking, reading and writing, and that a segment of students raised their performance levels from eighth to ninth grade. Furthermore, a considerable portion of French and Spanish students reached the Advanced level in ninth grade. Finally, third and fourth grade data show that targeted L2 outcomes held from one testing year to another, four years later and after a substantial increase in DLI enrollments. The article concludes with a discussion of curricular and policy implications.


Academic Achievement of Students in Dual Language Immersion 

Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, Kristin Swenson, and Zachary Mayne 

International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism 21(8), 913-928.  

DOI: 10.1080/13670050.2016.1214675

This article reports on a study that investigated achievement in math of third and fourth grade dual language immersion (DLI) students, building on research that has demonstrated the academic achievement of students who receive content instruction predominantly in the target language. Our study expands the scope and methodology of prior research by including one-way programs in three languages (Chinese, French and Spanish) and two-way Spanish-English programs; and by relying on propensity matching to mitigate possible effects of school and student differences. In our third-grade study, we compared students’ math scores in relation to their English Language Arts (ELA) achievement to control for pre-existing differences between DLI and non-DLI students. DLI students who attained the same levels in ELA, and who received math instruction in a target language, performed at the same level as their non-DLI peers in third grade math tests given in English. For the fourth-grade study, we compared DLI students to a propensity-matched non-DLI group. DLI students grew more in math than their counterparts not in DLI. The results from this natural experiment indicate that students in a DLI program that has been implemented state-wide were able to succeed academically in math.

Click here to download the article.


Linguistic Performance of Dual Language Immersion Students

Johanna Watzinger-Tharp, Fernando Rubio, Doug Tharp

Foreign Language Annals, 51, 575–595.

DOI: 10.1111/flan.12354

The assessment of dual language immersion (DLI) students’ proficiency in the partner language plays a key role in program evaluation. This article reports findings from a large‐scale study, drawing on cross‐sectional assessment data from 73 schools and longitudinal data from 25 schools. Students were tested in the interpretive (listening and reading) and interpersonal (listening/speaking) modes of communication, using the ACTFL Assessment of Proficiency Towards Performance in Languages. The cross‐sectional analysis shows that French and Spanish students performed at Intermediate Low across skills in fourth or fifth grade and Intermediate Mid in sixth grade. Sixth‐grade Chinese DLI students attained near Intermediate Mid in listening and Novice High to Intermediate Low in reading and speaking. Across languages, students achieved the highest ratings in listening and, overall, performed more strongly in listening and reading than speaking. A regression analysis of students’ change scores over time revealed significant progress in nearly all tested skills and languages. Baseline scores and partner language (Chinese, French, or Spanish) accounted for significant variation in growth rates; between‐school differences were found not to be significant. The article discusses implications for assessment instruments and DLI policy and also addresses some instructional implications.

Click here to download the article: 

Toward Expanded Understanding of Adolescent Identity Construction in High School Immersion Programs: Utah’s Bridge Program

Jill Landes-Lee

Increasing numbers of Latino/a students aspire to attend college, yet rates of college perseverance and graduation are the lowest of all demographic groups. This study builds on existing research in the field of psychology on ethnic and racial identity in adolescents, which links strong groundedness in cultural identity to positive academic attitudes and psychological adaptability. The study asks how high school immersion students perceive themselves as bicultural citizens, and in what ways bilingualism and biculturality may contribute towards self-perceptions of college readiness. Early college high school Spanish courses in the immersion K-12 sequencing may allow students to explore and commit to their home culture and language and negotiate evolving bilingual and bicultural identity while pursuing a college pathway.


A comparison of advanced enrollment course-taking patterns and academic performance between Spanish-speaking and English-only speakers

Jill Landes-Lee

Enrollment by Latino students in higher education has increased nearly 300% over the past 10 years, yet rates of college perseverance and graduation are the lowest of all demographic groups. Enrollment in advanced courses during the high school years stands as one of the strongest predictors of success in college, yet little data is available on the degree or severity of the enrollment gap in college-preparatory pathways in Utah’s high schools via AP, IB, CE or honors courses. Utah leads the nation in building a successful early college, advanced course pathway in Spanish language studies which graduates students from high school 2-3 courses shy of a minor in Spanish. However, if these same students are not enrolled in courses aligning to college-readiness in English, we have missed our opportunity to impact and improve representation by Latino/a students in our system of higher education.

Investigating the relationship between lexical complexity and second language (L2) proficiency using writing samples produced by L2 Spanish students in Utah’s DLI program during ACTFL proficiency testing

The lexical characteristics of second language (L2) writers are of interest to both SLA researchers and language teaching professionals. Measures of lexical complexity inform our understanding of development and proficiency, influence the design and rating of major international language tests, and have implications for the design of pedagogic materials and classroom practices. Patterns in the expression of learners’ lexical repertoires as their proficiency advances not only provide benchmarks for measuring advancement but also illuminate key elements that distinguish one proficiency level from the next. As part of this project, L2TReC is using data from the recently created Corpus of Utah Dual Language Immersion (CUDLI) to investigate the relationship between lexical complexity and L2 proficiency using writing samples produced by L2 Spanish students in Utah’s DLI program during ACTFL proficiency testing.


Schnur, E. & Rubio, F. (forthcoming, February 2021). Lexical complexity, writing proficiency and task effects in Spanish DLI. Language Learning and Technology.



2018 - 2022

Baker, M., Richardson, S. & Rubio, F. (forthcoming 2022). Patterns of Teaching Presence during One Semester of a Large Online Graduate Nursing Course. International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education / Revue internationale du e-learning et la formation à distance.

Mizza, D. & Rubio, F. (forthcoming 2022). Prácticas tecnológicas eficientes. In J. Muñoz-Basols, M. Fuertes-Gutiérrez and L. Cerezo (Eds.), Routledge Advances in Spanish Language Teaching. London: Routledge.

Schnur, E. & Rubio, F. (2021). Lexical complexity, writing proficiency and task effects in Spanish Dual Language Immersion. Language Learning and Technology, 25(1), 53-72.

Watzinger-Tharp, J., Tharp, D., & Rubio, F. (2021). Sustaining dual language immersion: L2 outcomes in a state-wide program. The Modern Language Journal. 105(1): 194-217.

Baker, M., Richardson, S. & Rubio, F. (2020). Evaluating Teaching Presence in an Online Nursing Course: Proposing a New Taxonomy. Submitted to International Journal of E-Learning & Distance Education.

Hacking, J. (2019). Utah’s Russian Dual Language Immersion Program: Challenges and Opportunities for 21st Century Language Education. In J. Hacking & D. Dyer (eds). Чекаj: Papers for Christina E. Kramer on the occasion of her retirementBalkanistica 32(2).

Hacking, J., Rubio, F. & Tschirner, E. (2018). Vocabulary size, reading proficiency and curricular design: The case of college Chinese, German, Russian and Spanish. In Gass, S. & Winke, P. (eds.), The power of performance-based assessment: Languages as a model for the liberal arts enterprise. Boston: Springer.

Knell, E., Kao, S. C. (2020). Repeated readings and Chinese immersion students’ reading fluency, comprehension, and character recognition. The Journal of Immersion and Content-Based Language Education, Online-First Articles.

Landes-Lee, J. (December 2020). Indicators of academic readiness for college: Evaluating the Utah Bridge Program in one high school. Dissertation thesis, University of Utah.

Rubio, F. & Hacking, J. (2018). Proficiency vs. performance: what do the tests show? In Gass, S. & Winke, P. (eds.), Foreign Language Proficiency in Higher Education. Boston: Springer.

Rubio, F., & Mizza, D. (2019). High-Leverage practices for blended language learning: Towards a successful implementation in the blended language learning path. In A. Palalas (Ed.), Blended language learning: International perspectives on innovative practice (pp. 24-61). Beijing, ROC: Open University of China Press.

Rubio, F. (2018). Language education in elementary schools: Meeting the needs of the nation. Foreign Language Annals 51(1), 90-103. DOI: 10.1111/flan.12313

Schnur, E. & Rubio, F. (forthcoming, February 2021). Lexical complexity, writing proficiency and task effects in Spanish DLI. Language Learning and Technology.

Tschirner, E.,Hacking, J. & Rubio, F.(2018). Reading proficiency and vocabulary size: An empirical investigation. In Ecke, P. & Rott, S. (eds.) Understanding vocabulary learning and teaching: Implications for language program development. Boston: Cengage/Heinle. (ms. due 6/15/17).

Watzinger-Tharp, J., Rubio, F. & Tharp, D. S. (2018). Linguistic performance of dual language immersion students. Foreign Language Annals 51(3), 575-595.

Watzinger-Tharp, J., Tharp, D. S. & Rubio, F. (forthcoming, 2021). Sustaining Dual Language Immersion: L2 Outcomes in a State-Wide Program. The Modern Language Journal.

Winke, P., Zhang, X., Rubio, F., Gass, S., Sonenson, D., & Hacking, J. (2020). The proficiency profiles of language students: Implications for programs. Second Language Research & Practice, 1(1), 25–64.

Hacking, J. & Rubio, F. (2016). A proficiency based articulation project between post-secondary institutions. In Urlaub, P. & Watzinger-Tharp, J. (eds.), The interconnected language curriculum: Critical transitions and interfaces in articulated K-16 contexts. Boston: Cengage/Heinle, 118-33.

Hacking, Jane & Tschirner, Erwin. (2017). Reading proficiency, vocabulary development and curricular design: The case of college Russian. Foreign Language Annals50(3), 1-19. 

Landes-Lee, J. (2016). Utah’s dual language immersion model: A K-12 program with a K-16 vision. Utah Association of Secondary School Principals (UASSP) Impact Journal.

Rubio, F. & Cannon, T. (2017). Juntos: Beginning Spanish. Boston: Cengage/Heinle.

Rubio, L & Esquivias, C. (2017). Empowering Students through Project Based Language Learning: The Power of Art in the Community. The Language Educator.

Urlaub, P. & Watzinger-Tharp, J., Eds. (2016). The interconnected language curriculum: Critical transitions and interfaces in articulated K-16 contexts. Boston: Cengage/Heinle.

Watzinger-Tharp, J. & Leite, J. (2017). Utah’s Dual Language Immersion Program: Access to multilingualism. Scottish Languages Review and Digest, 32, 31-38. 

Watzinger-Tharp, J., Swenson, K. & Mayne, Z. (2016) Academic achievement of Utah students in dual language immersion. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism., 1-16.


Conference Presentations 

2018 - 2019

Bacon, M., Banfi, C., DiStefano, M., Landes-Lee, J. Bridging K-12 Immersion to University- Panel Discussion. International Conference on Immersion and DLI, Charlotte, NC (2019).

Gallagher, E., Landes-Lee, J., Spicer-Escalante, M. The University-High School Partnership: Heritage Speaker and Dual Language Immersion Pathways. ACTFL Conference, New Orleans, LA (2018).

Hacking, J. Second language vocabulary acquisition. Invited lecture. University of Sheffield, UK (2019). 

Hacking, J., Schnur, E. & Rubio, F. MuSSeL: Designing and building a corpus of multilingual second language speech. SlaviCorp Conference. Prague, Czech Republic (2018). 

Kao, S. C. & Huang, D. Moving from Intermediate to Advanced: Project-based Learning and IPA in the Chinese Bridge Classroom. Utah Foreign Language Association Annual Meeting, Orem, UT (2020)

Kao, S. C. Every day is an IPA! - Using Socratic Seminar as an Example to Discuss How to Scaffold a Lesson with Integrated Performance Assessment. Keynote. Southern California Council of Chinese Schools Spring Teaching Seminar, Los Angeles (2019).

Kao, S. C. Chinese Reading Fluency Practice Can Improve Comprehension and Motivation. American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages Annual Convention, New Orleans (2018).

Lair, A. & Rubio, L. AP and beyond: Using video evidence to train teachers in Intercultural Communication. ACTFL, Washington D.C. (2019).

Lair, A. The teaching of culture for K-16 language teachers (workshop). FLLITE summer institute. University of Utah (2019).

Lair, A. Immersion and the Bridge programs in Utah (Round table discussion). Rutgers University (2019).

Lair, A. Geerlings, G. Harward, M. Hiring, Training, Mentoring and Empowering Dual Language Immersion Teachers. 7th International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education. Charlotte, NC (2019).

Lair, A., Geerlings, G. Harward, M. Training, Mentoring and Empowering Dual Language Immersion Teachers. ACTFL, New Orleans, LA (2018).

Landes-Lee, J. College Readiness of Post-AP DLI and non-DLI Spanish Language Students- research paper presentation. () ACTFL Conference, Washington DC (2019).

Landes-Lee, J. Academic Behaviors and College Knowledge: Advanced Language Bridge Program Student Orientation to College Coursework. Bridge Program Institute Opening Session, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT (2019).

Landes-Lee, J. & Taylor, L. The Quest for College Readiness in Two Languages: A University-High School Partnership. International Conference on Immersion and DLI, Charlotte, NC (2019).

Rubio, F. Corpus Data and Second-Language Education. MLA Annual convention. Seattle, WA (2020).

Rubio, F. & Taylor, L. Looking Under the Hood of the Advanced Level. ACTFL Convention, Washington, DC (2019).

Rubio, F. Using AP to recruit and retain: The Utah Bridge Program for Advanced Language Learning. College Board Preparate Conference. San Antonio, TX (2019).

Rubio, F. Meeting expectations: Proficiency assessment and curricular response. ACTFL Annual Convention. New Orleans, LA (2018).

Rubio, F. A Century of Language Teaching: Methods and Proficiency. Keynote speech. Utah Foreign Language Association Annual Meeting. Utah Valley University (2020).

Rubio, F. Intermediate to Advanced: A balanced approach to building proficiency. Invited talk. Language Training Center annual workshop. San Diego State University (2020).

Rubio, F. What does it mean to be proficient and what can we do to make it happen? Invited talk. Startalk Advisory Board meeting. University of Maryland (2019).

Rubio, F. Building Intermediate and Advanced Level Proficiency to Achieve the Seal of Biliteracy. Invited workshop. ACTFL Convention, Washington, DC (2019).

Rubio, F. Proficiency attainment of K-16 language students: Implications for language programs. Invited talk. Boston University (2019)

Rubio, F. Proficiency training for teachers of Portuguese and Swahili. Invited Workshop. Flagship Initiative. Universidade Eduardo Mondlane. Maputo, Mozambique, 04/29-05/01/19.

Rubio, F. National Language Resource Center k-16 pathways. Invited talk. American Councils DLI Alliance meeting (2018).

Rubio, F. K-20 articulation of language programs. Invited talk. NADSFL/NCSSFL Annual meeting. New Orleans, LA (2018).

Rubio, F. The Utah Bridge Program for Advanced language Learning. Invited talk. College Board AP Symposium on World Languages. Chicago, IL (2018).

Rubio, L. Keeping It Real: Authenticity in the Language Classroom Using Project Based Language Learning Methodology. Invited Workshop, 7th International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, Charlotte, NC (2019).

Rubio, L. The Utah DLI Elementary-Secondary Transition and the 7-9 Model. 7th International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, Charlotte, NC (2019).

Rubio, L. Pedagogical tools to empower DLI secondary students. 7th International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, Charlotte, NC (2019).

Schnur, E., Hacking, J. & Rubio, F. MuSSeL: Designing and building a corpus of multilingual second language speech. American Association of Corpus Linguistics. Atlanta (2018). 

Schnur, E., Rubio, F. & Hacking, J. Introducing language teachers to learner corpora: The development of online tutorials for pedagogic uses of the MuSSeL corpus. 5th Learner Corpus Research Conference. Warsaw, Poland (2019).

Schnur, E. Focus group for MuSSeL corpus tutorials. University of Utah (2019).

Watzinger-Tharp, J. & Rubio, F. Measuring Dual Immersion Students' Proficiency: Findings and Challenges. ACTFL Convention, Washington, DC (2019).

Watzinger-Tharp, J. & Rubio, F. Dual Language Immersion Students' Proficiency Attainment: Cross-sectional and Longitudinal Data. Charlotte, NC (2019). 

2017    Getting it right: Addressing accuracy in the immersion classroom. (Rubio, F. & Rubio, L.) ACTFL, Nashville (2017).

2017    Active reading strategies to reach AP proficiency targets. (Landes-Lee, Rubio, L.) ACTFL, Nashville.

2017    English learners’ performance in ELA and Spanish. (Watzinger-Tharp, Leite) ACTFL, Nashville.

2017    Roadmap through the immersion continuation program K-16. (Lair, Geerlings and Harward) ACTFL, Nashville.

2017:   English learners in Utah’s DLI programs. (Watzinger-Tharp, Leite). 18th World Congress of Applied Linguistics (AILA), Rio de Janeiro.

2017    Culture: Interdisciplinary Approach and Proficiency in the Classroom, two-day workshop for teachers of French (Lair) L2TReC, University of Utah.

2017    Implementing core practices in the AP classroom. (Rubio) Southern Conference on Language Teaching, Orlando.

2017    The proficiency profile of foreign language university students. (Hacking) MLA, Philadelphia.

2017    K-16 articulations and alliances. (Watzinger-Tharp) MLA, Philadelphia.

2016    Vocabulary size, reading proficiency and curricular design. (Rubio, Hacking & Tschirner) ACTFL, Boston.

2016    What happens in the classroom... (Rubio F., Rubio, L.) SWCOLT, Hawaii.

2016    Building university-high school partnerships for advanced language pathways in Utah. (Landes-Lee) ADFL Summer Seminar, Monterey.

2016    Large-scale implementation of ACTFL computerized proficiency testing. (Tschirner, Gass, Malone, Soneson, Winke, Hacking & Rubio) ACTFL, Boston.

2016    Supporting secondary immersion pathways. (Landes-Lee) Sixth International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, CARLA, University of Minnesota.

2016    Secondary DLI continuation with a K-16 Lens. (Lair, Landes-Lee, Rubio. L.) Sixth International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, CARLA, University of Minnesota.

2016    The development of linguistic complexity in dual language immersion learners of Chinese, French and Spanish. (Hacking & Rubio) Sixth International Conference on Immersion and Dual Language Education, CARLA, University of Minnesota.

2016    Plenary session: Building a K-16 model for language acquisition. (Landes-Lee) Flagship Language Acquisition Summer Conference.

2016    Using vocabulary production and vocabulary recognition tests in Advanced Third Year University Spanish Courses. (Rubio, L.) TEXLER, San Antonio.

2016    Counterbalanced instruction in Dual Language Immersion classrooms. (Rubio, F., Rubio L.) ACTFL Annual Convention, Boston.

2016    Success through collaboration: Utah's K-16 language education alliance. (Hacking, Rubio, Roberts, Watzinger-Tharp) National Humanities Conference, Salt Lake City, UT.

2016    Correlations between speaking, listening, and reading proficiency scores. (Tschirner, Gass, Winke, Soneson, Hacking, Rubio) East Coast Organization of Language Testers.

2016    Core practices in the AP classroom. Texas Foreign Language Association. (Rubio) Austin, TX.

2016    Providing the tools for success: the role of teachers and students as assessors in the AP course. (Rubio) South West Conference on Language Teaching, Honolulu, HI.

2016    What is the reality of proficiency-based articulation at the post-secondary level? A case study: University of Utah – Salt Lake Community College (Hacking, Rubio) Georgetown University Language Roundtable.

2016    Academic achievement and language proficiency of Utah DLI students. (Watzinger-Tharp, Rubio) ACTFL, Boston.

2015    Preparing your AP students for advanced-level writing. (Rubio) ACTFL Annual Convention, San Diego, CA.

2015    Plenary session: Dual Language Immersion continuation for grades 7-9. (Landes-Lee) Flagship Language Acquisition Summer Conference.

2015    English learners in Utah’s Dual Language Immersion (Leite, Watzinger-Tharp) CARLA, Minneapolis.

2015    Situating Dual Immersion data in curricular and instructional contexts (Mau, Watzinger-Tharp) CARLA, Minneapolis.

2015    Keynote: Validating multiple varieties in the L2 classroom (Watzinger-Tharp) 
Annual German Linguistics Association Conference (GLAC), Provo, UT.

2015    Plenary session: Structuring supports for secondary immersion? (Landes-Lee) Annual Utah Immersion Conference for Administrators.

2015    Listening in the college curriculum: A case study. (Rubio, Hacking) ACTFL Annual Convention, San Diego, CA.

2015    Teacher-driven professional learning through lesson study model. (Landes-Lee, Harward) ACTFL Annual Convention, San Diego, CA.

2015    The link between interaction and proficiency in dual language immersion. (Rubio, F., Rubio, L.) ACTFL Annual Convention, San Diego, CA.

2015    Faire réseau: Séminaire fédéral sur l’enseignement bilingue francophone aux Etats-Unis, panel moderator. (Lair) French Embassy, Washington, D.C.

2016    Engaging classrooms: Literature, films, culture and project-based Learning. (Lair) Two-day workshop for teachers of French. L2TReC, University of Utah.

2015    Rendons la culture plus intéractive en salle de cours. (Lair) Workshop for teachers of French. L2TReC, University of Utah.

2015    Comment s’exprimer en français. (Lair) Workshop for teachers of French. L2TReC, University of Utah.

2015    Outcomes in higher-education world language programs: Results and implications. consortium on useful assessment in language and humanities education. (Rubio) Georgetown University.

2015    The role of language corpora in the development of linguistic or communicative competence. (Rubio, L.) TexFlec. San Antonio.

2014    Facilitating, sustaining and capitalizing on a proficiency-driven culture for high-quality language programs. (Landes-Lee, Wade) Flagship Language Acquisition Summer Conference, Utah.

2014    Second language acquisition and pedagogy in Dual Language Immersion. (Rubio) ACTFL conference, San Antonio.

2014    Overview of performance assessment results in the Utah dual language immersion program. (Rubio) Fifth International Conference on Language Immersion Education, Salt Lake City, UT.

2014    Utah French Dual Language Immersion: Bridging academics and French/Francophone communities. (Lair, Murdock) Fifth International Conference on Language Immersion Education, Salt Lake City, UT.

2014    AP Spanish 2014: From thematic design to authentic assessment. (Rubio) Southwest         Conference on Language Teaching, Snowbird, UT.

2014    Comment enseigner la culture. (Lair) Workshop for teachers of French. L2TReC, University of Utah.


Last Updated: 4/29/22