AUSTIN, Texas—With nearly half of the nation’s school districts enrolling limited English proficient students (LEP), Dr. Belinda Bustos Flores knows that her award-winning doctoral research at UT Austin’s College of Education will be put to good use.
A former bilingual program coordinator at The University of Texas at San Antonio for seven years, Flores earned her UT Austin College of Education Ph.D. last year after studying how 176 San Antonio teachers relate to bilingual education students as part of her dissertation research.
Her work subsequently won the Outstanding Dissertation Award when the National Association for Bilingual Education met for its annual convention in San Antonio recently, just months after she returned to UTSA as a newly minted assistant professor. She originally began as a pre-kindergarten to fifth grade bilingual teacher and counselor.
“My research focuses on how teachers can bring their own preconceived ideas — some negative, some positive — to classrooms, and how this affects bilingual students,” said Flores. “Very few studies have examined the beliefs of teachers in direct contact with Mexican American limited English-proficient students.”
Late last month, the Texas Education Agency introduced a new exam, the Reading Proficiency Tests in English (RPTE), which tested LEP students in grades three through 12 to assess reading proficiency and determine current levels of English skills.
The initiative affects about 300,000 LEP children directly, even though about 550,000 are classified LEP in the total K-12 pipeline. Both Texas state law and State Board of Education rules will require students to take the RPTE annually until an established level of English reading proficiency has been demonstrated — subsequently leading to taking the TAAS in English.
“This nation now has more than 2.8 million elementary and secondary students, who are classified LEP,” explained Flores. “Besides a massive shortage in qualified bilingual teachers, less than one in five teachers who currently serve LEP students are certified to teach in LEP classrooms,” she said.
Her dissertation research inevitably led her to focus upon teacher training, finding that if teachers had the perception that they were well-prepared, then they were more likely to have positive views of their students.
“However, if they believed that their training was weak,” said Flores, “they were more likely to base their views of students on their own personal convictions, which are sometimes very inaccurate and can affect students negatively.”
She hopes to continue working to dispel myths currently associated with bilingual education; exploring the “why” behind what makes a good bilingual teacher; and increasing the research base about cognitive processes, which she hopes will contribute to the improvement of learning in all grades.
Flores’s dissertation was chaired by Dr. George Blanco, an associate professor in the department of curriculum and instruction within the UT Austin College of Education. Blanco also works closely with Dr. Alba Ortiz, who directs the College’s Office of Bilingual Education, and conducts statewide research studies.
Other dissertation committee members included Dr. Ellen Clark of UTSA, and Drs Teresa Garcia, Michael Guerrero, Zena Moore and Richard Valencia of UT Austin.
Contact: Dr. Belinda Bustos Flores, UTSA, (210) 458-5405, bflores@UTSA.edu Dr. George Blanco, UT Austin, (512) 471- 3919, firstname.lastname@example.org Or Dr. Alba Ortiz, (512) 471-6244, email@example.com