School of Education researcher Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette received The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award today. (UCR/Stan Lim)
February 13, 2023

Researcher honored for work in English language learner education

The James Irvine Foundation recognized Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette as one of six change-makers in California 

Author: Sandra Baltazar Martínez
February 13, 2023

UC Riverside education researcher Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette is being recognized for her pioneering work in narrowing the educational achievement gap between native English speakers and English language learners.

The James Irvine Foundation Leadership Award recognized Navarrette’s Project Moving Forward, which was developed in 2012 following 12 years of research. According to the Foundation, the award recognizes “leaders whose innovative solutions to critical state challenges improve people’s lives, create opportunity, and contribute to a better California.” Navarrette is one of six recipients being recognized today in Sacramento. The award comes with a $250,000 prize. 

“It’s a huge honor and I’m happy UCR is being highlighted; the support I have received from UCR has made this possible,” said Navarrette, a researcher with UCR's School of Education. “More than an award for me, I am glad The James Irvine Foundation understands the importance of how we can improve education in California. It’s also a privilege to be recognized alongside the other five recipients who are doing fabulous things. It’s exciting because it is so clear that all their work is innovating for California.” 

UCR researcher Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette visiting classrooms in the Coachella Valley in March 2020. Students were part of Project Moving Forward. (UCR/Sandra Baltazar Martínez)

According to the Foundation’s news release, Navarrette was one of 394 nominees. 

“Each demonstrates exceptional leadership — characterized by significance, innovation, effectiveness, inclusiveness, timing, and leadership capacity — and will receive a $250,000 grant and additional resources to support their work and to help share their effective approaches with policymakers and peers,” said Don Howard, president and CEO of The James Irvine Foundation in Feb. 13 news release. “The Irvine Foundation is proud to support these leaders and their organizations as they boldly address current and future challenges in California.”

Project Moving Forward is a 30-minute daily program for elementary school children that involves a systematic vocabulary and language and literacy development technique called the Rule of 3 or RAP, which stands for the Rehearsal, Analysis and Production of words. Project Moving Forward is fast-paced, interactive, and puts the onus for learning on the child. Through the classroom instruction and a virtual learning platform developed during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, students learn thinking skills, vocabulary, and phonics. 

UCR School of Education researcher Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette. (Photo courtesy of Linda Ventriglia-Navarrette)

Since its implementation, Project Moving Forward has received three multi-million dollar grants and a prestigious Golden Bell Award from the California School Boards Association. In 2018 its efficacy caught the attention of then-assistant deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Education and director of the Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA), José Viana. He visited the Inland Empire to observe teachers using the program.  

Navarrette has tested children in Inland Empire school districts and participants in the Rule of 3 program have shown significant gains in standardized tests, including the CELDT, ELPAC, DIBELS and Gates-MacGinitie reading tests. 

In 2019, a yearlong randomized study with 339 students in 16 kindergarten classrooms from nine different schools demonstrated the Rule of 3’s effectiveness. Navarrette said 73.9% of English learners given the intervention met national benchmarks, compared to only 6.9% in the control group.  

“Dr. Navarrette is constantly thinking about how to better reach and communicate with underserved populations. This includes her focus on students who are English language learners, as well as her desire to collaborate with schools in underserved areas, and her passion to encourage community college and university students from underrepresented backgrounds to go into education as a profession,” said UCR Chancellor Kim A. Wilcox. 

For Navarrette, closing achievement gaps is crucial. Education is the key; the goal is to raise the bar for young learners, accelerate learning and deliver a comprehensive rigorous education for every student and a path to multilingualism, she said. 

Navarrette grew up in a working-class family in East Los Angeles. In high school she took a job waitressing and constantly saw people struggling with job stability.

“I’m the first in my family to get a college education. I understand what a college degree can do to transform a person’s life,” Navarrette said. “I always wanted to be a teacher because I knew I could make a difference. Every child has the potential to achieve at a high level and education is the foundation. Early education sets the groundwork for every child’s future.” 

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