Students Learning English Are Isolated in Poor Schools, Study Finds

Gaps in test scores narrow when students who have not mastered English are not isolated in low-achieving schools, according to a new report from the Pew Center for English-Language learning.

The report released June 26 noted that students designated as English language learners (ELL) tend to go to public schools with low standardized test scores – schools where other groups are also struggling. These schools generally have high student-teacher ratios, high student enrollments and high student poverty rates, the report said.

The report focused on public schools in Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas, states that educated about 70 percent of the nation’s students enrolled in English language learning (ELL) programs.

As defined in the report, “English language learner (ELL) students are designated by public schools as students who cannot excel in an English language classroom. Designation procedures vary across states and school districts but often include a test of the student’s English reading and writing skills as well as listening and speaking abilities.”

“The continued growth of the ELL student population will present large challenges for some public schools and school districts in meeting requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act,” the report said. “NCLB mandates that all groups of students, including ELLs, meet state proficiency standards in mathematics and reading by 2014. Recent results from national and state assessments indicate that ELL students are among the groups least likely to meet state proficiency standards. One of the fastest-growing groups of students is also one of the lowest-achieving student groups in both mathematics and reading.”

Previous studies have found that ELL students are much less likely than other students to score at or above proficient levels in both mathematics and reading/language arts.

Pew Hispanic center said this report builds on previous studies “by illustrating that the educational isolation of ELL students is associated with the math proficiency gap between English language learners and other students.”

“It also shows that White and Black students who attend the public schools in which ELL students are concentrated are doing worse than their peers who attend public schools with few English language learner students,” the report said.

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Among the report’s other key findings:

  • The projected number of school-age children of immigrants will increase from 12.3 million in 2005 to 17.9 million in 2020, accounting for all the projected growth in the school-age population. Many of these children will need ELL services.
  • In the five states with large ELL student populations, the proportion of ELL students scoring at or above the proficient level on the state mathematics test is often below the proportion of Black students scoring at or above the proficient level. For example, in Texas 22 percent of ELL eighth-graders scored at or above the proficient level on the math assessment, compared with 44 percent of Black eighth-graders. (The terms Black and White in the report refer to those who are not also Hispanic.)
  • In both elementary grades and middle school grades in these states, ELL students are much less likely than White students to score at or above the proficient level
  • in mathematics. The measured gaps are in the double-digits. For example, in Florida 45 percent of ELL third-graders scored at or above the proficient level for math, compared with 78 percent of White third-graders.
  • ELL students who took the state mathematics assessment were heavily concentrated in the public schools that had to disclose publicly the English language learner testing results — schools with a minimum threshold number of ELL students taking the test. White test-takers and Black test-takers were much less concentrated in the public schools reporting ELL testing outcomes.
  • Public schools that reported results for ELL fourth-graders educated less than 20 percent of White fourth-grade test-takers in the state and slightly more than half of Black fourth-grade test-takers.
  • In the five states with large ELL student populations, the public schools in which ELL test-takers are concentrated are much more likely to be central city schools.
  • Public schools in which ELL test-takers are concentrated have a much higher enrollment, on average, than other public schools in the state.
  • Middle schools in which ELL test-takers are concentrated have, on average, significantly higher student-to-teacher ratios than other public schools in the state.
  • Public schools in which ELL test-takers are concentrated have, on average, a substantially greater proportion of students qualifying for free or reduced-price school lunches.
  • Public schools in which English language learner students are concentrated are significantly more likely to be designated Title I schools – those with student bodies that have a large proportion of economically disadvantaged students and receive additional federal funding.  

For more information about the report, log on to http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/89.pdf

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