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Achievement of ELLs Has Much to Do With the School

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The Pew Hispanic Center today released a report by Richard Fry, a senior research associate at the center, showing that schools that report low achievement for ELLs also tend to have a set of characteristics associated with poor student performance on tests. Those characteristics include high student-teacher ratios, large student enrollments, and high levels of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches. The report says that when ELLs aren't isolated in such schools, they do considerably better on standardized tests. See my story published today at edweek.org, "Schools With Poor ELL Scores May Share Common Elements."

The report is consistent with the work of other researchers in showing that a high concentration of ELLs in schools is associated with low standardized test scores. But what I find interesting about Mr. Fry's report is that he uses a very small number of students as a threshold to examine the presence of ELLs, non-Hispanic blacks, and non-Hispanic whites in schools. He uses the thresholds that states set for schools to report test scores for student groups under the No Child Left Behind Act. In Arizona and Florida, for example, that number is 10 test-takers per grade for ELLs, whites, or other groups; in New York and Texas, the threshold is at least 5 test-takers per grade.

Essentially, Mr. Fry found out that ELLs that go to school with even a few white students do better on state math tests than students who have virtually no white students in their schools. And white and black students who go to school with even a few ELLs do worse on math tests than those who go to school with practically no ELLs.

Pew Hispanic Center researchers don't really speculate on what's behind their findings or make policy recommendations. Do any of you want to take a stab at making recommendations based on this information?

3 Comments

I'm an EL fourth grade teacher in Southern California (I spend two hours a week giving them concentrated language instruction and have as many as one-third of them constituting a regular class). The portion of your blog that struck me was the performance of blacks and whites when there are ELL's in a school. This is true simply because they have to be allotted much more time, which takes away from other groups. Unfortunately, in the case of teaching ELL'S, somebody wins and somebody loses.

When a school can't take care of their general population, they can't take care of ESOL students either. Furthermore, those are the students that ESOL students are expected to integrate into so they do. When the general population does well, that is the group that the ESOL students integrate into and they tend to do well too. It is important that teachers and administrators have education about ESOL students and second language acquisition. In NYS, which I think is supposed to be more advanced than some other states (debatable), we do have an actual certification for TESOL (many states only have endorsements) but other educational professionals don't have any education relating to ESOL students nor is there any requirement to. The exception might be teachers with a Bilingual endorsement. This is not a great way to prepare your educational staff. Also, NYS, along with most states don't have class size limits for language learners. It would be better in all language learning classrooms to limit the size to about 10 students. That would provide for more communication and ability to teach reading and writing in the target language. Even in foreign language classrooms, what the is rate of students really being able to communicate and read and write in that language? Probably very few.

This doesn't surprise me, given what we know about race, immigration and socioeconomics. I would assume that if you extrapolate from those racial characteristics you're going to run into the mentioned trends in school characteristics: high student-teacher ratios, large student enrollments, and high levels of students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunches.

Would it be hard to go further and predict other characteristics, such as high turnover, less experienced teachers, more stress, more family problems, health issues, etc., etc.?

An interesting thought experiment might be a school with a high ELL population, yet from relatively high SES - where you have kids coming into Kindergarten already reading and doing basic arithmetic in their native language.

I think the issue of race is really pretty irrelevant here, except from a correlation standpoint maybe.

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