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What the Executive Summary Doesn't Say


To read the bad news about the academic progress of ELLs in this country, you have to read beyond the executive summary of a two-year evaluation of ELL programs that the U.S. Department of Education sent to Congress yesterday. It's called "The Biennial Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Title III State Formula Grant Program: School Years 2004-06" and is supposed to be put online next Monday by the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition. (June 30 update: Find the pdf here.) A brief article that I wrote today about the report was just posted at edweek.org.

First the good news: During the 2005-06 school year, 24 states met their targets for having ELLs make progress in English; 28 states met their targets for such students to attain proficiency in the language.

Also, the authors of the report included the following kernel of good news in the executive summary: Of 312,000 students who were formerly ELLs but who are being tracked by states for two years after becoming proficient in the language, 86 percent scored proficient or above in math and 99 percent scored at least proficient in reading during the 2005-06 school year. (I'm wondering, how much digging in the data they had to do to find that positive bit of news and what it really says about the estimated 5 million ELLs who are still in the category.)

Now for the bad news, which you can find on page 31—way past the two-page executive summary. Only one state, and the report doesn't name it, made adequate yearly progress in math for ELLs in 2005-06. No states made AYP in reading for such students that school year.

The bad news takes the wind out of my sails in anticipating writing any nuanced stories about how schools are trying to make AYP for ELLs. The matter isn't nuanced at all, I see. Hardly anyone is making AYP for these students.

See my earlier post, "The ELL Report Congress Hasn't Gotten."


Mary Ann,

In California state tests have these levels: Far Below Basic, Below Basic, Basic, Proficient, and Advanced. I'm not sure if those same assessment levels are used in all or most other states.

It's almost mind boggling to me that those percentages of ELL's reached proficient status in reading and math so quickly.

Did the study use the same definition of "proficiency" as is used in California?


Proficiency is just political just like everything else. Gee, NYS had huge increases in test scores in English and Math this year! It must be the students, right?


There is no uniform definition for "proficiency" across states because states use different math and reading tests and set the bar for proficiency at different levels. The report says that 21 states have at least half of their ELLs testing as proficient or above in math and 20 states have at least half testing as proficient or above in reading during the 05-06 school year. The source for the data is the Office of Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development of the U.S. Department of Education. The report doesn't say what the definition of "proficient" is for each of those states nor what targets states have set for meeting AYP.

Mary Ann Zehr, Learning the Language

Mary Ann:

I wouldn't be disheartened. Individual schools can make adequate progress even if districts don't and vice versa. So, you might find schools out there that ARE doing amazing things to improve achievement of their ELLs.

Moving schools is easier than moving districts. A lone ranger principal can motivate teachers and students and move her school miles. On the other hand, outstanding districts are harder to find but have broader reach.

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