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For Some Students in L.A., Once an ELL, Always an ELL

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Among students in Los Angeles Unified School District who are classified as English-language learners, 29 percent are not reclassified as fluent in English by the 8th grade, according to a study released by the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute yesterday. The study looked at a cohort of nearly 29,000 students who were 6th graders in 1999. Nearly two-thirds of the cohort were ELLs and 42 percent of those ELLs were reclassified as fluent in English by the 5th grade. The study shows that those who are reclassified in elementary school or even early middle school tend to do well academically. Some 29 percent of ELLs were reclassified by the 8th grade. The remaining 29 percent of ELLs, more than half of them born in the United States, weren't reclassified by the 8th grade. The study didn't include special education students. The Associated Press picked up on the findings of the study. (Update: So did the Los Angeles Times.)

In 2002, I featured in EdWeek the stories of several long-term ELLs in Los Angeles who were born in the United States. Though many educators are concerned about long-term ELLs and talk about them at conferences, I know of few effective programs designed to address their needs. The New York City school district is one of the few I know of that commissioned researchers to study the issue and try an intervention aimed at long-term ELLs. (One of those researchers, Kate Menken, an assistant professor of linguistics at Queens College, was a guest for an EdWeek chat about long-term ELLs.)

The Tomas Rivera study says that a review of current reclassification rates of ELLs in Los Angeles indicates that the rate has not changed significantly in a decade.

4 Comments

This study shows that there are a lot of students who come and go but still, after a number of years passed by, the number of ELL had never change. It could be better if their number increases. But how about those who are not classified as ELL? Haven't they improved?

I wonder how many of the ESL learners would have been reclassified as proficient in English if there weren't a concern about ESL teachers keeping their positions? Teaching English as a Second Language is so much easier than teaching in a regular classroom. I am a retired teacher myself, and I know how many protected positions there are. Too bad the "sunshine" doesn't reach into those dark corners.

The refusal of Bilingual education is probably a factor in this process but poverty and the school districts these students attend probably are also a major cause. NYS now makes ESOL students take the NYSESLAT until they exit which allows statistics to keep up on students but in Rochester CSD, the ESOL students are dropped from the ESOL program after 6 years, so students sometimes think they will get dropped from another school district in the same manner. Not always true and students have to stay until they test out, which isn't a bad thing. I wouldn't be surprised if many native English speakers in many of the impoverished districts would have trouble testing out on many of the ESOL tests out there due to reading and writing issues. ESOL teachers are trying to get students to about the 50% which means American students are in the bottom 50%.

In plain English
Los Angeles Times, Nov 4, 2009

Re “Many L.A. students stay put in English language classes,” Oct. 29

This story suggests that Los Angeles Unified School District English learners are languishing in English language learning classes for years and not entering the mainstream. This may or may not be the case.

If criteria used to classify students as fluent English speakers are high, many English learners will be able to understand a considerable amount of mainstream instruction before being officially reclassified. In fact, some programs include English learners in mainstream classes well before they are reclassified, gradually including them in more linguistically demanding subjects as they acquire more English.

We cannot conclude anything about the quality of the program L.A. Unified offers English learners from the Tomas Rivera Policy Institute's report.

Stephen Krashen
Los Angeles
The writer is a professor emeritus specializing in literacy development and language acquisition at the Rossier School of Education, USC.

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