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Nation's Report Card: How ELLs Fared in 2011

As the edu-world now well knows, the 2011 NAEP results are out and the news is somewhat promising in math and disappointing in reading.

Let's take a look at how English-language learners fared on this year's exam. In 4th-grade reading, 70 percent of ELLs scored below basic and 7 percent were at or above proficient, an ever so slight uptick from 2009 when those percentages were 71 and 6, respectively. In 8th grade reading, 71 percent of ELLs were below basic and just 3 percent scored at or above proficient. In 2009, 75 percent of 8th grade ELLs were below basic, with 3 percent scoring at or above proficient.

In 4th grade math, 42 percent of ELLs were below basic (compared to 43 percent in 2009) while 14 percent were at or above proficient (compared to 12 percent in 2009). In 8th grade, 72 percent scored below basic and 5 percent were at or above proficient, which represents no change from 2009.

But just how reflective of the overall ELL population were NAEP test takers in 2011?

This is an important question because 2011 was to be the first administration of the NAEP since the exam's governing board began pushing states and school districts to exclude fewer students who are English-language learners and who have disabilities.

In 2011, 11 percent of 4th grade ELLs were excluded from the reading portion of NAEP in the nation as a whole (See Table A-9), compared to 16 percent two years ago, when the NAEP reading and math exams were last given. For 8th grade ELLs, the exclusion rate dropped from 17 percent in 2009 to 14 percent. That seems like real progress. For the math exam, (See Table 9) 4 percent of 4th grade ELLs were excluded, compared to 6 percent in 2009; and 7 percent of 8th grade ELLs were excluded, compared to eight percent two years before.

State by state, the rates of exclusion on the reading test (the exclusion rates were generally smaller on the math exam) lay bare the wild variation in how representative a slice of the overall ELL population ends up taking the test. In California, home to the most ELLs in the nation, 4 percent were excluded from the reading test this year, down a single percentage point from 2009 when 5 percent were excluded.

In Georgia, more than 30 percent of ELLs were excluded from the reading test, a rate that has changed little in the last several administrations of the test. I'm sure the ELL population in Georgia has grown significantly and may explain in part why the number of exclusions hasn't changed more. Kentucky—and I'm not sure why, so perhaps someone can enlighten us—excluded 63 percent of ELLs from the test, up from an already high figure of 43 percent in 2009.

The states with the lowest rates of excluding ELLs from NAEP—with a rate of 1 percent each—were Arizona and Nevada, both home to large numbers of English learners.

I am interested to hear from the experts about these NAEP results for English-language learners.

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