« Federal Guide Outlines Supports for Undocumented H.S. and College Students | Main | Teachers Should Adapt to Culture of Newcomer ELLs, Researchers Argue »

Pre-K Literacy Key to English-Language Learner Reclassification, Study Finds


English language-learners who enter kindergarten with a basic grasp of academic language, "either in their primary language or in English," are more likely over time to be reclassified as former ELLs, a new analysis from Oregon State University has found.

Karen Thompson, an assistant professor of cultural and linguistic diversity in Oregon State University's College of Education, reviewed nine years of student data from the Los Angeles Unified schools to gauge how long it takes students to develop English proficiency.

Most research indicates that it takes students at least four years to become fluent in academic English, language that allows students to retell story or understand mathematical word problems.

Once students are reclassified as former ELLS, they no longer receive specific aid to support their English-language development.

Thompson's analysis shows that students who don't reach proficiency in that typical window, generally by the time they reach upper elementary, are less likely to ever do so. Those students share a common characteristic: they enter kindergarten with a limited command of academic language.

Students who aren't reclassified are more likely to score lower on academic tests and graduate high school at lower rates than their peers.

"This study shows that building literacy skills, in English or the child's native language, prior to kindergarten can be helpful," Thompson said in a release announcing the survey results. The ability, "is likely going to set them on a path to success," she said.

About 25 percent of students do not master English after nine years in L.A. Unified schools, Thompson found. Of those students, about 30 percent are in special education programs.

The Los Angeles Times has written about the L.A. Unified effort to support these long-term English-learners, students who have attended California schools for seven years or more and are still not fluent in English.

Roughly a third of students in the Los Angeles, the nation's second-largest school district, are ELLs.

As first appeared in Education Policy August 2015. Reprinted with permission from the author.

   Time to Reclassification

Notice: We recently upgraded our comments. (Learn more here.) If you are logged in as a subscriber or registered user and already have a Display Name on edweek.org, you can post comments. If you do not already have a Display Name, please create one here.
Ground Rules for Posting
We encourage lively debate, but please be respectful of others. Profanity and personal attacks are prohibited. By commenting, you are agreeing to abide by our user agreement.
All comments are public.

Follow This Blog


Most Viewed on Education Week



Recent Comments

  • Charles: ELLs in our state ARE required to take State standardized read more
  • Melissa: Maybe I'm just becoming jaded, but this feels to me read more
  • Anonymous: Are you kidding me....UNO is an organizaion that literally destroys read more
  • Meg Baker: Are any schools using ACCESS scores for purposes other than read more
  • Dr. Mendoza: This is great news i must say. Hopefully this DREAM read more