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ELLs Trail Significantly on National Writing Exam

English-language learners scored more than 50 points below their non-ELL peers in the 12th grade on a national writing assessment known as the "nation's report card."

The gap between ELLs and non-ELLs at the 8th grade level was only slightly smaller—more than 40 points—on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, writing exam. The scores were released Sept. 14, and are reported in more detail by Ed Week's Nora Fleming.

The average scale score for non-ELL students at both grade levels was 152 on a scale of 0-300. For 12th grade English-learners, the average scale score was 96. For 8th grade English-learners, it was 108. The NAEP writing test—computer-based for the first time after years of paper-and-pencil exams—was taken by a nationally representative sample of students last fall.

Looking more closely at how ELLs performed, just 1 percent of 12th graders and 8th graders who are English-learners scored at or above the proficient level. Thirty-five percent of 8th grade ELLs scored at or above basic, while 20 percent of 12th grade ELLs did so.

It goes without saying how dismal these results are for English-learners. Of course, ELLs who've been attending school in the U.S. for only one year are included in the NAEP testing pool. But there are long-term ELLs (those students who've been in U.S. schools for five to six years or more but still haven't ever reached a level of proficiency to be reclassified as fluent) who were part of the testing group too. What we don't know is how the overall group of ELLs tested breaks down.

The new writing NAEP endeavored to use clear language to explain the tasks students had to perform and avoided using tasks that relied too much on cultural or experiential knowledge that could be a disadvantage to students still learning English.

Just about one-quarter of all 8th and 12th graders scored at or above the proficient level, but those rates were much lower for African-American and Latino students.

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