Report: English language learners making gains on state tests as population expands

By Christine Armario, AP
Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Report: English language learners making gains

MIAMI — Schoolchildren who are still learning English made progress on state tests over the last three years, according to a report that may indicate tougher accountability standards have resulted in positive gains among a growing segment of the U.S. public school population.

In a study released Wednesday, the nonprofit Center on Education Policy looked at the performance of English language learners — those students with limited English skills — on state tests in math and reading from 2006 to 2008, the years after federal testing for this group under the federal No Child Left Behind law became finalized.

The study notes gains across many states: Twenty-five of 35 states with sufficient data made gains in fourth grade reading among English language learners. In grades four and eight in reading and math, 70 percent of those states made gains in the number of students scoring as “proficient.”

“The report ought to offer some hope that with all the kids in the country now who are English language learners because of immigration, they are progressing,” said CEP director Jack Jennings. “Not as fast as we would want, but the accountability on school districts is resulting on more attention to these kids and them doing better on tests.”

While offering some positive news, the study also noted significant gaps between proficiency levels among English language learners and other students: Of the 35 states examined, 11 had differences of more than 30 percentage points between English-learner students and their non-ELL counterparts.

The results among states also varied widely: In one state, 87 percent of high school students were proficient in reading, compared to 6 percent in another. Jennings noted a lack of uniformity among states in the classification of English language learners and in how they are tested.

The findings come as the English language learner population continues to grow: In 2007, 20 percent of U.S. children ages 5 to 17 spoke a language other than English at home, up from nine percent in 1979.

It also comes about a month after the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights announced an investigation into the Los Angeles Unified School District’s low achieving English-language learning program, to determine whether those students are being denied a fair education.

The inquiry was sparked by the low academic achievement of the district’s English learners. Only 3 percent are proficient in high-school math and English.

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