Edward Flores, Gary Painter, and Harry Pachon
Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, University of Southern California
This report uses longitudinal data from Los Angeles to examine what happens to English Language Learners’ achievement when theyare “reclassified” as fluent enough in English to move out of ELL programs. Analysts followed 28,714 students from sixth grade through the end of high school, tracking their ELL status, standardized test scores, pass rates in ninth grade, AP class enrollment, and dropout rate. The findings are stark: Students reclassified by eighth grade did overwhelmingly better than students who remained ELLs, and on some measures, they even out-performed English-only and initially-fluent speakers. Obviously, some of this effect could be the tail wagging the dog: It makes sense that students who learn English faster than their peers probably have the aptitude to do better in other areas. To address this concern, the researchers controlled for academic achievement in sixth grade (when the study began). Disparities persisted between reclassified youngsters and those who remained ELLs, though these were somewhat diminished. The report recommends four approaches to combat this kind of achievement gap: Put lots of resources into ELL programs in grades K-8 (both because getting reclassified makes a big difference and because not enough students are achieving that goal); emphasize to parents the educational value of children learning English; continue ELL programs into middle school (because getting reclassified can make a big difference as late as eighth grade); and keep looking for effective methods of English-language acquisition. We could add one more: Part of the problem might also be that districts incentivize schools to put off reclassification indefinitely by attaching additional per-pupil dollars to ELL students. They might proportionally reduce this contribution as ELL students got older, especially past eighth grade (recent immigrants would obviously be excluded). The full report (pdf)is available here.