What characteristics identify ELLs who will struggle most?

Woman in her graduationThe English language learner (ELL) who starts school in 6th grade is just as likely to become proficient in English as his kid brother who starts school in kindergarten, according to recent studies of ELL school populations in Arizona, Utah and Nevada.

While age was not a significant predictor of which students would struggle more to reach proficiency, other characteristics were significant predictors: Being male, eligible for free or reduced-price lunch (FRL), eligible for Individualized Education Program (IEP) and lower proficiency level at school entry.

In contrast to previous studies which have shown that it is harder for older ELL students to progress to English proficiency,  most ELLs in these three states became proficient in English over the next 6 years whether they entered school in kindergarten, grade 3 or grade 6, according to research by Regional Educational Laboratory West (REL West) at WestEd, one of a network of ten Regional Educational Laboratories (RELs) nationwide, funded by the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences.

In Arizona,  more than 90% of students who started school in 2006-7 in kindergarten, grade 3 or grade 6 scored at or above the required levels on their state English language proficiency (ELP) test and were reclassified as fluent in English. In Utah, 67% of students from the grade 3 and grade 6 cohorts achieved proficiency and 74% of students in the kindergarten cohort did.   In Nevada, 68% of kindergarten students reached proficiency levels on the state test compared to 81% of students in the grade 3 cohort and 69% in the grade 6 cohort.

“These results differ from the general findings of the research literature, which show that progressing in fluent English proficient status is generally more difficult for older ELL students than for younger ELL students,” according to the Arizona report.

The purpose of the study was to identify characteristics of struggling ELLs so that educators can develop strategies to intervene early  so that they can reach proficiency and meet state content standards.   Using statewide data from each of the 3 Western states, researchers developed descriptive analyses of 4 categories of ELLs and classified all students into these categories. The analytic sample for this study was purposefully limited to ELL students who had attended school for at least six years.

The researchers used these 4 categorizations of students to distinguish among the different needs of ELLs:

Reclassified fluent English proficient (RFEP) students–Students who scored at or above the required levels on their state English language proficiency (ELP) test and reclassified as fluent English during the 6 years of the study.

Transitioned RFEP students–RFEP students who passed their state’s ELA or reading content test at least once during the 6 years of the study.

Struggling RFEP students–Students who met the ELP classification requirements as fluent English proficient, but did not pass their state’s English language arts (ELA) content test during the 6 years of the study.

Long-term English language learner (LTELL) students–Students who never scored at or above the required levels on their state English language proficiency (ELP) test and were not reclassified as fluent English proficient during the 6 years of the study.

“The characteristics of long-term English language learner students and struggling reclassified fluent English proficient students in Arizona,”  Eric Haas et al. 2014 REL West @ WestEd.

“The characteristics of long-term English language learner students and struggling reclassified fluent English proficient students in Nevada,”  Eric Haas et al. 2014 REL West @ WestEd.

“The characteristics of long-term English language learner students and struggling reclassified fluent English proficient students in Utah,”  Eric Haas et al. 2014 REL West @ WestEd.

 

 

 

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