ESL placement and student achievement

iStock_000004579760XSmallIn schools with many immigrant students, English as a Second Language (ESL) placement resulted in higher levels of academic performance while the effect was reversed in schools with few immigrant students, according to a recent study in Educational Policy.

“First-generation ESL students fare poorly in schools enrolling relatively few immigrants, and second-generation students benefit most from ESL placement when they attend schools with many immigrant students,” they conclude.

The negative effect of ESL placement in schools with a low immigrant concentration was significant for 1st-generation immigrant students, but not significant for 2nd generation students, the researchers say. In schools with high concentrations of immigrant students, it was the 2nd-generation ESL students who performed significantly better than their mainstreamed peers. Teachers may place 2nd-generation students in ESL in the role of in-class experts, which may help explain the enhanced achievement effects, the authors write.

The researchers used data from both the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and its education component, the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement Study (AHAA). The study sample comprised immigrant students attending 26 schools offering ESL coursework. A total of 1,169 immigrant students attended six schools with high immigrant concentrations and 514 students attended 20 schools with low immigrant concentrations. The researchers assessed academic outcomes by examining math and science enrollment, general college preparation coursework, junior-year grade point average (GPA ) and cumulative course failures.

“Although some immigrant linguistic-minority students do go on to attend 4-year institutions, it is important to recognize that the great majority, regardless of ESL placement, generational status, or the schools they attend, exit high school ill prepared for entry into higher education–either in this national sample or in general,” the authors write.

“ESL Placement and Schools, Effects on Immigrant Achievement,” by Rebecca Callahan et al., Educational Policy, Volume 23, Number 2, March 2009, pp. 355-384.

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