English Language Learners

In the last two decades the population of students who are limited English proficient has grown by 169%, while the general school population has grown only 12%.

English language learners represent the fastest growing segment of the school-age population. In the 1990's the number of limited English proficient students in U.S. schools grew by 55% nationwide. 10.5 percent of the school-age population in the United States has been classified as English language learners. Throughout the United States schools are enrolling learners whose native is not English and whose culture may be substantially different from that of the school community. More than 75 percent of English learners are born in the U.S., although many others have only recently arrived from another country and may have had limited education in that country.

Schools are faced with students who have different levels of primary language and literacy proficiency and varying socioeconomic circumstances. While we can identify these learners as a group, our challenge as educators is that they are not a uniform group. No simple solution can address all the challenges. On one hand, it appears that English language learners are doing well in U.S. schools.

The average NAEP scores of English language learners have improved more steadily than those of all other students between the mid-1990s and 2005. For examples, English language learners in 4th grade increased their scores by 13 percent from 1998 to 2005, compared with an increase of 5 percent by all students. Eighth grade English language learners increased their scores by 7 percent, compared with no increase across the general population.  But even with this improvement, the gaps between English language learners and all other students remain, and the gap widens for English language learners in higher grades.

Of the schools that missed achieving adequate yearly progress in 2003-2004, only 4 percent missed solely because of the achievement of their English language learners. In addition, only 8 percent of the nation's teens are foreign born; yet they only account for 25 percent of teen dropouts.

Much research has been done in the last three to five years on this critical issue.  Today we know much more about helping English language learners be more successful. Many practical solutions for helping English language learners improve are found here.

Teaching Literacy in English to K-5 English Learners

Effective Literacy and English Language Instruction for English Learners in the Elementary Grades: A Practice Guide

This Practice Guide was developed by an expert panel convened by the Institute of Education Sciences. It offers a set of five research-based recommendations that together constitute a coherent approach to a multifaceted problem. A summary of the research evidence and a level of evidence rating are provided for each recommendation. This Practice Guide is the foundation for all the Doing What Works content on teaching literacy to K-5 English learners.

 Download Research Review | PDF | 1.4 MB 

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