English Language Learners and the Achievement Gap
Students who are not proficient in English are at a distinct disadvantage in not only learning required material, but in demonstrating that knowledge. Identifying these students and tailoring learning to each student’s specific needs is a must. . On this page you will find an ever-growing archive of articles, tools, and resources focused on effectively teaching these students.
Think back to when you were in school. From which teachers did you learn the most? Chances are good that the teachers you learned the most from were quite adept at engaging you during class. For English language learners (ELLs) this point certainly holds true as well. However, educators often have difficulty working with ELLs on meaningfully engaging in classroom activities. Many ELLs must overcome anxiety and the emotional turmoil of moving, living in a new cultural environment, and making new friends. All of this must be done while trying to learn English. The language barrier often pushes students into a state of isolation, further inhibiting their classroom engagement and learning.
Michigan has made considerable efforts to prepare schools for the inevitability of online assessments. Since 2012, the Michigan legislature has provided $95 million to support district's technology improvements.1 However, only 262 districts, encompassing approximately 11.5% of Michigan's K-12 students, have provided one-to-one internet-ready devices for students to use in the instructional setting.2 One of the most significant arguments against online assessments in Michigan is that many students, particularly those in disadvantaged areas, have not had the opportunity to utilize these technologies on a regular basis. Past studies have indicated that students living in under-resourced areas are more likely than other students to attend schools with limited access to technology.3 This lack of exposure to technology in schools may be exacerbated to an even greater extent when considering the English language learners (ELLs). Almost 74% of Michigan's students identified as ELLs are also considered socioeconomically disadvantaged.4 The potential for a digital divide is real and great for ELLs. Therefore, effectively integrating technology into instruction is particularly important for classroom teachers who work with ELLs.
Using data to drive school improvement sounds straightforward. Every day educators hear terminology like "data-driven decision making," "data dashboard," and "data analytics" with surprising frequency. Schools are awash in data more than ever before. On the one hand, the possibilities presented by these data systems are incredible. On the other hand, it is easy to quickly become overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude and complexity of the data. Rich datasets are often underutilized because educators are either unaware the data exists, or are unsure about how to effectively use the data. In this article, we want to showcase some specific data that can be used to drive school improvement for English language learners (ELLs).
During the past year, we have had the opportunity to visit with educators across Michigan to talk about their questions and concerns when it comes to educating English language learners (ELLs). In our conversations, we often receive questions about the intersection of English language development services and special education needs. In particular, we have been asked about how to determine if an ELL has special needs and how to best support students who are identified in both ways. It can be difficult to disentangle English language development issues from special learning needs, so we will be devoting the next several issues of the MI Toolkit to this issue. We want to begin this series of articles by addressing several myths that arise around this issue.
One of the frequently expressed challenges for schools that have English Language Learners (ELLs) is determining when to evaluate for special learning needs or learning disabilities. In some schools, ELLs may be over-identified for special education; in others, they may be under-identified. While a lack of training in assessment and instruction for ELLs (for both language proficiency and academic/learning challenges) may be the reality for many school teams, it is not an excuse for failing to provide appropriate assessment and instruction for students who are English learners.