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.

sparty-02  In a previous article, we introduced Michigan’s ELL identification process, which is the first step in providing language minority students with the instructional and linguistic supports necessary to access meaningful opportunities to learn. In this issue, we will take a close look at some of the policies and research that guide the identification and classification process of ELLs.

sparty-02  As each school year commences across Michigan, many schools begin the process of getting to know newly enrolled students. This process includes identifying students who need English language development services. Identifying English language learners (ELLs) is really an issue of educational access and equity; students who fail to be identified as ELLs who do in fact need English language development services won't have the same opportunities to access instructional content as their peers. On the other hand, students who are mistakenly identified as ELLs may be denied access to academic content that is appropriately challenging.

Efforts to better identify students are certainly a priority for many schools due to the ever-increasing numbers of students migrating and immigrating. According to findings reported, between 2002 and 2008 the ELL population grew by 18 percent, to 4.4 million students (Boyle, et al., 2010). Data shows below was collected from the Consolidated State Performance Report (CSPR) and compiled by the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Educational Programs (NCELA). This identifies the significant difference in percentages of those enrolled compared to the general student population.

growing numbers ell

With such large increases in very short periods of time, many schools lack the capacity to adequately support ELL students and their teachers.

In a 2009 report published by the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA, 2009), investigators analyzed repercussions of this rapid growth in ELL student populations for schools. The authors of the report conclude that many states and school districts are underprepared to deal with the many complex issues ELL students face linguistically and culturally as they enter U.S. schools. Additionally, educators often have limited experience screening students for ELL services appropriately. This inexperience can lead to large numbers of ELL students not being identified and unable to receive the instructional supports necessary to succeed. Because of these trends, the authors recommended increasing the number of states involved in setting standard criteria within a state for entering and exiting students from ELL services. During the 2012/2013 school year, Michigan implemented an Entrance and Exit Protocol to help districts identify and reclassify their ELL students. The protocol document provides districts with a great amount of flexibility in determining what tools to use, in addition to the identified state required assessment (historically ELPA Initial Screening tool).

During my first week as a third-grade teacher in the Rio Grande Valley, I was immediately confronted by the English language learner (ELL) achievement gap. Results from a diagnostic reading assessment I administered showed that not a single one of my students was reading on grade level and four of my students were actually reading below a first-grade level. One of my students did not know how to write his first name.

Abedi, J. (2004). The No Child Left Behind Act and English language learners: Assessment and accountability issues. Educational Researcher, 33(1), 4.

Abedi, J. (2008). Classification system for English language learners: Issues and recommendations. Educational Measurement: Issues and Practice, 27(3), 17–31.

Au, K. H. (1993). Literacy instruction in multicultural settings. Orlando, FL: Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

August, D., & Hakuta, K. (1997). Improving schooling for language-minority children: A research agenda. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Bailey, A. L., & Kelly, K. R. (2010). The Use and Validity of Home Language Surveys in State English Language Proficiency Assessment Systems: A Review and Issues Perspective. Los Angeles, CA: UCLA.

Calderon, M. (2007). Teaching reading to English language learners, grades 6-12: A framework for improving achievement in the content areas. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

DeCapua, A., & Marshall, H.W. (2011). Breaking new ground: Teaching students with limited or interrupted formal education in U.S. secondary schools. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Freeman, Y.S., & Freeman, D.E. (2002). Closing the achievement gap: How to reach limited-formal-schooling and long-term English learners. Portsmouth, NH: Heinneman.

Garcia Bedolla, L. & Rodriguez, R. (2011). Classifying California's English Learners: Is the CELDT too Blunt an Instrument? Berkeley, CA: Center for Latino Policy Research.

Kindler, A. L. (2002). Survey of the states' limited English proficient students and available educational programs and services: 2000–2001 summary report. Washington, D.C.: National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs.

National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition & Language Instruction Educational Programs (NCELA). The Growing Numbers of English Learner Students. Retrieved from http://www.ncela.gwu.edu/files/uploads/9/growingLEP_0708.pdf.

No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001, Pub. L. No. 107-110, § 115 (2002).

Spaulding, S., Carolino, B., & Amen, K. (2004). Immigrant students and secondary school reform: Compendium of best practices. Washington, D.C.: Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO).

Zacarian, D. & Haynes, J. (2012). The essential guide for educating beginning English learners. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.

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