I predict that reclassification of English learner students is going to be a major point of discussion as states move forward with ESSA implementation. This March 2016 study from REL Northwest is a must-read for anyone who plans to be part of the discussions about accountability measures pertaining to English learner students.
State agencies may wish to consider taking English proficiency at entry to kindergarten into account when determining appropriate targets for federal accountability measures, for example, by setting longer expected times to reclassification and providing additional support to students entering school with basic or intermediate levels of English language proficiency. Many states are also implementing new standards for college and career readiness and overhauling their assessment and accountability systems, both of which involve setting additional targets for English learner students. A better understanding of the factors related to variation in time to proficiency may allow states to establish targets that take particular factors , such as English proficiency, into account.
Conducted in school districts in Washington state, the study (linked above) attempted to use “survival analysis” (meaning it accounted for the impact of student demographics and differences in schools) in its findings. Among several interesting outcomes, the research illuminates a deficiency in accountability measures that is likely seen in many (if not all) states:
“Previously…districts were able to determine only how many students had been reclassified in a given year and not how many years it took them to be reclassified, which is the main focus of this study.” – page 2
While the study focuses on language development based on a student’s English proficiency upon entering Kindergarten, I think the most compelling findings of the study surround the “significant difference” that:
“Speakers of Chinese, Vietnamese, or Russian or Ukraine are reclassified sooner than speakers of Somali or Spanish.” – Figure 3, page 8
And although adult ELLs are not addressed in this research it’s worth noting that the findings quoted above mirror a phenomenon I find in my adult ESL classroom. My classroom consists of 30 adult ELL students representing 14 different first languages and 16 countries. Following a recent language development assessment, I found that students whose first language was a language other than Spanish were progressing exponentially faster through ESL class levels than students whose first language was Spanish. Even when the speakers of those other languages (in my case Persian, Chinese, Portuguese, Urdu, and Tamil) had only lived in the U.S. less than one year they were testing into the next highest level of development after one year or less of English class. Conversely, far too many of my Spanish-speaking students have lived in the U.S. more than 9 years and in some cases were even born in the U.S., but did not learn enough English as children and adolescents to successfully graduate K-12.
Returning to the focus on K-12 English learner students, this research report is worth reading. And if you’re at all concerned with the effects of English language development on high school graduation, I encourage you to check out the references cited at the end of the study. Many of which I’ve earmarked for further reading myself.
If you’ve read “English learner student characteristics and time to reclassification: An example From Washington state”, Motamedi, Singh, and Thompson, March 2016, I hope you’ll leave a reply with your take-aways. And if you’ve read other insightful literature on the topic of EL characteristics and time to reclassify I hope you’ll share as well.
Thanks for reading!