How Schools Fail Long-Term English-Language Learners

By Mary Ann Zehr — February 22, 2011 1 min read
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Over at Language on the Move, blogger Ingrid Piller writes about how educators often overlook the need of long-term English-language learners for special help in reading and writing. Long-term ELLs are defined by researchers as having attended U.S. schools for seven or more years without meeting their schools’ criteria to be considered fluent in English.

Educators often misjudge the skills of long-term ELLs because the students sound fluent in English, Piller writes. But she adds that while they speak fluently, they may read and write very poorly and need special help to get up to speed that is different from what newcomers to the country require.

For years now, I’ve heard people working in the field of teaching ELLs talk about how the needs of long-term ELLs are ignored. Back in 2001, I wrote an article about how Los Angeles Unified School District had thousands of students who had been born in this country and weren’t yet fluent in English by the time they were teenagers.

A decade later, educators and researchers are still pointing out the problem, but I know of only one school district, the New York City school system, that has tried to address it in a systematic way.

Piller mentions efforts by researchers Kate Menken and Tatyana Kleyn to assist New York City’s schools with long-term ELLs. Menken and Kleyn published a study about their work with long-term English-language learners in the International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism. We hosted Menken for a web chat about that study and long-term ELLs in 2009.

A couple of publications or reports drew attention to long-term ELLs back in 2009, but I haven’t seen any new research about this group of students or heard of new programs designed for them since then.

Readers, if you know otherwise, let the rest of us know.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.