NCLB and a High School with Lots of ELLs

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 02, 2008 1 min read

Luther Burbank High School in Sacramento, Calif., has clearly helped some English-language learners to progress well academically, but some of the test scores of those students have been a hindrance to the school’s ability to meet adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act. I write about this in “Hurdles Remain High for English-Learners,” which was posted today at

It became evident during my visit to the school that the law does not take into account where some students start out academically in their high school career. For instance, about 200 Hmong refugees arrived at the school several years ago from Southeast Asia with little or no formal schooling. Yet some of them managed to learn enough to pass at least the math section of the California High School Exit Exam (though usually not the English part) by 11th grade. Some educators at Luther Burbank and elsewhere say the law should give credit for the progress these students make, as well as for those who enter high school better prepared and can reach fixed targets set by California for NCLB purposes by the 10th grade.

I learned that 24 of the 26 criteria for calculating AYP at Luther Burbank have to do with whether 10th graders score proficient or above on the exit exam on their first try. Lots of English-language learners across California don’t make that mark, even though, given an extra year or two, they do. See my earlier post about the school. (One of its teachers is Larry Ferlazzo who has a blog about incorporating technology into lessons for ELLs.)

In my article, I get into some of the bureaucratic details of how NCLB applies at a school like Luther Burbank, where more than half of the school’s 1,970 students are ELLs. And in doing so, I’m a little worried that some of the students I talk about in the story or interviewed in my reporting somehow won’t realize that I view them as successful. I definitely do.

Regardless of whether their test scores helped their school to make AYP or not, it’s impossible to hear their stories and not admire them. It can’t be easy to enroll in an American public high school and not know any English—particularly as a teenager.

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