The Graduation Rate for ELLs in the Big Apple

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 25, 2008 2 min read
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Eduwonkette has been having a field day blogging about graduation rate data in the Big Apple. But she hasn’t yet delved into why the city’s graduation rate for ELLs is so low. The four-year graduation rate for ELLs is 23.5 percent, compared with 55.8 percent for all students.

For the 2007-08 school year, New York City public schools enrolled 138,500 ELLs.

I took a tip from eduwonkette (update: she revealed her true identity yesterday) and asked for some additional data from the New York City Department of Education that might indicate whether the city’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, knew what he was talking about when he implied, according to the New York Times, that the graduation rate for ELLs is low because the city receives so many newcomers in the upper grades. Here’s the quote from the Times.

The later you join the school system, the more difficult the situation is,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “If you have a kid who joins the school in the 10th grade, particularly if you go home and don’t learn English, it is going to be very hard to learn.”

I suspected that actually only a small number of ELLs in the city’s middle and high schools are newcomers. But, in fact, the data shows I was wrong. In 2007, of the 49,318 ELLs in grades 8-12, 22,454—or 45.5 percent—were newcomers, defined as students who have been receiving ELL services for less than three years. That’s a huge proportion of ELLs in those grades.

Here’s the break down of ELL newcomers by grade:

Grade 8
3,804 newcomers
46.1% of 8,257 ELLs in that grade

Grade 9
6,372 newcomers
46.1% of 13,824 ELLs

Grade 10
6,820 newcomers
51.1% of 13,345 ELLs

Grade 11
3,506 newcomers
46.9% of 7,481 ELLs

Grade 12
1,952 newcomers
30.4% of 6,411 ELLs

Nevertheless, advocates of ELLs think the city should be doing a much better job of helping ELLs reach graduation, which would include helping newcomers to catch up with their peers. “English Learners Left Behind,” published this month in the Gotham Gazette, spells out some areas of weakness in the services for such students. The Gazette is supported by the Citizens Union Foundation of the City of New York.

Schools such as Brooklyn International High School, a public school in New York City geared toward ELLs who are newcomers, doesn’t make any excuses for the fact that its students are new to the country. In 2007, it had a four-year graduation rate of 65 percent for students who were ELLs at graduation.

I wrote last week about a memo ELL advocates sent to state education officials, asking them to remedy the problems in programs for ELLs in New York City. One of the statistics they used to back their argument that schools are failing ELLs is the low graduation rate for such students.

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