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English-Learners Still Lag on Reading, Math Progress

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 27, 2008 2 min read
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Nearly all states continue to struggle in meeting the No Child Left Behind Act’s academic targets for English-language learners in mathematics and reading, according to a report released by the U.S. Department of Education today.

The biennial report to Congress credits just one state—unnamed in the report—with hitting the mark for adequate yearly progress, or AYP, in mathematics in the 2005-06 school year, the most recent year for which data was submitted, while none met AYP in reading.

But while the report paints a gloomy picture on the two subjects for the nation’s estimated 5 million ELLs, it also shows the states doing somewhat better in the area of English-language proficiency.

Overall, 24 states—including California, Pennsylvania, and Texas—reported that ELLs were making progress in English. And 28 states, including Arizona, California, and Illinois, met the tougher standard for ELLs to attain proficiency in the language.

Education Department officials had issued no comment about the report as of early afternoon.

The report, based on data from the 2004-05 and 2005-06 school years, contains some conspicuous holes.

New York—which has a large number of English-learners—didn’t submit data for the report about student progress, even though the states are required to do so, and the report doesn’t say why that data is missing.

The report doesn’t say how many states made AYP in math or reading for the first of the two school years being evaluated. And it doesn’t give information about the different targets set by each state for making AYP or indicate how close states have come to meeting them.

Overall, the report says that 85 percent of the nation’s English-learners are participating in programs paid for with funds under Title III of the NCLB law. The department gave $580 million in state grants under Title III in the 2005-06 school year.

Progress Varies

The authors of the report point out that ELL achievement in math is slightly higher on average than achievement in reading.

Even so, fewer than half of such students tested proficient or above in math during the 2005-06 school year in 30 states. The proportion of ELLs testing at least proficient in math ranged from 4.7 percent in Missouri to 82.2 percent in Wyoming during the 2005-06 school year.

The report also notes that achievement in both math and reading drops as the grade level of students increases. “With each grade level,” the report says, “fewer states met their targets.”

The official name of the report is “The Biennial Report to Congress on the Implementation of the Title III State Formula Grant Program: School Years 2004-2006.” An electronic copy was not available as of today.

The Education Department’s first two-year evaluation of Title III was released in March 2005. (“Federal Data Show Gains on Language,” March 28, 2005.)

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