Federal

Schools With Poor ELL Scores May Share Common Elements

By Mary Ann Zehr — June 26, 2008 3 min read

Schools that report low achievement for English-language learners also report low test scores for white and African-American students, and share characteristics associated with poor performance on standardized tests, according to a study released today by the Pew Hispanic Center.

Those characteristics include high pupil-teacher ratios, large enrollments, and high levels of students who are eligible for free and reduced-priced lunches, a reflection of families’ socioeconomic backgrounds.

But the study by Richard Fry, a senior research associate at the Washington-based center, also found that when English-learners are not isolated in low-achieving schools, the gap between their test scores and those of other students narrows significantly.

That finding indicates that the gap between English-learners and other students “isn’t so much because of the characteristics of the student and family, but also because of the school they are attending,” Mr. Fry said in an interview.

The study, “The Role of Schools in the English Language Learner Achievement Gap,” analyzes students’ test scores in mathematics drawn from three U.S. Department of Education databases. It focuses on the five states with the most English-language learners: Arizona, California, Florida, New York, and Texas.

“The Pew results make clear that linguistic isolation goes hand in glove with economic, ethnic, and racial isolation, which are in turn tied to worse school outcomes,” Michael Fix, the vice president and director of studies at the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute, said in an e-mail message.

“For me, the results also reinforce the fact that one critical test of the success of the No Child Left Behind Act will be whether we see any improvement in student outcomes in these low-income, high-ELL schools,” he said.

Mr. Fix also said the Pew results are consistent with findings by the Urban Institute that elementary schools with large ELL populations are more urban, have larger classes, and an enrollment that is more heavily minority than that of other schools.

“The teachers in these high-ELL elementary schools ... had less experience, less academic preparation, and were less likely to be certified than their counterparts in other schools,” he said.

Patterns Emerge

The study illustrates—but does not attempt to explain—several patterns that emerge from the test-score data based on the mix of students. For example, the researchers found that English-learners who attend schools with even a small number of white students have higher math-test scores than do ELLs who are almost entirely isolated from such white students.

And black students and white students who attend schools with even a small number of English-learners do worse on standardized math tests than black and white students who are almost entirely isolated from ELL students.

The study’s results are based on test scores of ELLs of all different racial and ethnic backgrounds—not just Hispanic—compared with the test scores of non-Hispanic white and non-Hispanic black students. Mr. Fry said that U.S. Census Bureau data shows that the overlap between ELLs and non-Hispanic whites and non-Hispanic blacks is minimal.

In comparing the performance of each group of students, Mr. Fry used the minimum thresholds set by the states for reporting those test scores for student groups under the federal No Child Left Behind law. For example, in Arizona and Florida, schools report scores for ELLs, white students, or other student groups if they have 10 test-takers per grade in that group. California sets the threshold at 11 test-takers. New York and Texas set it at five test-takers.

“Using this very low threshold, you still get pretty strong differences,” Mr. Fry said.

For example, the study found that 30 percent of ELLs in 8th grade in Florida score at or above the proficient level in math if they attend a middle school that has a minimum threshold number of white students. But at Florida middle schools that don’t meet the minimum threshold for white students, only about 10 percent of ELL 8th graders score at or above the proficient level in math.

Mr. Fry said he found it interesting to learn from his analysis that white and black students attending schools with a minimum threshold of English-learners have lower math scores on average than do those groups of students who attend schools with too few English-learners to meet their states’ thresholds.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Biden Pick for Education Civil Rights Office Has History With Racial Equity, LGBTQ Issues
Biden selected Catherine Lhamon to lead the Education Department's civil rights work, a role she also held in the Obama administration.
2 min read
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Flags decorate a space outside the office of the Education Secretary at the Education Department in Washington on Aug. 9, 2017.
Jacquelyn Martin/AP
Federal Lawmakers Press CDC About Teachers' Union Influence on School Reopening Guidance
Republican senators asked CDC Director Rochelle Walensky about reports a teachers' union had input on guidance for schools on COVID-19.
3 min read
Dr. Rochelle Walensky speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, CDC director, speaks during an event in Wilmington, Del., to announce then-President-elect Joe Biden's health care team on Dec. 8, 2020.
Susan Walsh/AP
Federal Biden Taps Ex-Obama Aide Roberto Rodriguez for Key Education Department Job
Rodriguez served as a top education staffer to President Barack Obama and currently leads a teacher-advocacy organization.
3 min read
BRIC ARCHIVE
Getty
Federal Biden Pitches Plan to Expand Universal Pre-K, Free School Meal Programs, Teacher Training
The president's $1.8 trillion American Families Plan faces strong headwinds as Congress considers other costly administration proposals.
8 min read
President Joe Biden addresses Congress from the House chamber. Behind him are Vice President Kamala Harris and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi.
President Joe Biden addresses a joint session of Congress Wednesday night, as Vice President Kamala Harris, left, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of Calif., applaud.<br/>
Chip Somodevilla/AP