ELLs and Nation’s Report Card: No Change in Reading and Math Performance

By Lesli A. Maxwell — November 11, 2013 1 min read
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The reading and math achievement of the nation’s English-language learners in 4th and 8th grades shows few signs of budging, according to national test data results released last week.

Results from the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress, better known as NAEP, or the nation’s report card, show that 8th grade English-language learners posted an average score in math that rose by two points since 2011, the last time the test was given, and one point in reading on the exam’s 500-point scale, though neither is a statistically significant gain. For 4th grade ELLs, the average math score was exactly the same as two years ago and for reading, it dropped by one point, which was not a statistically significant change.

There was also little to no change in the proportions of 4th and 8th grade English-learners reaching “proficiency” levels on the test in either reading or math between 2011 and 2013.

For a full accounting of how 4th and 8th graders performed across the nation, see Catherine Gewertz’s story on

When looking at the performance of English-learners over time, however, it’s key to remember that this is the only subgroup of students that is constantly changing. There is always a new influx of students coming into the category, as well as students moving out after they are reclassified as fluent in English.

This was the second administration of the NAEP exam since the governing board that oversees the test began pushing for states and school districts to exclude fewer students who are ELLs or who have disabilities from participating.

Nationally, the English-learner inclusion rate for the 2013 NAEP reading test was 92 percent in 4th grade and 90 percent in 8th grade. Maryland and Delaware fell short of meeting the National Assessment Governing Board’s goal of including 85 percent of the English-learners who are in the initial sample of students targeted for testing at both grade levels in that subject. Kentucky and North Dakota fell short of the goal for 4th graders.

On the math test, the national inclusion rates for English-learners were 96 percent for 4th grade and 93 percent for 8th grade. Every state met the 85 percent inclusion rate goal for both grades in that subject.

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