English-Language Learners

ELLs Less Likely to Take Advanced Math and Science

By Mary Ann Zehr — July 12, 2011 1 min read
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English-language learners are almost as likely as students fluent in English to attend high schools that offer advanced math and science courses, but they’re less likely than their fluent peers to be enrolled in those courses, data from the U.S. Department of Education’s office for civil rights show.

Rosalinda B. Barrera, the director of the office of English-language acquisition for the Education Department, highlighted the data showing disparities in access to advanced math and science courses between ELLs and other students at a forum hosted by the Education Department yesterday here in the nation’s capital on STEM education for ELLs. My colleague Nirvi Shah reported on the OCR data, collected in the 2009-10 school year, earlier this month for Education Week.

While 6 percent of high school students in the 2009-10 school year were ELLs, only 4 percent of students enrolled in Algebra II and chemistry were ELLs. For physics, the enrollment of ELLs was 3 percent, and for calculus, it was only 1 percent.

Five percent of ELLs took at least one Advanced Placement course in high school during the 2009-10 school year, but only 1 percent took an AP math course and 0.8 percent took an AP science course. By contrast, 19 percent of white students took an AP course of some kind. Five percent of whites took both AP math and AP science.

Barrera noted that the statistics provide only enrollment numbers and don’t tell how well ELLs performed in the courses. She said that increasing access to STEM courses for ELLs is one of her professional priorities and it is part of the new strategic plan of the office of English-language acquisition.

Barrera announced a change in the scope of the office she directs, saying that while traditionally it has focused on the education of ELLs in grades K-12, it will be expanded next year to include consideration of the needs of preschool and adult ELLs.

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