English-Language Learners

English-Learners Often Denied Full Access to STEM Education, Report Finds

By Corey Mitchell — October 18, 2018 2 min read
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School systems across the country should do more to ensure that current and former English-language learners have access to STEM education, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine finds.

The report is a follow-up to a 2017 study that detailed how under-resourced schools and underprepared educators hinder efforts to help students learn English. The latest study looks to build on those findings by exploring how those factors limit English-learners’ access to high-quality and challenging science, technology, engineering, and mathematics educational opportunities.

The committee behind the report, a who’s who of scholars on educational equity, English acquisition and STEM-related subjects, produced a list of 24 conclusions and seven recommendations designed to address the primary concern. The recommendations cover an array of topics, ranging from how districts can remove barriers that limit English-learner participation in STEM education to tips on developing curricula and assessments to facilitate and monitor the progress of students once they enroll in courses.

“Too often schools operate under the incorrect assumption that proficiency in English is a prerequisite to meaningful engagement with STEM learning and fail to leverage ELs’ meaningful engagement with content and disciplinary practices as a route to language proficiency,” the report authors wrote.

“Recognition of the assets that ELs bring to the classroom, and that some deficits in student performance arise from lack of access rather than limited ability or language proficiency, or from cultural differences, will enable educators to address the particular needs of students who are learning the language of instruction.”

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s previous report, Promoting the Educational Success of Children and Youth Learning English, served as a springboard to explore how the shortage of multilingual teachers of STEM content can lead academically talented ELLs to be placed in remedial courses, thereby squandering opportunities to engage with bright students simply because they are or were English-learners.

The committee also bemoaned the lack of public data about English-learner enrollment in technology and engineering-based courses.

“Overall, it is imperative that ELs have the same quality of STEM-related learning opportunities as their never EL peers,” the report authors conclude.

In the past two years, Education Trust West, with “Unlocking Learning: Science as a Lever for English Learner Equity,” and the Regional Education Laboratory Northwest, with “Advanced Course Enrollment and Performance Among English Learner Students in Washington State,” have also published reports exploring the barriers that prevent English-learners from taking more advanced coursework.

Here’s a look at the full National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine report.

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Photo: Students Jade Cruz, center, and Aylin Gamino use tokens to balance addition equations during a lesson-study session at Boulder Ridge Elementary in Menifee, Calif. --Photo by Sarah D. Sparks/Education Week

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