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English-Language Learners

How 5 Districts Unlock ELLs’ Math Potential

By Corey Mitchell — March 29, 2018 2 min read

Combining English-language development with math instruction, using students’ home languages and backgrounds as assets, and providing access to advanced courses are among practices that can boost English-langauge learners’ achievement and test scores in math, according to a new report from the Oakland, Calif.-based Education Trust-West.

The report, “Unlocking Learning II: Math as a Lever for English Learner Equity,” explores how five California districts, all with large English-learner populations, taught math to the students. The report identified four steps that schools took to improve math instruction for English-language learners:


  • Leveraging English-learners’ backgrounds, cultures, and home languages as assets for math learning. The report spotlighted work in the Westminister school system in Orange County, where students in Vietnamese and Spanish dual-immersion programs are taught math in two languages.
  • Integrating English-language development with math instruction. The report praises the San Francisco Unified school district and its use of math problems that require collaborative problem-solving and extensive use of academic math language.
  • Offering sustained teacher training to support both English-language development and math achievement. The report explores how the Santa Clara County Office of Education provides training on Common Core State Standards math content and instruction and growth mindset to high school and middle school teachers.
  • Ensuring equitable access to college-preparatory coursework with appropriate supports. The report details how the Alhambra Unified schools in Los Angeles County reduced tracking in math classes, providing access to advanced courses for English-learners.

The Education Trust-West analysis argues that the progress made in the five districts offers hope to other school systems where ELLs, who represent roughly 1 in 5 students in California, are struggling with math instruction.

Across the state, many of the 1 million-plus English-learners don’t have access to the high-quality math courses that their native English-speaking peers do. When courses are available, ELLs often miss out because they’re referred for more English instruction, forcing them to miss content-based courses. English-learners are more likely to be placed in remedial math courses and less likely to be placed in geometry, which is an advanced course for high school freshmen, than their native English-speaking peers are.

Here’s a look at the report:

Ed Trust West Unlocking Learning II Report by corey_c_mitchell on Scribd

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Image Credit: Education Trust-West

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