English-Language Learners

New York City ELL Study Offers Glimpse into National English-Learner Trends

By Corey Mitchell — October 17, 2016 2 min read
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With more than 140,000 English-learners enrolled in New York City’s K-12 public schools, the district has more ELLs than all but five states: California, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and, of course, New York.

That’s why a recently released study from the Regional Educational Laboratory Northeast & Islands on English-learner reclassification patterns may hold value for ELL educators and policymakers across the nation.

Noting that the city’s English-learners speak about 150 home languages and arrive to school from a host of educational, socioeconomic, and cultural backgrounds, the researchers said the district provides a “unique opportunity to build knowledge about English learner student reclassification patterns.”

The study has several key findings, including:

  • Slightly more than half the students who entered kindergarten in New York City’s public schools as English-learners were English-proficient by the end of 3rd grade. But a quarter ended up becoming long-term English-learners, meaning they weren’t reclassified by the time they started middle school. For students who fall into this category, graduation is often an elusive goal.
  • Students who entered the district as English-learners in 6th or 7th grade took about a year longer to be reclassified as English-proficient than those entered the school system as kindergarten students.
  • How much English a child knows when they begin school plays a significant role in how quickly students are able to shed the English-learner label. The median time to reclassification for students with above average initial English-proficiency was roughly three years. The median time to reclassification for students with below average initial English proficiency was almost five years. The findings illustrate why building ELLs early literacy is crucial.
  • English-learner students with specific learning disabilities took roughly four years longer to reach English proficiency than peers without learning disabilities. And nearly two-thirds of students with learning disabilities become long-term English-learners. A 20-state review of research and policies found that states often struggle to identify and support ELLs with learning disabilities.

For a broad look at the some of the challenges facing English-learners, take a look at Education Week‘s special report, Teaching America’s English-Language Learners. Available in English and Spanish, the report examines how well schools are serving this growing population of students.

Only Los Angeles Unified has more English-learners than New York City’s school system, according to a 2015 report from the Migration Policy Institute. For those who want to comb through the New York City report, here’s a copy.

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