Opinion
English-Language Learners Opinion

Can Summer School Help English Learner Students Succeed?

By Urban Education Contributor — January 15, 2018 4 min read
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This week we are hearing from the Stanford-SFUSD Partnership (@StanfordSFUSD). This post is by Angela S. Johnson, Doctoral Candidate at the Stanford Center for Education Policy Analysis (@StanfordCEPA).

Today’s post is written from the researcher perspective. Stay tuned: Thursday we will share the practitioner’s perspective on this research.

Recent education policy has focused on improving English Learners’ (ELs) academic success, but substantial gaps persist between ELs and their peers. Compared to 20 years ago, ELs today are lagging even further behind in National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) math and reading scores. High school ELs are less likely to take college preparatory classes or graduate in four years. Only 18% of ELs advance directly to four-year colleges, compared to 43% of monolingual English speakers. Instead, ELs are more likely to enroll in two-year colleges or not go to college at all. As the EL population continues to grow, so does the concern over their underachievement.

Prior research shows that part of this achievement and attainment gap can be attributed to ELs’ limited access to academic content (see for example here and here). ELs are often required to take multiple language development classes and thus have few opportunities to take advanced math, science, and social science classes. As a result, they may miss out on chances to develop higher order analytical skills that are crucial for college and career success. San Francisco Unified School District‘s (SFUSD) EL Village (now called Summer Academy for Integrated Language Learning) is a program designed to address this problem. Since initial implementation in 2013, more than 1,500 ELs have participated, enrolling in English Language Arts, math, science, and social science classes during the five-week summer session. Open to all newcomers in 10th grade and above, the program provides English language development as well as opportunities to earn credits toward graduation.

But to what extent has the program actually affected ELs’ access to academic content? Did participation make a difference for ELs’ academic outcomes? Should other school districts consider implementing such programs?

To answer these questions, the Stanford-SFUSD Partnership conducted a study to assess the program’s impact on newcomer ELs’ course-taking, English proficiency, and graduation rates. We used data on students from the graduation cohorts of 2009 to 2016 and focused on courses taken, California English Language Development Test (CELDT) scores, and graduation. This study benefited tremendously from close collaboration with SFUSD, with insights from the district informing all stages of the project, from research design to interpretation of findings.

Since EL Village became available in 2013 to newcomer ELs, the study uses ELs with longer US residency, non-ELs, and cohorts who graduated before program implementation as comparison groups in a difference-in-differences-in-differences design. Out of all newcomer ELs in SFUSD since 2013, about one in three participated in EL Village. The findings from this study can be interpreted as the impact one can expect from implementing a similar summer program with a similar participation rate.

We found that EL Village had significant positive effects on the number of academic courses ELs take during their first four years of high school. To meet graduation requirements, students need to complete four ELA, three math, two science, and three social science classes. Compared to other students, newcomer ELs took an average of 1.156 more ELA classes and 0.392 more math classes during their first four years of high school because of the program. Newcomers also took 0.425 more science classes and 0.267 more social science classes than comparison groups. CELDT scores show that EL Village also had significant positive effects on newcomers’ listening, speaking, writing, and overall proficiency skills. These findings suggest EL Village to be promising at expanding academic access for ELs.

In the first three years of program implementation, the increase in EL exposure to academic content did not immediately translate into significantly higher graduation rates overall. This is consistent with results from previous research on math credit recovery. A few additional credits earned in one summer may be insufficient to steer severely off-track students back on track to graduate. The cohort of 2014 in the study sample, who only had one summer to attend EL Village before their scheduled graduation date, may have suffered from this limitation.

However, early and repeated interventions do pay off. The program had positive effects on graduation rates for the two latter cohorts. The average five-year graduation rate was higher than 99% for newcomers in the 2015 and 2016 cohorts. These rates are very encouraging. Expanding program eligibility to include rising 9th graders and continuing to urge program veterans to enroll every summer will afford ELs more opportunities to complete academic course requirements within 4 or 4.5 academic years.

Previous blog posts by the Stanford-SFUSD Partnership:

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The opinions expressed in Urban Education Reform: Bridging Research and Practice are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.


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