College & Workforce Readiness Opinion

What Does Postsecondary Success Look Like For English Learners?

By Urban Education Contributor — August 27, 2018 4 min read
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This week we are hearing from the Cleveland Alliance for Education Research (CAER). This post is by Elisabeth Davis (@lyzzdavis), senior researcher at American Institutes for Research (@Education_AIR).

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

Postsecondary readiness requires a range of skills, behaviors, and other characteristics. Several key factors are consistently linked to enrollment and success in postsecondary institutions, yet few studies have focused specifically on these links as they pertain to English learners (ELs). Further, some evidence suggests that these key factors, such as grade point average, college entrance examination scores, and FAFSA completion are not as strong in predicting college readiness and success among EL students, who face unique challenges and barriers at each level of their educational careers. The Cleveland Metropolitan School District‘s (CMSD) population of EL students has doubled and become increasingly more diverse over the last 12 years, so any efforts to increase postsecondary readiness and success among CMSD students needs a thoughtful and targeted focus on EL students. Thus, the Cleveland Alliance for Education Research recently began a new research project in July 2018 aimed at better understanding EL students’ patterns of postsecondary readiness and success, how these patterns vary among different EL subgroups, and how they compare with never-EL students.

What the Research Examines

We will conduct two related research projects: A correlational study to explore patterns of EL postsecondary readiness and success for five consecutive cohorts of students to gain a deeper understanding of the student- and school-level characteristics associated with these patterns, followed by a second study, the research focus of which will be determined based on the results from the first study and feedback from practitioners. Our initial study will answer five research questions on students entering grade 9 between 2009/10 and 2012/13:

  1. How have the percentages of EL students, their native language percentages, and their English proficiency levels changed over time?
  2. To what extent are EL students meeting postsecondary readiness benchmarks as related to grade point average, attendance rate, core and accelerated coursework, college entrance exams, and FAFSA completion?
  3. What percentage of ELs enroll in any postsecondary program within two years of their on-time graduation date?
  4. How do EL and never-EL students’ postsecondary readiness and enrollment vary across student demographic and school characteristics? Do these comparisons vary within student subgroups of EL students?
  5. What is the likelihood of EL students, as compared to never-EL students, of continuing their education beyond high school, controlling for postsecondary readiness indicators and other student- and school-level characteristics?

The results of this first study will be presented to superintendents and principals of high schools enrolling EL students over the last 10 years. We will provide school-specific results and facilitate a conversation to generate questions, get feedback, and most importantly, ask practitioners where we need to go from here. The subsequent research study will be informed by these conversations.

Implications for Practice

The results of these analyses will help the district better understand the population of EL students and their postsecondary readiness and success, as well as the settings under which these students appear to be showing the most positive outcomes, providing principals with preliminary evidence related to what subgroups of students may need targeted supports and under what circumstances they need it. The goal is to help schools in choosing programs, practices, and strategies that are right for their students’ needs.

This work also will be useful to CMSD policymakers and practitioners by providing insight into the relationship between student- and school-level characteristics and postsecondary readiness and success, and how these relationships may vary for EL students of varying proficiency levels as well as never-EL students. The work will help the district identify gaps in postsecondary readiness and success among different types of students and schools, as well as examine variation in postsecondary enrollment across different student subgroups and school contexts. These results will provide the partnership with a foundation on which to base future studies on postsecondary readiness and success, driven by feedback from key stakeholders in the district.

Previous blog posts by the Cleveland Alliance for Education Research :

Curious about other research topics partnerships have written about for this blog? See this Guide to the NNERPP EdWeek Blog for all previous blog posts organized by research topic area to easily find other posts of particular interest to you!

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