English-Language Learners

Spanish-Speaking Students Face Hurdles With Advanced Coursework

By Corey Mitchell — January 20, 2017 1 min read
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Spanish-speaking English-language learners in Washington state enroll in half as many advanced courses per year as other ELLs, and earn lower grades in those classes, a new Regional Education Laboratory Northwest study found.

The study also found that the state’s Spanish-speaking students, whether they are ELLs or already English proficient, are less likely to take advanced coursework, such as Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and dual-enrollment classes, than students who speak other languages or only English. In fact, bilingual students whose primary or home language is not Spanish take more advanced courses on average than native English speakers do.

The researchers point out that schools with large Spanish-speaking populations are more likely to have higher student poverty rates, higher student-teacher ratios, and lower average student test scores. The stark disparities in advanced course enrollment and performance do disappear when comparing students who have similar grade point averages and test scores in the prior school year.

“These findings reinforce the understanding that language minority students are not a homogenous group and underline the importance of not applying a ‘one size fits all’ approach to educating English-learner students,” Havala Hanson, the study’s lead author, said in a statement.

Based on the findings, the study authors recommended that Washington state do more to monitor the academic progress of English-learners and identify groups, such as Spanish-speakers, that struggle more than others to better understand the challenges they face. Spanish is the native language of roughly two-thirds of the state’s ELLs.

The report complements the findings of a 2016 REL Northwest study that examined why current and former English-learners in the state took fewer advanced courses and had fewer advanced courses offered at their schools than did native English-speaking students.

Here’s a look at the latest report.

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