English-Language Learners

Study: Current, Former ELLs Take Fewer Advanced, College-Prep Classes

By Corey Mitchell — November 02, 2016 2 min read
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Current and former English-language-learner high school students are less likely to take advanced classes than their native English-speaking peers, a Regional Education Laboratory Northwest study finds.

Based in Washington state, the researchers examined barriers that prevent English-language-learner students from taking more college-preparatory coursework—finding that academic preparation accounts for much of the difference in participation and performance.

“English-learner students face multiple obstacles to taking advanced courses. They divide their time between acquiring English proficiency and learning academic content, creating a challenge for them to keep pace with native English-speaking students,” the researchers write.

“Even if English-learner students demonstrate academic readiness, their status as English-learners may limit their access to accelerated and advanced coursetaking through ‘tracking’ policies and practices at their schools.”

In the study, honors and Advanced Placement classes, along with dual-credit courses that offer the opportunity to earn college credit, are listed as examples of advanced courses.

The researchers also found that current and former ELL students are less likely to complete Algebra I in middle school. Students who pass the course in high school are less likely to take higher-level math courses such as trigonometry, statistics, and calculus.

To address the issues, the researchers recommend:

  • Providing English-language assistance in advanced classes for students who are otherwise qualified to take the courses. That support could include teaming bilingual teachers with advanced class teachers to deliver the lessons and provide support in more than one language.
  • Communicating clearly, perhaps in multiple languages, with families to explain what students must do to enroll in advanced courses, especially in schools with higher percentages of English-learners.
  • Examining whether the types of advanced courses they offer limit English-learners’ ability to participate. Advanced classes in English language arts and social studies often require advanced academic English ability; courses in science, world languages, and fine and performing arts are less reliant on that.

The research does have a silver lining: when current and former ELLs are equally prepared to take advanced courses—as measured by their grade point averages and standardized test scores in math and reading—they enroll in more college-level courses than their native English-speaking peers with similar prior academic performance. On average, the current and former ELLs also earn better grades.

Here’s a look at the report.

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