"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Monday, July 11, 2016

English Language Learners and High School Graduation Rate in the US

Corey Mitchell's article at Education Week, "English-Language-Learner Graduation Rates Are All Over the Map", starts with the following sentence: "The graduation rate for the nation's English-language learners in the class of 2014 rose to 62.6 percent, a slight increase over the previous year, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Education last month." Such graduation rate places this group at the bottom of public high school graduation rate in the United States.

Above copied from Public Radio International
There is, however, one issue I need to take with this type of reporting. Mitchell, as many people do in education reporting, are quick to equate students tagged with "Limited English Proficiency" to "English Language Learners". The National Center for Education Statistics probably contributes to this confusion as it defines "Limited English Proficiency":

limited English proficient (LEP). A term used to describe students who are in the process of acquiring English language skills and knowledge. Some schools refer to these students using the term English language learners, or ELL. Beginning with the NAEP 2005 assessment, the terminology changed to "English language learners," or "ELL."

The important point that people may easily miss is the phrase "are in the process of acquiring English language skills and knowledge". Such carelessness can easily translate to a perception that US schools are failing a lot of children whose mother tongue is not English. "Limited English Proficient" students do not include those who have emerged and became proficient in English while enrolled in US public schools. If one considers children whose native language is not English but have managed to reach proficiency in English before high school, the results are dramatically different. Madison in Wisconsin, for instance, provides data that take into account both current and former English Language Learners (ELL).

Above copied from Bo McCready and Beth Vaade, High School Completion Rates for English Language Learners (ELL), Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), Report 2015-3-3
And it is even more stellar if one further takes into account only those ELLs that have reached the highest proficiency level.

Above copied from Bo McCready and Beth Vaade, High School Completion Rates for English Language Learners (ELL), Madison Metropolitan School District (MMSD), Report 2015-3-3
And the above are not exceptions. The following are examples from two states, Washington and Oregon.

Above copied from Oregon Department of Education Research Brief January 2016.
Above copied from Former ELL Academic Achievement and the Index, Washington State Board of Education
I was an English language learner. One must carefully distinguish between current and former English language learners. Otherwise, people can easily arrive at the wrong conclusion.


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