[lg policy] Report Finds Long-Term ELLs Languishing in Calif. Schools
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Fri May 28 13:58:43 UTC 2010
Report Finds Long-Term ELLs Languishing in Calif. Schools
By Mary Ann Zehr
A portrait of long-term English-language learners in 40 California
school districts shows that the specific needs of such students are
largely being ignored, a statewide coalition of education and civil
rights groups contends in a new report. Based on survey data, the
study by Californians Together found that 59 percent of
English-language learners in secondary schools in the districts had
been in U.S. schools for more than six years without reaching a
sufficient level of English proficiency to be reclassified as fluent.
It also found that few school districts had programs or formal
approaches designed especially for the long-term English-language
So many English-learners have retained that classification for so long
in California in part, the report argues, because many haven’t been
placed in an English-language-development program at all or haven’t
been given school curricula and materials designed for ELLs. When
they’ve received special help to learn English, it says, it’s often
been through inconsistent programming. The report charges that
California, the state with the largest number of ELLs in the nation,
is “silent in policy” on the existence of long-term English-language
learners and doesn’t have a plan for them.
California Department of Education officials dispute that charge.
“We do have structures in place to address long-term
English-learners,” Carlos Rivera, the manager of the language-policy
and leadership office for the state education department, said in an
interview this week. He explained that California has regional centers
that provide technical assistance to school districts where
English-language learners aren’t making sufficient academic progress.
Through that process, which is part of the state’s compliance system,
educators are told to analyze data for students who have been ELLs for
six or more years to figure out what may not be working for them and
fix the problem, he said.
Mr. Rivera said that the longer that students are in the school
system, the harder it can be for them to show proficiency in English.
The reason, he said, is that academic standards become more rigorous
as the students move up through the grades.
“Demonstrating proficiency at grade 10 or 11 is much more difficult
than for grade 6,” Mr. Rivera said.
Phil Lafontaine, the director of the English-learner and
curriculum-support division for the state, acknowledged that
California does not break out data for long-term ELLs on a statewide
Some of the few researchers in the country who focus on the subgroup
of long-term English-language learners said they hope the report will
not only raise awareness about how many students are long-term ELLs,
but also spur policymakers and administrators to address the issue
“While the report is about California, it could very easily be about
the whole country,” said Yvonne S. Freeman, a professor of bilingual
education at the University of Texas at Brownsville, who has
co-written a book on strategies for teaching long-term ELLs.
“These students are constantly overlooked because they do speak
English without an accent,” she said. “In the long run, they are
lacking academic literacy. They don’t always understand what the
teacher says because the teacher is speaking the academic language
that they lack.”
“The onus is on the elementary schools in particular,” wrote Margarita
Calderón, a professor emerita of education and educational research at
Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, in an e-mail message. “They are
the long-term-ELL factories. Middle and high schools simply fold their
Ms. Calderón has written a book, Preventing Long-Term English
Learners: Transforming Schools to Meet Core Standards, scheduled to be
released by Corwin Press in the fall.
While the Californians Together study found that few districts had
formal programs to address the particular needs of long-term ELLs, the
report highlights information from some that do.
One of those districts, the Ventura Unified School District, where
about 2,600 of 17,300 students are English-language learners, improved
support for long-term ELLs through the state’s compliance process.
Jennifer W. Robles, the director of bilingual education programs, in
an interview said the district was found to be out of compliance under
the state’s accountability system for how it serves ELLs. The district
had to prepare a master plan for the education of ELLs, she explained,
and it is now in its second year of having stepped-up offerings to
benefit English-language learners.
Two years ago, the district offered only two levels of
English-language-development, or ELD, classes. The ELLs who were no
longer at the beginning or intermediate level of English proficiency
primarily attended mainstream classes with teachers who had some
training in how to work with them.
With the revision of the program, the district expanded two levels of
ELD classes to four, changed the curriculum, and made the ELD classes
self-contained. In addition, Ms. Robles said, the district created a
brochure to explain the changes to students, assuring the more
advanced ELLs that the new classes weren’t remedial but rather met
college-entrance requirements. She said that each student receives a
profile of where he or she stands in achieving English proficiency and
meeting state academic standards.
She said that last year the reclassification rate for ELLs at the high
school increased to 19.5 percent from 13.8 percent the year before, an
increase that Ms. Robles attributes to the program changes.
The Californians Together report also gives recommendations for a
model secondary education program for long-term ELLs. They include
having classes designed for such students that focus on the language
of school, what researchers call “academic English.” Such students
also need to explicitly be taught language and literacy across all the
content areas, the report says.
The report also suggests that long-term ELLs should be enrolled in a
course to develop language skills in their native languages.
In support of those recommendations, the report cites one of the few
research studies that have articulated common characteristics of
long-term ELLs. That study, which also examined a pilot program
targeting such students, was commissioned by the New York City
Department of Education and conducted by Kate Menken, an assistant
professor of linguistics for the City University of New York, and
Tatyana Kleyn, an assistant professor of bilingual education and
teaching English to speakers of other languages, or TESOL, at CUNY.
New York state does break out data for long-term English-language
learners. During the 2008-09 school year, 26,300 of the state’s
215,500 ELLs had been identified as ELL for more than six years,
according to a spokeswoman for the state education department.
Ms. Menken and Ms. Kleyn found promising results with the pilot
program that they implemented with long-term ELLs at two high schools
in New York City. Results from 28 ELLs in the special program were
compared with outcomes for 14 ELLs at a control school. In the
intervention, long-term ELLs were taught English as a second language
separate from new arrivals, learned literacy across all subjects, and
took a class in Spanish literacy.
On average, students at both treatment schools scored higher in
reading comprehension in English and Spanish at the end of the school
year than their peers in the control school. They also made more gains
in English over the course of the school year than those in the
In an interview, Ms. Menken called long-term ELLs an “invisible population.”
“Long-term English-language learners can literally talk circles around
new arrivals and can perform well in an English-as-a-second-language
class simply by showing up,” she said. “It’s when it comes to the more
rigorous academic language and literacy that students really struggle,
and there aren’t programs that target that need in a way that is
different from the instruction provided to all ELLs.”
The report says that even long-term English-learners themselves often
aren’t aware that they still are identified as ELLs.
“The majority of long-term English-learners wants to go to college,
and are unaware that their academic skills, record, and courses are
not preparing them to reach that goal,” it says. “Neither students,
their parents, nor their community realizes that they are in academic
Said Laurie Olsen, the author of the Californians Together report and
one of the first researchers in the country to draw attention to this
group of students, “Even though people know they are there, there
hasn’t been a response.”
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