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The National Status of English Language Learning

The National Status of English Language Learning

Patrick R. Riccards

Imagine entering your educational pipeline, not understanding a single word uttered by the teacher in front of the classroom. Listening to classmates having conversations that you can’t participate in. Attending a school district where dozens of languages can be heard in the hallways of a particular school. In a growing number of school districts across the nation, these imaginary situations are all too real.

English Language Learners (ELL) and English as a Second Language (ESL) programs have never been more important than they are today. Our student populations is rapidly shifting, and those students entering the schools speaking only Spanish or Hmong or Chinese are increasing. According to Education Week, our public schools are now looking at educating 5.1 million English-language learners. How do we ensure that those 5.1 million individuals, along with every other student, are getting the high-quality education we expect?

EdWeek takes a look at that question in this year’s Quality Counts. The 2009 focus — ELL. In addition to its regular state-by-state look at education achievement, the staff at EdWeek takes a look at a range of issues facing the ELL community, including “current research, specialized teacher preparation, screening and assessment of English-learners, and ways in which state funding resources and priorities affect programs for English-learners.”

The Result Highlights of English Language Learning

•There is a significant math achievement gap between ELLs and all public school students. On NAEP, for instance, 34.8 percent of 4th and 8th graders scores proficient or higher, while only 9.6 percent of ELLs hit the magic number.

•The achievement gap is just as significant in reading, where those scoring proficient or better on reading was 30.4 percent nationally, but just 5.6 percent among ELLs.

•There is no national standard for dealing with ELLs. According to EdWeek, only 1.4 percent of ELLs in Connecticut failed to make progress toward English-language proficiency. In Maine, that number was nearly 45 percent.

•Thirty-three states set standards for ELL teachers. But only three of them — Arizona, Florida, and New York — require prospective teachers to demonstrate competency on those standards.

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