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Adolescent Students with Limited English Lag Behind Peers; Former LEPs’ Progress Close to English-Speaking Students'

Press Release
Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Adolescent Students with Limited English Lag Behind Peers; Former LEPs’ Progress Close to English-Speaking Students'

New National Study Includes a Focus on California, Colorado, Illinois, and North Carolina

WASHINGTON -- While overall enrollment in U.S. public schools remained steady over the past ten years, enrollment of students who are limited English proficient (LEP) increased dramatically. Between 1995 and 2005, the total PreK-12 enrollment in U.S. public schools nationally grew by only 2.6 percent. LEP enrollment grew by 56 percent during the same period.  Of the 48.9 million students enrolled in public PreK-12 schools in the 2004-2005 academic year, 5.1 million students, or about one in ten, were identified as limited English proficient. 

Measures of Change: The Demography and Literacy of Adolescent English Learners, a new report from the Migration Policy Institute’s National Center on Immigrant Integration Policy, provides a demographic profile of the students in grades 6-12 who are LEP (or English Language Learners, i.e., ELLs).

Authors Jeanne Batalova, Michael Fix and Julie Murray also focus on how adolescent ELL students are faring on standardized tests at the national level and in four states: California, Colorado, Illinois, and North Carolina. They analyze data from the 2005 National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), known as the “Nation’s Report Card,” and state tests from 2005. The report concentrates on 8th grade, a critical year in determining whether students will eventually drop out of school.

The authors find that:

  • According to NAEP data, only 4 percent of LEP 8th grade students were proficient in reading nationwide, and 71 percent of LEP 8th graders scored below “basic” on reading.
  • NAEP data also show that nationwide, only 6 percent of LEP 8th graders were proficient in math, and 71 percent scored below “basic” on math. 
  • LEP performance on standardized state reading and math tests varies widely from state to state. In 2005, 10 percent of LEP 8th graders in California met the state’s math proficiency standards, while 62 percent of LEP 8thgraders met North Carolina’s standards. However, state standards, tests and policies for identifying and educating LEP students vary, making cross-state comparisons difficult.
  • Adolescent students who are formerly LEP significantly outperform their LEP counterparts and score roughly equal to students who are English proficient. (See Figures 1 and 2 below.)

“The gaps documented here represent tough challenges for schools striving to meet standards under the No Child Left Behind Act, which requires that all students, including LEP students, be proficient in reading and math by 2014,” said author Michael Fix. 

“There is also good news here,” said Jeanne Batalova.  “It appears that once many students overcome language barriers, they do as well on tests as their native, English-speaking peers. However, this pattern begs the question of what instructional or other factors help these children succeed, while others do not. ”

The report, available here, is part of a series for the Carnegie Corporation of New York by MPI and others on adolescent literacy.

Figure 1. Average Scores of 8th Graders in Reading by English Proficiency: NAEP, 1998-2005

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2005 Reading Assessments. Scores of former LEP students were only available for 2005.

Figure 2. Average Scores of 8th Graders in Math by English Proficiency: NAEP, 1996-2005

Source: U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Sciences, National Center for Education Statistics, National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 2005 Math Assessments.  Scores of former LEP students were only available for 2005.

Highlights from the Four Focus States:

The authors analyze a number of data sources, including the Census, the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition and Language Instruction Educational Programs (NCELA), and State Report Cards to profile ELL adolescent students and explore their progress in the four study states.

California

Highlights of the report’s findings on California's students include:

  • Almost 1.6 million ELL students were enrolled in California’s public PreK-12 schools in 2004-2005, the highest number among all states in the nation, according to NCELA.
  • Between 1995 and 2005, enrollment of LEP students in grades PreK-12 increased by 26 percent in Californiaversus 56 percent nationwide. In 2005, nearly one out of three of the nation’s LEP students attended Californiaschools.
  • Almost 12 percent of students in grades 6-12 in California were LEP, compared to 5.3 percent nationally, according to Census 2000.
  • Children of immigrants accounted for 46.2 percent of all California students in grades 6-12, including foreign-born youth who accounted for 15.2 percent of all California adolescent students.
  • Family income and parental education are two factors correlated with children’s success in school.  While 36 percent of English-proficient adolescent students (grades 6-12) in California qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, 69 percent of LEP adolescent students do.  Twenty-one percent of English-proficient adolescent students’ parents in California have less than a high school education; more than half (56 percent) of LEP adolescent students’ parents do.
  • Overall, 39 percent of 8th grade students scored at or above the proficient level on the California Standards Test English/language arts assessment and 36 percent scored at or above this level on the math assessment.  English Language Learners scored much lower than their fluent English peers on both tests.  Of students who speak “English only,” 47 percent scored at or above proficient on reading and 36 percent did so on math. Meanwhile, only 6 percent of ELLs scored at or above proficient on reading; 10 percent did so on math.  However, former LEP students showed significant progress: 42 percent scored at or above proficient on English, and 36 percent did so on math.

Colorado

Highlights of the report’s findings on Colorado's students include:

  • Enrollment of ELL students in public PreK-12 schools increased by 50.6 percent in Colorado between 2000 and 2005, compared to an 8 percent increase in the total student population in Colorado, according to NCELA.
  • There were more than 90,000 ELL students in Colorado’s public grades PreK-12 in 2004-2005.
  • Children of immigrants accounted for 13.7 percent of all Colorado students in grades 6-12, including foreign-born youth who accounted for 5.6 percent of all adolescent students, according to Census 2000.
  • While 22 percent of English-proficient adolescent students in Colorado qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, more than half (55 percent) of LEP adolescent students do.  Seven percent of English-proficient adolescent students’ parents in Colorado have less than a high school education, while 43 percent of LEP students’ parents do.
  • Test scores show that about 64 percent of all 8th graders met or exceeded the state standards in reading, while 44 percent did so in math.  While 69 percent of students who speak “English only” met or exceeded the standards in reading, and 48 percent did so in math, only 11 percent of LEP students met reading standards and 8 percent met math standards. 

Illinois

Highlights of the report’s findings on Illinois' students include:

  • Enrollment of ELL students in public PreK-12 schools increased by 80 percent in Illinois between 1995 and 2005, compared to a 56-percent increase nationally, according to NCELA.
  • There were approximately 193,000 ELL students in Illinois’ public schools in grades PreK-12 in 2004-2005.
  • Children of immigrants accounted for nearly one in five (19.3 percent) Illinois students in grades 6-12, including foreign-born youth who accounted for 7 percent of all adolescent students, according to Census 2000.
  • While 27 percent of English-proficient adolescent students in Illinois qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, more than half (54 percent) of LEP adolescent students do.  Eleven percent of English-proficient adolescent students’ parents in Illinois have less than a high school education, while 44 percent of LEP students’ parents do.
  • Overall, 73 and 54 percent of 8th graders scored at or above proficient in reading and math, respectively. The shares of LEP 8th grade students meeting and exceeding proficiency standards were substantially lower: only 35 percent in reading and 26 percent in math.

North Carolina

Highlights of the report’s findings on North Carolina's students include:

  • According to NCELA, between 1995 and 2005, enrollment of ELL students in public PreK-12 schools increased by 372 percent in North Carolina, compared to a 56 percent increase nationally.
  • There were approximately 70,000 ELL students in PreK-12 schools in North Carolina in 2004-2005.
  • Children of immigrants accounted for 7.5 percent of all North Carolina students in grades 6-12, including foreign-born youth who accounted for 3.4 percent of all adolescent students, according to Census 2000.
  • While about one in three (32 percent) English-proficient adolescent students in North Carolina qualify for free or reduced lunch programs, half (51 percent) of LEP adolescent students do.  While 11 percent of English-proficient adolescent students’ parents in North Carolina have less than a high school education, 32 percent of LEP students’ parents do.
  • Most 8th graders in North Carolina reached the proficient or higher level on the reading (88 percent) and math (84 percent) assessments. Almost two-thirds (62 percent) of students with limited English proficiency scored at proficient or above levels on the math exam and 53 percent scored at proficient or above levels in reading.