E.g., 09/21/2023
E.g., 09/21/2023
Measures of Change: The Demography and Literacy of Adolescent English Learners
March 2007

Measures of Change: The Demography and Literacy of Adolescent English Learners

This report provides an extensive demographic profile of adolescent limited English proficient (LEP) students in the United States and examines how these students are faring on national and statewide standardized tests in reading and math. It breaks down the assessment data further for an in-depth comparison of 6th to 8th grade LEP students across four states: California, Colorado, Illinois, and North Carolina. Achievement differences are analyzed with respect to state and local variables in order to interpret the contextual dimensions of outcome disparities, glean what can and cannot be conclusively determined from available data, and identify knowledge gaps that call for further study.

According to the report’s analysis, over half of LEP adolescents are U.S.-born second and third generation children of immigrant descent, suggesting that U.S. schools are not adequately addressing the language needs of these students. Consistently wide achievement gaps between LEP and non-LEP students on statewide tests indicate significant instructional challenges across all states. However, standardized test scores of former LEP students—roughly tantamount to the performance of their non-LEP counterparts—offer promising integration prospects for students who do achieve language proficiency.

Among the four study states, assessment data reveal marked variances in the share of LEP students meeting state reading proficiency standards. The report offers caution against using these results as concrete indicators of cross-state differences in students’ language gains, or conversely the stringency of state-administered tests; it posits that achievement rate disparities are rather a product of differences in statewide LEP policies—the ways in which states identify, instruct, and test LEP students. In order to gain better insight into the position of these students, the report recommends further investigation in the following areas: whether Census data accurately capture the LEP population, to what extent state testing and reporting practices affect measurements of LEP literacy, and how LEP students who opt out of language instruction programs are faring in comparison to those who receive direct services.

Table of Contents 

I. Background and Purpose

II. Demographic and Socioeconomic Profile of LEP Students

III. LEP Adolescent Literacy Achievement: Results from the NAEP

IV. Achievement Results from the State Report Cards

V. Policy Implications and Recommendations