May 27, 2014 by Norene Wiesen
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Interesting Facts and Classroom Strategies for ELLs

It’s no secret that the number of EnglishEnglish Language Learners ELLs Language Learners (ELLs) in the United States is booming. By 2025, nearly one out of every four public school students is expected to be an English learner. And ELL populations are soaring in places where they were historically lower – Southern states like North Carolina, Virginia and Georgia have all seen growth rates topping 200% in recent years.

So…how much do you know about English learners? Peruse these 5 facts and find out:

1. More than half of today’s ELLs were born in the U.S.

According to a 2008 NEA policy brief, 76% of the ELLs in elementary schools and 56% of the ELLs in secondary schools are American-born. Being born in the U.S. gives these learners some advantages over first-generation immigrants – a big one being easier acculturation. But the advantages of being second-generation are not enough. In the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress only 29% of ELLs scored at or above the “basic” level in reading, compared with 75% of non-ELLs. What’s more, the academic performance levels of ELLs are significantly below those of their peers in nearly every measure of achievement.

2. ELLs are an extremely diverse group.

Although most speak Spanish, ELLs represent numerous languages, cultures, ethnicities, nationalities and socioeconomic backgrounds. In fact, six of the top ten languages spoken by ELLs are notbased on the Latin alphabet: Chinese, Korean, Hindi, Arabic, Russian and Miao/Hmong!

3. The ELL achievement gap is complex and difficult to measure.

Unlike other subgroups specified in No Child Left Behind (e.g., economically disadvantaged or racial groups), a primary goal for ELLs is to transition out of ELL status by demonstrating English proficiency. Students who reach proficiency more quickly get reclassified, which skews performance statistics downward for learners who retain ELL status past third or fourth grade. In addition, not all states agree about which students qualify as ELLs, although there are efforts currently underway to establish a common set of criteria for federal funding purposes.

4. ELLs drop out at a higher rate than any other student population.

The longer ELLs remain classified as English learners, the more likely they are to abandon school. English learners who drop out are much more likely to end up unemployed, and even those who are able to find a job should expect relatively low earnings over their lifetimes – as much as $200,000 less than their peers who complete high school and $1 million less than those who graduate from college. Dropouts are more likely to become teenage parents, live in poverty, struggle with addiction, commit suicide and commit crimes that land them in prison. The cost to society is high – taxpayers foot the bill of up to $350 billion in lost wages, taxable income, health, welfare and incarceration costs. 

5. Building skills in a student’s home language facilitates English acquisition.

A growing body of evidence shows that some key language skills (e.g., phonemic awareness) generalize to other languages – so when students make progress in their first language, their English improves, too. Studies also show that bilingual learners have a cognitive advantage over monolingual learners. In addition, research supports dual-language instruction as a highly effective model for helping both ELLs and native English-speakers become biliterate high achievers. Dual language programs are especially recommended at the preschool level to prepare ELLs for mainstream kindergarten programs.

How to Help: Classroom Strategies for ELLS

The challenge of educating the nation’s English learners is a huge one – and it’s growing. But there are ways to make a difference:

  1. Communicate effectively in the classroom. Remember that ELLs are faced with a difficult task in absorbing content instruction while simultaneously learning a new language.
  2. Teach parents how they can support their children’s language learning at home by speaking, singing, playing language games and reading all kinds of texts with children in their home language.
  3. Give ELLs access to well-designed summer programs throughout the K-12 years to keep up language exposure and development even while school is out of session. There’s evidence that summer learning loss is responsible for half of the achievement gap or even more. Those are serious implications for ELLs.

Above all, we must pay attention to the burgeoning population of ELLs, understand their needs, and implement effective strategies for helping them meet or exceed proficiency measures, graduate from high school, and continue on to college. We can’t continue to fail them – the stakes for all of us are much too high.

References:

Center for Great Public Schools. (2008). English Language Learners Face Unique Challenges. Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/32409.htm

Migration Policy Institute. (2010). Top Languages Spoken by English Language Learners Nationally and by State. Retrieved from: http://www.migrationpolicy.org/research/top-languages-spoken-english-language-learners-nationally-and-state

National Education Association, (n.d.). A New Look at America's English Language Learners, Retrieved from: http://www.nea.org/home/29160.htm

Reynolds, C.W. (2011). The Influence of Dual Language Education Upon the Development of English Reading Skills of Kindergarten Through Grade Two Students, Seton Hall University Dissertations and Theses (ETDs). Retrieved from: http://scholarship.shu.edu/dissertations

Sanchez, C. & Wertheimer, L. (2011). School Dropout Rates Add to Fiscal Burden.Retrieved from: http://www.npr.org/2011/07/24/138653393/school-dropout-rates-adds-to-fiscal-burden

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