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Full text of "ERIC ED559563: Taking a Closer Look at English Learner Subgroups Whose Achievement Stalls Out. REL West Research Digest"

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W F C T C ? 

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Taking a Closer Look at English Learner 
Subgroups Whose Achievement Stalls Out 

To figure out better ways to serve their English language learner ( ELL) students, the 
state departments of education in the West Region states of Arizona, Nevada, and 
Utah, who are members of the English Learner Alliance, asked REL West to help them 
put together a more detailed picture of two particular groups of K— 12 ELL students 
who seem to stall out in their progress toward English language proficiency and/ 
or academic achievement. To learn more about this study, the REL West Research 
Digest spoke with Eric Haas, a Senior Research Associate at WestEd, who leads 
REL West staff providing the Alliance technical assistance and data analysis. 

Which subgroups of English learners did the 
study focus on? 

First of all, it’s important to note that there 
is a body of research documenting student 
characteristics associated with academic 
struggles among K 1 2 students generally, 
including ELL students. These include, for 
example, poverty and eligibility for special 
education services. But English learner 
students have a lot more on their plates 
at school than native English speakers, at 
least initially, because they have to learn 
English and academic content at the same 
time. Often, especially if they are recent 
immigrants, they also have to learn about 
and adapt to the culture of U.S. schools. 

So the Alliance wanted to get a finer grained 
look at a couple of particular groups of ELL 
students the research hasn’t focused on. The 
first group doesn’t pass their state’s English 
language proficiency (ELP) test within the 
expected time frame. For study purposes, 

we labeled this group “long-term English 
language learner’’ (LTEL) students. Educators 
are particularly concerned about this group 
because passing the state ELP test is often 
considered the threshold for acquiring 
academic knowledge and skills taught 
in English. 

The second group of students had already 
passed the ELP test, achieving “reclassified 
fluent English proficient” CREEP) status, but 
hadn’t passed the state English language arts 
(ELA) test, which is the next step toward 
meeting minimum achievement standards. 

So, although ELP test scores indicate they 
are ready to learn in a mainstream, English- 
only classroom, their standardized ELA test 
scores don’t support that. We call this group 
“ struggling RFEP students.” Together, the 
LTELL and struggling RFEP students currently 
represent between 23 and 46 percent of 
English learners in Arizona, Nevada, and Utah, 
depending on the state. 

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developed by other 



continued on page 2 » 

What did the data analysis reveal about these English 
learner subgroups that might guide early identification 
and intervention? 

This study aimed to address a gap in the research 
literature by providing descriptions of the initial 
characteristics of ELL students who become either 
long-term ELL students or struggling RFEP students, 
and any differences in the initial characteristics 
between these groups and their ELL counterparts who 
pass the English proficiency and/or the state English 
language arts or reading content test(s). We looked 
at the data by state and by three grade-level cohorts. 
Elere are a few highlights of overall findings. 

Among long-term ELL students, 
compared to reclassified fluent English 
proficient (RFEP) students, there were 
lower percentages of students who had 
higher initial English language proficiency 
(ELP) levels at the beginning of the study 
period. Similar patterns were found for 
struggling RFEP students compared to 
RFEP students who had passed the state 
ELA/reading content test at least once in 
the six years of data studied. 

’c ■ ' - ^ 

First, the majority of ELL students across all three 
states and cohorts were reclassified as fluent English 
proficient during the 2006/07 to 201 1/12 period for 
which data were analyzed. State figures ranged from 
50 to more than 90 percent of students classified as 
RFEP among the grade-level cohorts we examined. 

We also found, in general, that there were greater 
percentages of long-term ELL students and struggling 
RFEP students among the older students than among 
younger students, which suggests that we may need 
either greater emphasis or new approaches to enable 
these students to improve achievement. 

Second, overall, but with a few exceptions, long-term 
ELL students included a higher percentage of students 
eligible for an individualized education program (IEP) 
than was the case among RFEP students. This suggests 

that there has to be a better understanding of how 
learning disabilities interact with English language 
learning, and a more coordinated approach toward 
serving students who deal with both. We plan to 
follow up these findings with analyses of the progress 
patterns of students within these characteristic 
groups, such as the number of years it takes for 
ELL students eligible for an IEP to meet interim 
achievement benchmarks and at which achievement 
level they generally stop progressing. 

And third, among long-term ELL students, compared 
to RFEP students, there were lower percentages of 
students who had higher initial English language 
proficiency (ELP) levels at the beginning of the study 
period. Similar patterns were found for struggling RFEP 
students compared to RFEP students who had passed 
the state ELA/reading content test at least once in 
the six years of data that were studied. At the same 
time, between 50 and 91 percent of the long-term ELL 
students in some of the grade-level cohorts started 
the study period at one of the two highest ELP levels 
below reclassifying as proficient. 

This means that most of the long-term ELL students 
in some grade-level cohorts stalled in their progress 
because they did not make the final two steps to 
reclassification during the last five years of the 
study period. Further research should examine what 
characterizes this subgroup of long-term ELL students, 
why they did not complete the last two steps to 
reclassification, and what programs and practices might 
be effective in improving their outcomes. 

What are some follow-up research questions the Alliance 
would like to investigate? 

The English Learner Alliance would like to use this 
data analysis project as an initial model for similar 
follow-up projects, including longitudinal analyses of 
ELL student progress in English language proficiency 
(ELP) tests and academic subject matter tests 
based on additional student characteristics, such as 
grade level of entry and years as an ELL student, and 
examine how soon and consistently ELL students pass 
their content tests. We would also like to compare 
ELL student progress to native English speakers with 
similar student characteristics. 

For further information about this study or about the 
work of the English Learner Alliance, contact Eric Elaas 
at or 510.302.4288. 


REL researchdigest j 

Bridge Events on CCSS Focus on English Learners and Their Teachers 

Leadership teams from California districts and county 
offices of education gathered on February 25 in 
Irvine and February 26 in Oakland for a one-day 
event focused on the rapidly changing landscape for 
implementation of the Common Core State Standards 
with English language learner CELL) students. 

With a focus on promoting the success of English 
learners, the event addressed issues related to 
building district capacity to implement plans and 
practices that support thoughtful implementation of 
CCSS instruction and assessment. 

The keynote address for both events, Changing Times, 
Changing Standards, Changing Teacher Expertise, 
was delivered by Aida Walqui, Director of the Teacher 
Professional Development Program at WestEd and a 
national expert on issues related to ELL students and 
the Common Core State Standards. 

Co-sponsored by REL West at WestEd, California 
Collaborative on District Reform at AIR, and 
California Education Partners, each event 
featured multiple opportunities to learn from 
experts and each other, access resources and 
tools that support teachers and ELL students, and 
plan next steps. General and breakout session 
topics included ELD online professional learning 
modules, the California ELA/ELD curriculum 
framework, formative assessment, CCSS and 
STEM, and district planning. 

Keynote speaker video and session materials will 
be posted on the REL West website. 

See more at: 

Questions about this event? Please contact 
Meg Livingston Asensio,, 

Hear Experts 7 Perspectives on CCSS Instruction and Assessment 

Recorded at a two-day conference in summer of 2013, 
implementing the Common Core State Standards. 

Preparing for Assessments in a Common Core World 
Speaker: Stanley Rabinowitz, Director of the 
Assessment and Standards Development Services, 

Rabinowitz is Director of the national Center on 
Standards and Assessment Implementation and of the 
Project Management Partner work for the SMARTER 
Balanced Assessment Consortium. Fie has consulted 
extensively on standards, assessment, and school/ 
educator accountability issues with policymakers and 
practitioners at national, regional, and state levels. 
(60 minutes) 

these video presentations illuminate key aspects of 

Using Formative Assessment to Support Instructional 
i Shifts in the CCSS 

Speaker: Margaret Fleritage, National Center for 
Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student 
Testing, UCLA 

This session, designed especially for, and limited 
i to, school-level instructional coaches and teachers, 
addressed ways that formative assessment can assist 
i teachers and students to meet the CCSS, how teachers 
should be teaching differently to meet the needs of 
new assessments and standards, and how instructional 
leaders can best support teachers and students in these 
shifts. (60 minutes) 


Visit the REL West website featuring: 

• Collaborative work with Research Alliances 

■ Free reports on state issues 

■ Events that connect research, policy, and practice 

REL researchdigest ; 


REL and IES Publications on ELL Student Teaching and Learning 

REL West 

Effects of Making Sense of Science Professional 
Development on the Achievement of Middle School 
Students, Including English Language Learners 

This study examined whether WestEd’s Understanding 
Science Program improved teachers’ content 
knowledge, instructional strategies, and confidence 
in teaching a unit on force and motion and, in turn, 
increased eighth-grade students’ knowledge and 
performance on a state achievement test. (March 2012) 

REL Mid-Atlantic 

A Descriptive Analysis of Enrollment and Achievement 
Among English Language Learner Students in Delaware 

This report describes enrollment and achievement 
trends between 2002/03 and 2008/09 among ELL 
students in Delaware public schools. (April 2012) 

A Descriptive Analysis of Enrollment and Achievement 
Among English Language Learner Students in 
New Jersey 

This report describes enrollment and achievement 
trends of LEP students in New Jersey public schools 

between 2002/03 and 2008/09. It documents 
achievement gaps between LEP and general 
education students in language arts literacy and math, 
as measured by statewide assessments. (April 2012) 

REL Central 

Differential Effects of English Language Learner 
Training and Materials— On Our Way to English (OWE) 
and Responsive Instruction for Success (RISE) 

The study investigated the impact on student 
achievement of using ELL-specific materials in the 
classroom, in combination with teacher professional 
development aligned with those materials. 

(April 2012) 

What Works Clearinghouse 
Teaching Academic Content and Literacy to English 
Learners in Elementary and Middle School 

Geared toward teachers, administrators, and other 
educators, this IES Practice Guide provides four 
recommendations that address what works for English 
learners during reading and content area instruction. 
(April 2014) 


Ask A REL is a collaborative reference desk service provided by the 10 regional educational laboratories. 
Functioning much like a technical reference library, it answers education-related questions by providing 
referrals to IES research projects, publications, and reports; references for and bibliographies of existing 
education research; referrals to federally funded education organizations and websites; and regionally specific 
educational information. To Ask A REL, go to and click on your state. 


REL West at WestEd 
730 Elarrison Street 
San Francisco, CA 94107 

This digest was prepared under Contract ED-IES-I2-C-0002, from the U.S. Department of 
Education, Institute of Education Sciences, by the Regional Educational Laboratory West, 
administered by WestEd. The content of the publication does not necessarily reflect the 
views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education, nor does mention of trade 
names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government. 

WestEd ^