News and Speeches

Report Shows Sustained Performance Gains by English Language Learners

03/17/2009

Comprehensive Study Finds That Former English Language Learners Outperform All Other Students

    Schools Chancellor Joel I. Klein today released an analysis of the academic performance of the City’s English language learners and former English language learners—who together represent a quarter of the public school student population. The report establishes that English language learners have made significant strides since 2003. Entitled Diverse Learners on the Road to Success, the report is the most comprehensive analysis the City has ever conducted of the performance of students during and after their participation in English language learner programs.

    The study points to impressive gains made by the City’s English language learners since 2003, when the Children First school reforms were implemented:

  • More English language learners are becoming proficient in English than in 2003. More than 13 percent of English language learners became proficient in 2008, compared to less than 4 percent in 2003.

  • More than 29 percent of fourth-grade English language learners met standards on the State English Language Arts (ELA) test in 2008, compared to just over 4 percent in 2003. This increase is especially significant given that now English language learners take the ELA exam after only one year in the school system—rather than after three years in the school system, as they did before 2007—which greatly increases the English language learner test-taking population.

  • Almost 64 percent of fourth-grade English language learners and 42 percent of eighth-grade English language learners met standards on the State math exam in 2008, up from 2003 rates of 36 percent and 14 percent, respectively. In both grades, data show that English language learners without special needs met standards on the math exam at the same rate as other students.

    Other findings are less easily-summarized, but equally crucial to understanding the progress of the City’s English language learners. An analysis comparing student results on the English proficiency test (NYSESLAT) with their results on the State ELA test demonstrates how English language learner performance data are driven down by non-English-speaking students entering the school system even as English-proficient students leave the English language learner subgroup. The report also finds that an English language learner’s performance on the NYSESLAT is a strong predictor of whether he or she will meet standards on the State ELA exam. Underscoring the report’s findings is the importance of assessing the progress of former English language learners as well as current English language learners, since the effectiveness of the City’s services for English language learners will be reflected not only by how well students do in school when they are learning English, but also by how well they do in school once they have learned it. Across years and at every grade level, former English language learners meet standards in both ELA and math and graduate from high school at higher rates than native English speakers.

    “This report is another example of our teachers’ dedication to making the Children First reforms work for all students, including students who enter school not speaking English,” Chancellor Klein said. “It also reflects the commitment that our City has made to use data to determine where supports are most needed. Thanks to this analysis, our approach to educating English language learners will be more informed than ever before.”

    “With one out of every four public school students an English language learner or former English language learner, it is essential that we track their performance and use what’s working to continue making strides,” Deputy Chancellor for Teaching and Learning Marcia V. Lyles said. “This report promises to begin a new discussion about how we gauge the effectiveness of English language learner programs, the difficulties we still face, and how we can keep making progress.”

    "The New York City Department of Education's performance report on English language learners is critically important because it speaks to some fundamental facts,” said Dr. Luis Reyes, Coordinator of the Coalition for Educational Excellence for English Language Learners. “English language learners and former English language learners have diverse learning needs and strengths that, when addressed, lead to impressive English language proficiency and academic performance, and, when not, result in underachievement and an all-too-high dropout rate. The Department's sophisticated data analysis must be the basis for ensuring that all English language learners are educated to high standards and able to develop as emergent bilingual learners."

    As well as affirming positive trends among English language learners, the study also points to distinct areas where more work is needed. English language learners’ test scores remain low in the eighth grade, a problem that reflects the City’s overall challenges in engaging students in the middle grades. Through citywide initiatives such as the Campaign for Middle School Success, the Department will continue to address the need to improve academic outcomes among middle school students. The report also highlights the struggling performance of certain English language learner sub-populations—such as Students with Interrupted Formal Education and long-term English language learners—whose progress lags behind that of English language learners as a whole. By revealing specific areas where improvements are needed, the report represents a crucial next step in helping to ensure that all English language learners have the opportunity to succeed in school.

    A full copy of the report can be found on the Office for English Language Learners Web site, under “Key Documents.”