The Role of Schools in the English Language Learner Achievement Gap

  • June 26, 2008
  • By Rick Fry

A Pew Hispanic Center analysis of public school data from key states finds that English language learners (ELL) students tend to go to public schools that have low standardized test scores. However, these low levels of assessed proficiency are not solely attributable to poor achievement by ELL students.

These same schools report poor achievement by other major student groups as well, and have a set of characteristics associated generally with poor standardized test performance--such as high student-teacher ratios, high student enrollments and high levels of students living in or near poverty.

When ELL students are not isolated in these low-achieving schools, their gap in test score results is considerably narrower, according to the analysis of newly available standardized testing data for public schools in the five states with the largest numbers of ELL students. These five states - Arizona, California, Florida, New York and Texas - educated about 70% of the nation's 4 million ELL students in the 2003-04 school year.

Prior analyses of assessment data uniformly indicate that ELL students are much less likely than other students to score at or above proficient levels in both mathematics and reading/language arts. The new report quantifies the extent of ELL concentration in low-achieving public schools and the degree to which this isolation is associated with the large achievement gap in mathematics between ELL students and other major student groups.

Read the full report The Role of Schools in the English Language Learner Achievement Gap on the Pew Hispanic Center Web site.