A study we prepared in partnership with seven Washington school districts found that English learner (EL) students took 3.8 years on average to gain English proficiency. The study included nearly 18,000 students who attended district elementary schools between 2000 and 2013. The seven districts (Auburn, Federal Way, Highline, Kent, Renton, Seattle, and Tukwila) make up the Road Map Project, an initiative aimed at doubling the proportion of students who are college and career ready by 2020.
“Knowing the time that it takes students to develop English proficiency provides educators with a measure of how quickly they can expect students to progress and helps schools identify specific programs and practices that are successful in developing students’ language and literacy skills,” said REL Northwest’s Jason Greenberg Motamedi, author of the study.
The study found that EL students entering school in grades three and four took more than a year longer to be reclassified as English proficient than ELs entering kindergarten. This suggests that additional attention and interventions should be given to students who are arriving later in elementary school. Additionally, nearly a fifth of the students had not reached English proficiency by the end of the eight years studied.
“Successfully moving students out of English learner status is critical to their academic success,” said Greenberg Motamedi. “Research shows that students who have not reached proficiency in English struggle to learn grade-level content, take longer to graduate, and graduate at much lower rates than their English-proficient peers.”
Greenberg Motamedi explained the study has triggered local conversations on how to provide similar levels and types of instructional support to all Road Map EL students.
Over the past eight years, the number of students in Washington who speak a language other than English in the home increased more than 70 percent. Forty-four percent of those students did not speak English proficiently and were classified as EL students.
Contrary to national trends, EL students in Road Map districts who entered in grades two through five with the highest levels of English proficiency took longer to be reclassified as non-EL students than those with the lowest proficiency. Also, students in schools with higher percentages of free or reduced-price lunch (FRL) eligibility were reclassified faster than students in schools with lower FRL eligibility rates.
The full report, published in August 2015 by the Institute of Education Sciences, is available for download on the IES website.