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Advanced course enrollment and performance among English learner students in Washington state


November 2016


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Taking advanced high school courses can help prepare students for postsecondary education and careers. English learner students, however, face unique obstacles to taking advanced courses because they must divide their time between acquiring English proficiency and learning academic content. This study describes patterns in advanced coursetaking and performance among current and former English learner students and never-English learner students in Washington—a state that has seen substantial growth in the number of students classified as English learner students.

The report finds that students’ academic preparation accounts for much of the difference in advanced coursetaking and performance. Specifically, the results show:

  • English learner students take fewer advance courses per school year than never-English learners do, but students who are similarly prepared take advanced courses at a similar rate
  • English learner students are 40 to 50 percent less likely to complete algebra I in middle school than never-English learners are, and students who pass this course in middle school take more than twice as many math courses beyond algebra II as students who pass algebra I in grade 9
  • The grades that English learner students earn in advanced courses are similar to those that never-English learners earn in those courses after students’ prior academic performance is taken into account
  • Schools with the lowest percentages of current and former English learner students offer more advanced courses than other schools, even after accounting for school characteristics such as average standardized math and reading test scores

To improve access to advanced courses, schools, districts, and state agencies could consider investigating why current and former English learner students with high grade point averages or state math test scores are not enrolling in advanced courses as often as never-English learner students. They also might address language barriers and restrictive policies that could deter otherwise qualified students from taking advanced courses and expand advanced coursetaking opportunities at schools with high percentages of English learner students.

Advanced course enrollment and performance among English learner students in Washington state is available as a PDF file on the Institute of Education Sciences' website.