About 57 percent of U.S.- born adolescents in our public schools are English Language Learners (ELL). What is interesting about this population of students is that a majority of them are second-or-third generation Americans (Batalova, Fix, & Murray, 2007).
Most of their formal schooling comes from the United States’ education system. Their exposure to and experience with English is primarily with the spoken word. They communicate in English, socially, very well. However, their writing and reading skills are sub-par.
This may be a result of lack or delayed English Language Development (ELD) services. Because most U. S.-born ELLs give the impression that they are fluent English learners, they are sometimes mistakenly not given ELD resources by their school district. Instead, these students are place in the ‘mainstream’ classroom (a school’s general education program). Once a ELL is in a mainstream classroom, the student is expected to learn and retain content knowledge at the same rate as their non-ELL counterparts. Some U.S-born ELLs are able to keep up, but some are not.
Learners, who cannot keep pace with this expectation, develop severe language problems in reading and writing. Gaps in vocabulary and syntactic knowledge emerge overtime. These issues persist as academic and cognitive demands increase each year.
Resulting in low achievement rates for U.S-born ELLs
According to National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), ELLs tend to perform below grade level compared to non-ELLs.
In 2013, the achievement gap between non-ELL and ELL students was 38 points at the 4th-grade level and 45 points at the 8th-grade level. The learning gap continues to widen as these learners progress to high school.
This is a huge concern among educators and parents. Many school districts have tried many types of English immersion programs to force language development among this population. Research has shown that none of these programs consistently works. Language, including writing and reading skills, development takes time. It takes 4-10 years for ELL to acquire academic proficiency.
Time is something that ELLs do not have.
ELLs are expected to demonstrate academic mastery at the end of each grade level just like their non-ELL peers. The longer it takes for ELLS to master reading and writing, the greater the likelihood that they will drop out of school. The pressure to learn at an accelerated rate is often too much for these students.
America’s ELL population continues to grow and our schools are not meeting their needs. And, it’s clear that time is a factor in acquiring academic proficiency.