According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the number of English Language Learner (ELL) students in the US rose from 3.8 million (8.1%) in 2000 to 4.8 million (9.5%) in the fall of 2015. This 20% growth in the number of ELL students prompts several important questions, two of which are, “How can we help this growing population succeed in school and beyond?” and “What tools do we need to do so?”
Language is the basis for all learning, which poses a problem when a student isn’t fluent in the language spoken in their school. Despite this challenge, ELLs are expected to meet the same standards of their English-speaking classmates, and as a result, are falling drastically behind. According to a recent study, only 63% of ELLs graduate from high school, compared to 82% of non-ELLs — and of those who graduate, only 1.4% go on to take college entrance exams.
Academics isn’t the only area where these students are running into trouble. While 1 in 10 US students are ELLs, only 7% of school psychologists surveyed are proficient (not fluent) in Spanish, 1.3% are proficient in Sign Language, and 5.3% are proficient in 27 other languages. This discrepancy is alarming as it clearly indicates an immense gap in a typical school’s ability to address these students’ diverse needs.
What are practical guidelines for serving the ELL population?