Which States are Doing an Exemplary Job Serving English Learners?

A colleague of mine just posed this question to me: "Do you know of any states that are doing an exemplary job with ELL services in K-12?"  I know of some programs and states that are doing some innovative and research-based things, but I was not able to identify a state with great programs and outcomes.  So, I decided to start with the data available to us at the National Center for Education Statistics (nces.org) that shows the pervasive and troubling achievement gap between ELLs and non-ELLs.  Do test scores determine if a state is serving K-12 ELLs well?  Not entirely, but it is one piece of the puzzle when we are looking at the national problem.  Let's start with the math and reading gaps from 2009 data on the 8th grade NAEP Reading and Math tests:

Now, take a look at the math score gaps between White students and ELL Hispanic students:

So, looking at the data above, the reading gap between Whites and  Hispanic ELL students is 54 points and the math gap for the same two groups is 53 points.  These are some very disturbing numbers.

Which states are serving ELL students better?  This data is a little harder to unearth quickly.  We can look at the "White-Hispanic" gap state by state, but not all Latino students are ELLs.  In fact, although Latinos are the second largest demographic group in K-12 schools, if we look at US regions, they are only between about 7% and 29% of regional populations in 2009 in the U.S.  But looking at the White-Hispanic gap may be important, although not necessarily the best way to answer my colleague's question.  NCES identified states that are either closers or wideners of these gaps for 2009 test data for White vs. Hispanic students.  Here they are for reading:

And for math:

The states who are narrowing the achievement gap between White and Hispanic students may deserve a second look in terms of their K-12 ELL services. 

My quick look into the NCES data and publications show that in 2009 there was an achievement gap between Hispanic ELLs and White non-ELL White students in both reading and math.  Looking state-by-state I was able to find data that shows a persistent gap between White and Hispanic students, but does not show ELLs scores separately.

My next step in this search would be to look at each state's department of education data on ELL achievement.  I might start with the White-Hispanic "gap narrowers" in the charts above, especially New Jersey and New York, as they appear as "narrowers" on both the reading and math tests.

To look at each state's scores by subgroup including English Learners, the data can be found here at the US Department of Education.  A quick look at a few states shows a persistent gap between English Learners and other subgroups in the state.

My colleague's question is a good one, one that we are all working to answer.  The National Clearinghouse on English Language Acquisition has a treasure trove of research, data, and resources to help answer this question.  Of course, there are multiple solutions and one size will not fit all.  We must look beyond testing and the results of testing and think about each school's context, population, particular needs, cultural, economic, political and sociological issues when considering how to provide exemplary services to ELLs.  How does your school or district provide exemplary services to ELLs?  What does exemplary look like?  How would you know if the services were exemplary?  What evidence would be sufficient?  High test-scores?  Providing for linguistic human rights?  Are exemplary services bilingual education?  These are essential questions to answer before beginning to address if your state is providing exemplary services to K-12 ELLs.



Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen
Tricia Gallagher-Geurtsen


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