e. ELL students in public schools. Data provided in the literature demonstrates that by 2030, more than half of all students in American public schools will speak a language other than English (Devoe, 35). In some schools the total number of students whose first language is not English is much higher. Specifically, Devoe reports that in Lawrence, Massachusetts more than 90% of all children enrolled in public schools are ELLs. Devoe argues that in these districts, a catch-22 has developed which makes it difficult for schools to provide educational services to ELLs. Specifically, ELL students that do not pass reading and math competence tests are labeled as "in need of improvement." Although efforts have been made to improve outcomes for these students, basic English competency remains a significant challenge limiting the progress of the students and the school on standardized tests. As ELL students fail to meet standards, schools that have high numbers of ELL students face losing their federal funding (35).
When placed in this context, the true challenge for schools with high numbers of ELL students becomes clear. Although efforts are being made to improve test scores and outcomes for these students, without federal funding, schools will not be able to meet the needs of this population. Thus, schools that are in jeopardy of losing federal funding are the ones that are most in need. Unfortunately, however, few provisions have been placed in the NCLB to effective address this unique population (Devoe, 35). As such schools with high populations of ELLs will continue to face challenges as they attempt to meet the mandates of the legislation and provide adequate, quality education for all students.
Given the notable challenges that face ELLs when it comes to NCLB, it is important to consider what specific provisions and issues have been addressed in the context of this population under the legislation. Devoe, in her review of the provisions of NCLB with respect to ELLs reports that "Under Title III of NCLB, states must give all ELLs a yearly English proficiency test and must meet annual achievement objectives to improve the scores of ELLs in five areas: speaking, reading, writing, listening and comprehension" (Devoe, 36). Devoe goes on to report that the goal of these tests is to produce the same academic proficiency levels in ELLs that are achieved by non-ELL students. Additionally, ELL students that have been in the country for more than one year are required to take yearly proficiency tests in math (36). This can further exacerbate the challenges facing students and the school as efforts to improve scores must focus on both reading and math.
Although the central focus of standardized tests is to ensure that all students are receiving the same quality education, the reality is that statistical data on outcomes for ELL students demonstrate that, on average, ELL students perform 20 to 30% lower on NCLB tests than non-ELL students (Devoe, 36). What this effectively suggests is that there are notable achievement gaps between ELL and non-ELL students. These gaps in education are seen across all school districts in all states. Given that the differences are uniform across all regions of the U.S., it seems reasonable to argue that the inability of ELLs to reach minimum performance standards does not reflect on the performance of the educator; rather ELL students have specific educational needs that are simply not being met in the context of public education. Therefore, penalizing schools because of the poor performance of ELL students on standardized tests appears to lie outside of the intentions of the NCLB Act (Devoe, 37-8).
Other scholars examining the current state of ELL students in the context of NCLB have argued that the legislation creates considerable challenges for schools with large populations of ELL students. For instance, Wright also notes the dichotomy created for schools...
Moreover, if the requisite number of English language learners in a school's LEP [limited English proficiency] subgroup does not pass the tests in a given year, the school is deemed as failing and may be subjected to sanctions (Wright, 22).
Wright goes on to argue that this situation clearly defies logic: "Common sense dictates that if you administer a test to students in a language they don't understand, they probably won't do well on it" (23). Further, Wright contends that while NCLB clearly defines ELL as a student "whose difficulties in speaking, reading, writing, or understanding the English language may be sufficient to deny the individual the ability to meet the State's proficient level of achievement on State assessments" it mandates that these students pass proficiency tests used to evaluate overall school performance (23).
Other problems with NCLB requirements stem from the fact that the LEP group is not clearly defined under the legislation. Specifically, Wright reports that while special populations are clearly defined under the NCLB -- such as ethnic minority groups -- LEP students move in an out of the group, making it difficult for schools to define this population. "...Those students who speak the most English -- and thus who are more likely to pass the test -- leave the LEP subgroup only to be replaced by newly arrived English language learners who speak the least English. This makes it impossible for the LEP subgroup to show consistent growth (Wright, 24). Thus, while progress can be seen in ethnic minority populations, the ELL group, because of its changing composition, does not demonstrate any real progress over the course of time.
ELL Students in California
Based on the data provided above, it seems reasonable to argue that ELL students face a number of notable challenges when it comes to meeting the mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act. Although these challenges are faced by ELL students enrolled in public schools all over the United States, a critical review of what has been noted about ELL students in California's school suggests that this state may face even greater challenges when it comes to meeting the demands of NCLB. Examining current statistics on ELL students in California, research demonstrates that this region of the country has one of the largest ELL populations in the country. "California has about 12% of K-12 public school students, but its 1.3 LEP students are almost half of the U.S. total. About 44% of California K-3 LEP pupils are in K-3, 37% are in grades 4-8, and 18% are in grades 9-12" ("Immigration and...").
In addition to the fact that California has one of the largest ELL populations in the country, statistical data also demonstrates that growth in the population continues to proliferate at a significant rate. "The share of public K-12 pupils considered LEP in California rose from 18 to 25% between 1990 and 1996. The number of LEP pupils rose in 695 of 802 California school districts between 1990 and 1996, sometimes by 100% or more" ("Immigration and..."). The challenges facing this population are quite extensive as research also demonstrates that 80% of all ELLs living in California are classified as low-income. With such a concentrated population of ELL students, California's schools clearly face significant challenges when it comes to developing strategies that can be used to meet the mandates of NCLB and improve the quality of public education for all students.
In an effort to provide a general understanding of the challenges facing ELL students in California's public schools, it is important to consider how this group is performing with respect to the standards set forth under the No Child Left Behind Act. Data from California public schools is presented on the following page in Tables 1 and 2. In Table 1, the data provides an overview of the number of students enrolled in California's schools. The data is broken down by both totals and special populations. Based on the data, it becomes evident that ELL students represent on the largest special populations currently enrolled in California's schools. Specifically, the total ELL population is larger than White, non-Hispanic students attending California's public schools. Elementary school students (between Grades 2 and 6) represent the largest portion of this population.
Table 2 provides a review of API or Academic Performance Index. The API represents a summative score acquired from 2007 Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) Program and 2007 California High School Exit Examination (CAHSEE) tests. These tests are used to assess student performance under NCLB. The API is based on a scale from 200 to 1000 and has a target performance goal of 800 for all students ("2006-07 APR..."). Of all the populations noted, ELLs had the third lowest overall API score. African-Americans and students with disabilities were the top two low performing groups. Based on data from Tables 1 and 2, it is evident that the ELL population faces notable challenges when it comes to meeting the basic requirements for subject proficiency. This situation is…
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