Time to Proficiency for Hispanic English Learner Students in Texas
English learner (EL) students must accomplish the difficult task of mastering English and academic content concurrently. EL students who do not attain English proficiency and grade-level mastery of academic content by the middle and upper grades are at risk of dropping out of high school or failing to graduate.
To better understand the factors that influence EL students’ progress in Texas, this study examined the average time it took the 2005/06 cohort of grade 1 Hispanic EL students in the state to attain English language proficiency and meet state standards in reading and math. Students were followed through grade 8.
- Among EL students not yet English proficient at the start of grade 2, about 50 percent attained English proficiency by the end of grade 4, about 71 percent by the end of grade 5, and about 88 percent by the end of grade 8.
- By the end of grade 3, most students in the study had met state standards in reading (84 percent) and math (80 percent) when tested in English or Spanish under the state’s previous assessment system. However, among those students still classified as English learners in grade 8, few met state standards in reading and math.
- EL students were less likely to attain English proficiency and meet state standards if they began grade 1 at a beginning level of English proficiency (the strongest predictor), if they participated in special education, or if they entered grade 1 at age 7 or older.
- Students eligible for the National School Lunch Program were less likely to attain English proficiency and meet state reading standards at any given grade.
This study was conducted in collaboration with REL Southwest’s English Learners Research Alliance. The findings reveal that most Texas Hispanic students classified as English learners in grade 1 progressed in elementary school, but certain groups struggled to make progress by the middle grades. These groups may benefit from additional targeted supports.
The study’s findings also provide a useful context for validating the expectations for EL students that the Texas Education Agency has set forth in its accountability goals. And looking beyond Texas, this study serves as a blueprint for other states in how to use statewide longitudinal data to model expectations for EL students’ progress, as required under the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).