The issue of meeting the needs of our Long-Term English Learners (LTEL) and English Language Learners (ELL) is challenging and complex.
Let’s start by considering some facts.
LTEL and ELL students currently represent the fastest growing segment of school-age population in the U.S. Yet, the numbers are showing that many of them are struggling in the classroom today.
- 60% of high school LTELs have spent 6 or more years in our public school systems
- 25%, or one out of four LTELs, drop out of school
- 33% of LTELs never graduate from high school
In California, where the largest number of LTELs reside, a growing percentage of LTEL students are falling through the cracks. The following numbers illustrate how other key states are faring relative to one another.
- California, largest LTEL student population, 65% grad rate
- Texas, 2nd largest LTEL student population, 71 % grad rate
- Arizona, 11th highest LTEL student population, 18% grad rate
- Nevada, LTEL student population grad rate less than 33%
The inability of educators to meet the needs of their LTEL populations has created disproportionate outcomes. Taking steps to ensure this underserved population is equipped with the tools it needs to succeed should be a critical part of every school district’s master plan for promoting student achievement and education excellence.
Creating a Blueprint for Success
Schools that consistently develop and implement effective language development programs in the elementary grades, train teachers and staff, and build relationships with LTEL students and their families are more likely to have success preparing those students for academic achievement.
According to current research, effective measures include:
- Using standards-based ELD/ESL programs
- Providing individualized and differentiated instruction
- Focusing on strong oral language development along with reading, writing, and listening skills
- Assessing and monitoring student progress regularly
Furthermore, in order for LTELs in middle school and high school to be able to fully access the curriculum, educators will have to address existing academic gaps. Promising approaches are being built around the following set of core principles:
- Creating a Sense of Urgency: Educators can’t afford to simply wait for students to “catch on”; they must focus on helping students become proficient with their academic language usage, well beyond social language skills.
- Recognizing the Need: LTELs require instructional strategies specific to their needs. These needs will differ from those of other emerging language learners.
- Minding the Gap: Emphasize language and literacy development along with identifying and addressing existing academics gaps.
- Promoting Mastery: Mastery of the home language plays an important role in the acquisition of English and should be a part of any language learner’s education.
- Focusing on the Three R’s: Schools that embrace “rigor, relevance, and relationships” as a cornerstone for successful learning must apply the philosophy to their LTEL students.
- Integrating: Provide specific support to LTELs by combining regular classes with tailored English language development courses.
- Motivating the Student: Expect LTELs to play an active role in, and take ownership of, their education.
Letting Data Be Your Guide
In the education world, we know that collecting, analyzing, and understanding data can play a critical role in improving academic achievement. By compiling both quantitative and qualitative data, a clearer picture can be provided that helps district leaders understand the needs of schools and deploy the central supports required for schools to move the needle on student achievement.
But seeing the data and using it are two different things. How well districts use multiple measures to inform decision-making is critical. This becomes especially true in meeting the needs of their LTEL populations. There is a tremendous bank of resources available to teachers and instructional leaders. Accessing this information, using it to identify instructional strategies, and implementing these strategies to improve instruction are critical to providing the support LTELs need.
We don’t know how many LTEL students have been denied educational opportunities by the system’s failure to meet each student’s specific needs. But as educators, we must work to better understand the issue and implement the proper strategies to ensure future LTELs have the guidance and instruction needed to succeed.
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