English Language Learners
In 2004-2005, America's public schools enrolled more than 5 million English language learners (ELLs), students whose proficiency in spoken and/or written English is not yet strong enough to permit them to succeed in an English-language classroom setting without extra support.
In its issue brief, Urgent but Overlooked: The Literacy Crisis Among Adolescent English Language Learners, the Alliance for Excellent Education notes that ELLs now comprise 10.5 percent of the nation's total pre-K-12 school enrollment, up from 5 percent in 1990. These children represent the fastest-growing segment of the student population, with the highest growth rates occurring in grades 7-12. Further, ELL enrollments are soaring in almost every part of the country, including states that have not, in recent decades, been home to large ELL populations, such as Nebraska, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Georgia.
However, while ELLs may be growing in numbers, in other respects they are being left behind. As a group, ELLs are among the country's lowest-performing students, scoring far below the national average on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, also known as the "Nation's Report Card." In 2005, 31 percent of all eighth graders were found to be at least proficient in reading (that is, reading at roughly an eighth-grade level or higher); for ELLs, the figure was just 4 percent. It should come as no surprise, then, that ELLs complete high school at very low rates. Among eighth graders who reported to the 2000 U.S. Census that they spoke English with difficulty, only 49 percent went on to earn a diploma four years later.
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