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Latino English Language Learners far behind in math, reading

Posted by Elena del Valle on August 7, 2007


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Under the No Child Left Behind act English Language Learners (ELL) public school students must be proficient in reading and math by 2014. English Language Learners are students whose first language is not English. According to a report by the Pew Hispanic Center English Language Learners students lag far behind in reading and math. How many Hispanics are ELL students?

Although there doesn’t seem to be an exact number, an administrative count with little demographic information indicates in the 2003-04 school year there were 3.8 million ELL students. A more recent report, the 2005 American Community Survey, estimated that 9.4 million Hispanic students attended public school and 2.7 million public school students spoke English less than very well. Seventy percent of the limited English students were Hispanic; one in five Hispanic students spoke a language other than English at home and spoke English less than very well.

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National testing conducted in 2005 indicates that 46 percent of fourth grade ELL students scored in the lowest category possible in math; by eighth grade the scores had plummeted to 71 percent of ELL students in the lowest category possible. By eighth grade 71 percent of ELL students also scored in the lowest category possible in reading.    

The Pew Hispanic Center report is based on an analysis of standardized testing around the country. It indicates eighth grade ELL students are 50 percentage points behind whites in reading and math. In fourth grade, they are 35 percentage points behind in math and 47 percentage points behind in reading. 

The report also identifies significant gaps between the scores of ELL students and their black and Hispanic counterparts. An analysis of demographic data also explains why there is a decline in achievement among English Language Learners from elementary to middle school.

The Pew Hispanic Center, an initiative of the Pew Research Center, is a non-partisan, non-advocacy research organization based in Washington, D.C. The Pew Hispanic Center is funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts.