The number of English language learner (ELL) students in District of Columbia public schools rose 1.8 percent from 2002/03 to 2008/09, whereas total student enrollment fell 6.3 percent. ELL student enrollment increased from 7.7 percent of total student enrollment in 2002/03 to 8.4 percent in 2008/09. These figures are of concern to educators because of the need to meet the No Child Left Behind Act goal of bringing all students to proficiency by 2014 and because nationally ELL students' achievement lags behind that of non-ELL students.
This report describes enrollment trends between 2002/03 and achievement trends between 2006/07 and 2008/09 among ELL students in District of Columbia public schools. It documents the achievement of ELL and non-ELL students in reading and math, as measured by districtwide assessments administered in grades 3–8 and 10. The study's main findings include:
From 2005/06 to 2008/09, Spanish speakers accounted for the largest percentage of ELL students, peaking at 74.9 percent in 2005/06. In 2008/09, Spanish (spoken by 60.4 percent of ELL students in the district) had the most speakers, followed by Amharic (2.4 percent), Chinese (2.2 percent), French (1.9 percent), and Vietnamese (1.7 percent). ELL students speaking "other" languages (languages other than the five most common in the district) accounted for 31.5 percent of ELL students in 2008/09.
Between 2006/07 and 2008/09, ELL students' performance in reading and math increased in all grades studied (grades 3–8 and 10). The increase ranged from 1.9 to 20.5 percentage points in reading and from 16.7 to 24.0 percentage points in math.
During the period studied, in every grade, the performance of ELL students relative to that of non-ELL students was stronger in math than in reading.
ELL students' performance was higher than that of non-ELL students in grade 3 reading and in grade 3 and 4 math in every year studied. From 2006/07 to 2008/09, the achievement gap in reading between ELL and non-ELL students widened in grade 8, narrowed in grades 7 and 10, closed in grade 5, and reversed in grade 6 (with ELL students' performance higher than that of non-ELL students). From 2006/07 and 2008/09, the achievement gap in math between ELL and non-ELL students narrowed in grade 7 and reversed in grades 5, 6, 8, and 10.
By 2008/09, ELL students' performance in reading was higher than their non-ELL peers in reading in two grades and all but one grade in math. This directly contrasts national trends, where performance is typically 2030 percentage points higher among non-ELL students than among ELL students.