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IES Grant

Title: Reclassifying and Not Reclassifying English Learners as Fluent English Proficient: Access and Achievement
Center: NCER Year: 2011
Principal Investigator: Estrada, Peggy Awardee: University of California, Santa Cruz
Program: Policies, Practices, and Programs to Support English Learners      [Program Details]
Award Period: 4 years Award Amount: $1,598,169
Type: Exploration Award Number: R305A110512

Purpose: Schools provide additional instructional services to support learning by English language learners (ELLs) at entry to school, and set criteria for mastery of English to indicate that they no longer require special services. Reclassification out of ELL status can be a gateway to full participation in core curricula and provide a greater opportunity to learn, which in turn, can promote greater academic achievement. Either premature or delayed entry into the mainstream classroom is potentially harmful in supporting mastery of core content for ELLs. This proposal is grounded in the observation that there is an apparent discrepancy between the substantial percentage of ELLs who meet state-specified minimum English proficiency levels and achievement criteria while a much smaller percentage are reclassified as Fluent English Proficient (FEP). The purpose of this project is to document this discrepancy and begin to examine the potential impact on achievement outcomes of ELLs' who are reclassified as FEP instead of remaining as ELLs.

Project Activities: Analyses of longitudinal data collected by two, large California school districts will be conducted to provide information on the effects of classification into and out of ELL status on student achievement and high school graduation. These longitudinal analyses will allow the research team to: (1) document the apparent discrepancy by linking English proficiency, achievement, and reclassification data within districts; (2) identify district, school, and student-level factors that facilitate or prevent reclassification; (3) describe the instructional placement and core curricular access consequences of being reclassified or not; (4) examine the relation between reclassification and academic achievement; and (5) examine the reclassification and performance trajectories of different groups of EL students over time. New data will be collected to describe the manner in which EL reclassification policies are implemented, and the effect of reclassification on access to the core curriculum. Review of district documents, as well as interviews with district and school staff, will be used to document the reclassification policies in use over time.

Products: Products will include an in-depth description of the relationship between implementation of classification and reclassification policies in relation to student academic outcomes. Publications will also be produced for policymakers, school district personnel, and the scientific community.

Structured Abstract

Setting: The study will take place in two school districts in California.

Population: Participants include ELLs in grades 2 through 8 who will be followed for 4 years. In the 2008–09 school year, 25 percent of students in one district were ELLs, and 32 percent of students in grades 2 through 8 were ELLs in the other district.

Intervention: There is no intervention.

Research Design and Methods: Researchers will use a multimethod design combined with quantitative and qualitative analytic strategies to complete an in-depth longitudinal and cross-sectional view of ELLs in grades 2 through 8 at baseline and 6 through 12 at completion. The research team will use a regression discontinuity design to explore the relation between reclassification and achievement outcomes. Researchers will begin with retrospective data (a baseline year followed by the initial reclassification decision year) and follow students for an additional 3 years. To document the apparent discrepancy between the substantial percentage of ELLs who meet state-specified minimum English proficiency and achievement criteria and the much smaller percentage who are Reclassified as Fluent English Proficient (RFEP), researchers will analyze student-level English proficiency, achievement, and reclassification decision data. Using demographic, language, and baseline achievement data, researchers will explore similarities and differences among the students who meet these criteria and are reclassified and those who meet criteria and are not reclassified). To examine factors that facilitate or prevent reclassification and the curricular access consequences of being reclassified or not, researchers will conduct document reviews and interviews of district and school staff regarding ELL policies, practices, and instructional programs. Additionally, the research team will also examine reclassification decision forms for selected cohorts, and examine student course-taking patterns.

Control Condition: There is no control condition.

Key Measures: Researchers will gather quantitative and qualitative data to answer the core research questions. Key measures include student demographics, California English Language Development Test (CELDT); California State Test of English Language Arts; reclassification decision data; student performance on reclassification criteria; California State Test of Mathematics; credits earned; GPA, college-prep and AP course taking; California High School exit exams; high school completion; and attendance. District and school staff interviews regarding ELL classification, reclassification, instructional placement policies and practices, and core curricular access will also be evaluated.

Data Analytic Strategy: Descriptive and correlational analyses as well as regression discontinuity design will be used to explore the relation between reclassification and achievement outcomes, taking into account prior achievement and demographic characteristics. Subgroup analyses will also be conducted that investigate the relationship between reclassification status and academic achievement based on proximity to the cut score for reclassification. An event history/survival analysis will examine the baseline factors that are related to students' odds of being reclassified over a 4-year period. Analysis of quantitative and qualitative data triangulated across sources of data and informants will be used to describe ELL district policies and procedures regarding reclassification, factors that facilitate and prevent reclassification, and access to the core curriculum.