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New report finds that a positive school climate may support success for English learner students

Positive school climate and English learner success

By Cora Goldston
July 22, 2018

As the number of English learner (EL) students continues to grow, many school districts need guidance in how best to support these students. A new report from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest examines the student and school characteristics associated with the success of EL students in the Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). The findings show that promoting a positive school climate is one of several key areas that schools can focus on to support these students.

>> Read and download the full report

Examining student and school characteristics related to English learner students’ achievement

Like many districts across the nation, CMSD has seen a rise in EL students over the past few years. What’s more, this population is becoming increasingly diverse as students who come from a range of countries and speak a variety of languages have enrolled in the district. To support this diverse group, CMSD and REL Midwest formed the Cleveland Collaboration for English Learner Success.

At the partnership’s request, REL Midwest conducted a study to examine student and school characteristics associated with improved achievement for CMSD EL students in grades 3–8. The study covered the 2011/12 to 2016/17 school years. Researchers examined student and school data, student proficiency ratings on the Ohio Test of English Language Acquisition and the Ohio English Learner Proficiency Assessment, student scores on statewide mathematics and reading assessments, and student responses to the Conditions of Learning survey about school climate.

What did the study find?

The study found several interesting associations related to EL students’ academic achievement and English language proficiency.

  • Between 2011/12 and 2016/17, CMSD saw an increase in the number of EL students who speak languages other than Spanish.
  • During the same time period, more CMSD EL students enrolled in the district’s Newcomer Academy and fewer in the district’s bilingual schools. CMSD’s newcomer academy provides sheltered English instruction and bilingual support designed for students who are new to the United States. The district’s bilingual schools provide primary instruction in multiple languages but do not have the same level of supports for newly arrived students.
  • EL students who attended CMSD schools with more positive student perceptions of school climate across all four Conditions of Learning domains—academic rigor, safe and respectful climate, peer social-emotional learning, and supportive learning environment—had better English-speaking skills. In addition, EL students had better English-listening skills at schools with more positive student perceptions of safe and respectful school climate.
  • EL students had higher English language arts achievement at CMSD schools with more positive perceptions of having academic rigor and a supportive learning environment.

What can we take away from the findings?

These findings provide insights for school and district administrators as well as families of EL students, both at CMSD and in other urban districts with growing EL student populations.

School principals, assistant principals, and district administrators may want to consider strategies for promoting a positive school climate to help meet the needs of their EL student populations. For example, schools may choose to implement discussion circles to create a more supportive learning environment and to foster EL students’ social and emotional skills.

Families of EL students may want to consider school climate when choosing which school is the best fit for their children. For example, families can ask about advanced course options and tutoring opportunities to learn more about a school’s academic rigor. Families also can ask principals and teachers about their approaches to fostering supportive relationships with students and providing a safe and respectful school climate.

Related resources

To learn more about the study and its findings, check out the full report.

A companion infographic [460 KB PDF icon ] is also available in English and will soon be available in four other languages (Arabic, Somali, Spanish, and Swahili) for sharing with families of EL students.

For more resources to support EL students, check out these related products from the REL network. REL Midwest has also created two Ask a REL reference desk responses to round up relevant research. One covers effective strategies for teaching EL students in grades 6–12 and the other discusses research on the effectiveness of having EL students work in pairs.

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Author Information

Cora Goldston Staff Picture

Cora Goldston

Communications Specialist | REL Midwest


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