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English Proficiency and the Pandemic: How Texas English Learner Students Fared During the COVID-19 Pandemic

This REL Southwest study examined levels of English proficiency before and during the COVID-19 pandemic among English learner students in grades 3–12 in Texas. In 2020/21, approximately one in five Texas students in those grades were English learner students.

In accordance with Texas state law and the Every Student Succeeds Act, the Texas school system measures English proficiency annually using a statewide assessment, the Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System (TELPAS). TELPAS assesses English learner students’ listening, speaking, reading, and writing skills in English.

REL Southwest’s study focused on TELPAS scores among Texas English learner students who took the test in 2020/21 and compared those scores with a matched cohort of similar students from 2018/19. The study found that despite missing data because of pandemic-related disruptions to testing,

Key findings include:

  • Students who took the TELPAS were representative of the overall Texas English learner student population in the years prior to and during the pandemic.
  • Rates of reclassification from an English learner student to an English proficient student declined between 2017/18 and 2020/21, and trends in the characteristics of reclassified students changed, with lower percentages of students in major urban areas, students eligible for the National School Lunch Program, students who spoke Spanish at home, and students who identified as Hispanic in 2020/21 than in 2017/18.
  • On average, during the pandemic, English learner students in elementary grades earned meaningfully lower scores on the listening, speaking, and reading domains of the TELPAS than similar students earned before the pandemic, particularly in speaking.
  • The findings for secondary grades were mixed. Middle school students earned lower scores in listening, and high school students earned higher scores in speaking.
  • The study did not find evidence that English learner student program models, such as dual-language immersion or content-based English as a second language, were meaningfully associated with English proficiency in 2020/21.

Leaders at the Texas Education Agency and Texas school districts could consider focusing recovery resources on elementary schools and to some degree on middle schools and identifying and supporting evidence-based strategies to cultivate proficiency. The Texas Education Agency may consider studying the effect of program models on language proficiency and the relationship between reclassification, shifting English proficiency levels, and changing reclassification standards.

Read and download the full report:

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