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Progress of Arizona Kindergarteners toward English Proficiency in Grade 3 by English Learner Classification

In this study, REL West examined the English proficiency of a cohort of Arizona kindergarten students from entry in kindergarten through grade 3. The findings will inform identification of and services for English learner students in Arizona public schools.

The study followed the kindergarten cohort of 2013/14. In the kindergarten year for that cohort, non-native English speakers were assessed for English language proficiency at entry and reassessed at the end of the year (with a higher threshold for English proficiency), regardless of whether they initially had been identified as English learner students. This wide reassessment was part of a process to review cut scores on the kindergarten English learner placement exam.

As a result, about 11 percent of students were identified as English learner students on the kindergarten entry assessment, but the proportion rose to 18 percent after the reassessment.

The study found that:

  • Students initially classified as English language proficient at kindergarten entry but reclassified as English learner students upon reassessment were no more likely to achieve proficiency by the end of grade 3 than students initially classified as below proficient. This finding suggests that students who were reclassified as English learner students at the reassessment likely needed English learner services at kindergarten entry.
  • Non-native English speakers who were classified as proficient when they entered kindergarten and confirmed as proficient when reassessed outperformed native English speaker students on grade 3 proficiency assessments, increasing confidence that these non-native English speaker students were appropriately classified as not needing English learner services.
  • Overall, fewer than a quarter of the students identified for English learner services in kindergarten achieved ELA proficiency in grade 3, suggesting that the English learner services provided to students in the early grades were not sufficient to enable a majority of English learner students to achieve ELA proficiency by that time.

The report recommends examining the effectiveness of services for helping English learner students reach ELA proficiency, specifically, the types of services provided to students with the lowest English language proficiency levels in kindergarten.