Skip Navigation

Home Publications How do Algebra I course repetition rates vary among English learner students by length of time to reclassification as English proficient?

How do Algebra I course repetition rates vary among English learner students by length of time to reclassification as English proficient?

by Karina Jaquet and Anthony Fong

Research has found high repetition rates for students in Algebra I, with one study finding a repetition rate of 44 percent for students in a large urban high school district. Less is known about how math performance and Algebra I course repetition rates vary among students with different levels of English proficiency. This report examines Algebra I repetition rates of English learner students on the basis of whether these students were reclassified as English proficient and, if so, how long it took them to be reclassified. The report also compares the performance of students in different English learner status groups in repeating Algebra I and in taking higher level math courses in high school. Understanding these patterns can inform decisions about the nature and intensity of support that might be provided to English learner students before and after reclassification.

This report examines students in four English learner status groups in a high school district in California in 2008/09-2011/12 and in five of its seven feeder elementary (K-8) school districts in 2006/07-2007/08. The four groups are:

  1. Long-term English learner students (classified as English learner students by at least grade 1 and not reclassified as English proficient by grade 12);
  2. Reclassified long-term English learner students (classified as English learner students by at least grade 1 and reclassified as English proficient at some point in grades 7-12);
  3. Short-term English learner students (classified as English learner students by at least grade 1 and reclassified as English proficient before grade 7); and
  4. Never-English learner students (never classified as English learner students).

The study found that long-term English learner students had the highest Algebra I repetition rates (68 percent), followed by reclassified long-term English learner students (59 percent), never-English learner students (44 percent), and short-term English learner students (30 percent).

Comparisons between the first and second time that students took Algebra I showed statistically significant improvements in Algebra I course grades and test scores across all four English learner status groups.

Among students who repeated Algebra I, short-term English learner students tended to perform the best: 52 percent earned an average course grade of C or better the second time they took the course, compared with 40 percent of never-English learner students, 39 percent of reclassified long-term English learner students, and 29 percent of long-term English learner students. Among students who repeated Algebra I, short-term English learner students also had the highest percentage of students who completed Algebra II or higher with an average course grade of C or better: 20 percent, compared with 12 percent of never-English learner students and 11 percent of reclassified long-term English learner students. The ranking pattern among English learner status groups was similar for students who did not repeat Algebra I.

The findings suggest that long-term English learner students and reclassified long-term English learner students tend to struggle more with Algebra I than do other students and that short-term English learner students tend to perform better than the other groups, including never-English learner students. The findings also suggest that additional resources may be needed for long-term English learner students and reclassified long-term English learner students. Such resources might include support differentiated on the basis of student need before students enroll in the course as well as while they are enrolled in the course. These differentiated supports may be particularly valuable for long-term English learner students and reclassified long-term English learner students because of their continuing need to develop English language proficiency along with math proficiency.

The following are appended: (1) Data, sample construction, and methodology; and (2) Disaggregation by English learner status group and additional analyses.

Online Availability


Connect with REL West