Monday, December 28, 2009

Limited English proficient students lag behind

Katherine Leal Unmuth/Reporter | Dallas Morning News Irving Blog
Wed, Dec 09, 2009

About 40% of Irving ISD students are classified as limited English proficient-- 13,206 kids last year. Many people incorrectly assume they are all recent immigrants. Many of these children are American-born raised in Spanish speaking homes. And they can remain under this category for years--if you speak to them they often can hold a conversation in English, but their reading and writing skills may lag behind.

I wrote a story in 2008 noting that about 60% of high school LEP students in Texas have been in U.S. schools five years or more. New immigrants are also in the mix.

This category is not a constant, as students are constantly moving out once they test English proficient and new immigrants may move in.

However, in Texas, LEP students tend to be the most struggling category. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund highlighted this problem with a lawsuit accusing the state of not doing enough to help the students, especially at the secondary level.

So how much do these students lag behind? In many measures, by double digits.

Just in Irving, in the 2008-09 school year, here are some snapshots from the TAKS results:

-- The students often start strong in elementary school. At the third grade level, LEP students tested in English actually outperformed district students. About 89% LEP students passed reading versus 86% of district students.

-- By middle school, LEP students begin showing significant gaps with districtwide students. In the sixth grade, 76% of LEP students passed reading versus 89% of districtwide students. And 69% of LEP students passed math versus 80% of districtwide students. In contrast, If you look at Hispanic students as a whole they lag behind districtwide students just slightly.

-- Science in particular poses a major challenge for LEP students. Teachers often mention that the vocabulary can be a huge challenge for students. While 68% of district eighth graders passed science, 36% of LEP students passed.

-- This group's high failure rate can be a significant barrier to graduation, due to poor performance on exit exams at the eleventh grade level. LEP students' performance on the exit exams shows a huge achievement gap. On the science exams, district students had an 81% passing rate versus a 53% passing rate for LEP students. In English language arts, 92% of district students passed, versus 67% of LEP students.

So, what can be done to improve these numbers?

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