March 4, 2005

Contrary to Claims, Most English Learners Failing

Most English learners in California schools are seriously underperforming and most of their teachers are not prepared to meet their needs, according to an education professor at the University of California, Davis.

Patricia Gándara presented data on student achievement and preliminary results of a major new study of 5,300 teachers of English learners at a hearing Wednesday, March 2, at the State Capitol sponsored by the Assembly Education Committee, the Latino Legislative Caucus and the Asian Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus.

Her presentation, “English Learners: Factors in Second Language Instruction,” is part of a series of hearings to raise awareness about the educational needs of English learners in elementary and secondary school.

The professor, who is a leading expert in minority language instruction and Latino education issues, will challenge the good news interpretation of the latest results of the 2004 administration of the annual California English Language Development Test (CELDT).

“The basic assumption is that because English learners are gaining in English language proficiency, they are likely to perform better in their academic subjects,” she said. “An analysis of California standards tests results and the dismally small percentage of English learners who are passing the state’s high school exit exam simply does not bear this out.”

Gándara will compare the results of the English language development test with California Department of Education data that show English learners’ achievement levels remain flat despite apparent gains in English proficiency.

“We researchers have never said that English learners won’t learn English if they are in school,” Gándara said. “But that appears to be just about all they are learning — spoken English.

“The bottom line is reform will not take hold if we do not adequately address the academic needs of English learners and if we fail to provide teachers with the training and support they need to ensure success for all of their students,” she said.

More than one-fourth of all students in California classrooms have limited English skills, and about 85 percent of teachers have non-native speak-ers in their classrooms. Although most credentialed teachers now receive some training focused on the needs of culturally diverse students, most need more specific training to address the needs of English learners, according to Gándara.

The final results of the study of 5,300 teachers — sponsored by the Center for Teaching and Learning in Santa Cruz, Policy Analysis for California Education, and the UC Linguistic Minority Research Institute — will be released later this spring.

Gándara is director of the UC Davis Institute on Education Policy, Law and Government; associate director of the UC Language Minority Research Institute; and co-director of Policy Analysis for California Education, a research consortium of UC Davis, UC Berkeley and Stanford University.

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