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Hispanic pupils ‘take almost four years’ to master English

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But performance dropped substantially under new testing regime, researchers say.

Young Hispanic English students took an average 3.6 years to reach English proficiency, an extensive longitudinal study of Texan pupils in Grades 1 to 8 has found.

The report, covering more than 71,000 students, confirms the findings of smaller studies, but it also highlights the differences in the speed of progress of separate subgroups of Hispanic pupils.

Pupils enrolled on a special education programme, who entered Grade 1 at age 7 or older or started school with a beginner’s level of English, struggled to improve through the middle grades, the study showed.

The analysis also revealed how pupils’ progress to proficiency was affected by how the state chose to measure it – the proportion of learners demonstrating at least satisfactory performance state-wide dropped substantially when schools switched from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills (TAKS) to the harder State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness (STAAR), between 2012 and 2014.

The new STAAR tests are more challenging and focus on one whole school year’s worth of information whereas TAKS were cumulative tests.

Overall, the data showed only 40.1 per cent of those who participated in a special education programme reached English language proficiency by Grade 8, against the overall average of 76.5 per cent.

Over 95 per cent of students who started school with a beginner level of English showed a satisfactory reading performance against an overall average of 97 per cent. Hispanic boys also lagged behind their female counterparts in all areas studied – for example, 80.1 per cent of girls reached English proficiency by

Grade 8 while only 73.1 per cent of boys achieved the same.

Hispanic English learners, the largest group served by Texas’s English language programmes, ‘can lag behind their English-learner peers from other racial and ethnic backgrounds in high school graduation and postsecondary attainment,’ the report from the US’s Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Southwest says.

‘The challenges that Hispanic English learners face are evident, with the large and enduring achievement and attainment gaps that have been documented in research studies of these students compared with other students,’ the research adds.

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The report’s authors said the findings are expected to ‘serve as a blueprint’ for other states as they decide when ELL students should be meeting key educational milestones. This issue is currently in the spotlight because recent ESSA regulations hand a greater role to individual states in determining which standards schools will be judged against. The REL team examined the cohort of Hispanic EL students in Texas who were at the end of Grade 1 (aged 6–7) in 2005–6 and calculated the average time it took them to attain English language proficiency and meet state standards in reading and maths.

Researchers looked at the progress of 71,140 students in English language – 69,216 in reading and 69,014 in maths. In all cases, the percentage of children attaining state standards in Grade 3 and cumulatively by Grade 8 varied by student subgroup.

Most learners had met state standards in reading (84 per cent) and maths (80 per cent) by the end of Grade 3 when tested in English or Spanish under the state’s previous assessment system. A total of 88 per cent of the cohort obtained English proficiency by Grade 8.

The report’s authors stressed that their findings ‘serve as a blueprint for other states in how to use data to model expectations for EL students as required in the ESSA’.