The fifth post in our series exploring indicators of equity in NYC schools is authored by colleagues at the Center for the Success of English Learners and is funded by the Institute for Education Sciences.
This fifth post in our ongoing series turns to English learners, who represent a growing and increasingly diverse portion of the City’s student population. English learners are students who speak another language at home and who have been identified through testing as not being fully proficient in English reading, writing, speaking, or listening. They are therefore entitled by state and federal law to receive additional language supports that allow them to fully participate in academic courses while they develop proficiency in English.
Assessing how New York City is serving English learners is complicated by the fact that language supports are intended to be temporary. Once students become proficient in English, their outcomes are frequently lumped in with those of students who were never classified as English learners—a practice that makes it difficult to know how well the system is serving ELs in the long run. Another complication is that the population of students currently classified as English learners is continually changing. Students who have not yet passed the English proficiency tests in middle and high school are typically quite different academically from those who reclassified early. Furthermore, every year, new students also arrive in NYC and begin the process of becoming proficient in English. Consequently, Current ELs in high school tend to be very different from those students who are Former ELs by that time.[i]
Figure 1: Percentage of High School Students Classified as Current, Former, and Never ELs from Kindergarten through 12th Grade
Figure 1: Percentage of High School Students Classified as Current, Former, and Never ELs from Kindergarten through 12th Grade is an annotated slideshow exploring each data point in Slide 1.
Slide 1 is a Sankey diagram showing the timeline on which a sample of NYC high school students entered the City’s public education system, whether they were initially classified as English Learners (ELs) or not, and whether / when the English Learners became reclassified as English-proficient Former ELs.
Slide 2 focuses on Kindergarten. It shows that of the 213,012 students in our high school sample, 59% attended Kindergarten in NYC: 15% were English Learners at that time (“Current ELs”), and 44% entered as English proficient (“Never ELs”). The remaining 41% of the sample would enter school in a later grade.
Slides 3 through 6 focus on 3rd grade.
Slide 3 highlights that by the time students got to 3rd grade, well over a third of the Current ELs in Kindergarten had become reclassified as English-proficient “Former ELs.”
Slide 4 shows that the remainder of Current ELs continued to receive language services in 3rd grade, and they were joined by new ELs who entered school for the first time between Kindergarten and 3rd grade (at this point, Current ELs are 13% of the entire high school sample).
Slide 5 highlights that there was also a small number of students who entered school and became English-proficient Former ELs between Kindergarten and 3rd grade (at this point, Former ELs are 7% of the entire high school sample).
Slide 6 shows that the Never ELs group also grew, with new students who enrolled for the first time between Kindergarten and 3rd grade (at this point, Never ELs are 52% of the entire high school sample).
Slides 7 and 8 focus on 6th grade.
Slide 7 highlights that the vast majority of students who were ELs in Kindergarten had become English-proficient Former ELs (at this point, Former ELs are 14% of the entire high school sample).
Slide 8 highlights that new ELs continued to arrive, joining the Current ELs group (at this point, Current ELs are 9% of the entire high school sample, and Never ELs are 55% of the entire high school sample).
Slide 9 focuses on 9th grade, highlighting that at this point in time, 12% of the sample was Current ELs (most of whom entered the system between 6th and 9th grade); 18% were Former ELs; and 60% were Never ELs.
Slide 10 focuses on 12th grade, highlighting that at this point in time, only 7 percent of students remained classified as Current ELs, while fully 27 percent of the students in our sample were Former ELs—these Former ELs aren’t typically included in analyses of English Learners’ outcomes. The slide also shows that 66% of students in the sample were Never ELs.
Slide 11 is a repeat of the Sankey diagram as shown in Slide 1.
We illustrate some of this in Figure 1, looking at a sample of students who were scheduled to graduate in 2017, 2018, or 2019 (n = 213,012).[ii] The figure depicts when Current ELs (in yellow) became English proficient Former ELs (in orange). We also show Never ELs (in blue)—that is, students who never received language services in NYC.[iii] The stacked bars indicate the percentage of the sample who were classified as Current, Former or Never ELs at each grade level. The transparent horizontal flows show the movement of ELs from one group into another; we also show how new arrivals in NYC schools[iv] contribute to the size of each of the groups. (Flip through the slides to see how the figure works.)
About 15 percent of our high school sample entered Kindergarten as ELs, while 44 percent entered as English proficient (Never ELs). The remainder of our high school sample (41 percent) would arrive in the NYC school system sometime later. By 3rd grade, a bit less than half of the Kindergarten ELs had become fully proficient in English and could be considered Former ELs, while new ELs continued to arrive and begin their journey of learning English in school. By 6th grade, the vast majority of students who were ELs in Kindergarten had become proficient in English, and Former ELs actually outnumbered Current ELs.
At each of the transition points we show, roughly half of the Current ELs reclassified while the other half continued to receive language services and were joined by newly arrived ELs. By the end of 12th grade, fully 27 percent of the students in our sample were Former ELs, and only 7 percent of students remained classified as Current ELs.
Figure 1 highlights how important it is to examine the group of students who are Former ELs, in addition to Current ELs. Former ELs constitute more than a quarter of students enrolled in NYC high schools, and their outcomes tell us a great deal about how well the school system is serving English learners in the long term. The findings from this analysis also serve as a reminder of how long it can take to become fully proficient in a new language—and of how different the experiences of ELs might be depending on when they arrive in NYC schools and when they become proficient. As is true for all students, the educational story for English learners is one that plays out over many years. Attending to changes in the population over time is critical to understanding how well the school system is serving this group as a whole.
- How do current and former English learners fare in their long-term outcomes in NYC?
- How equitable is access to educational resources and opportunities for current, former, and never English learners?
- How should we support the relatively large number of ELs who arrive during middle school and high school? Do they face a different set of challenges than students who arrive earlier?
- Who are the students who have not reclassified by the end of Grade 12, and what is the best way to serve this small but often neglected population?
This post was authored by Kristin Black, Michael Kieffer and David Francis.
[i] New York State uses an alternative definition for former EL, which includes only those students who were reclassified within the previous two years. Our use of former EL is in line with the term as it is used in the broader research community. See the NYSED website for further details.
[ii] The sample includes any students who enrolled for the first time in 9th, 10th, 11th, or 12th grade in a given cohort. The cohort scheduled to graduate in 2017 includes students who were 9th graders for the first time in 2013-2014, 10th graders for the first time in 2014-2015, 11th graders for the first time in 2015-2016, and/or 12th graders for the first time in 2016-2017. The cohort therefore includes students who entered high school after 9th grade, as well as those who graduated or dropped out prior to 12th. Students who transferred out of the district to another school were excluded from the sample, as were students enrolled in charter schools and Districts 75, 79, and 88.
[iii] “Never ELs” includes students who speak English only, as well as multilingual students who entered school fully proficient in English.
[iv] Recent arrivals into New York City Schools might include students who were enrolled in other cities or countries, or who entered the City’s non-charter public schools after being enrolled in a charter or independent school in NYC.
Author calculations based on data obtained from the NYC Department of Education. Sample includes students who were scheduled to graduate from a NYC high school in 2017, 2018, or 2019 (n =213,012). Subgroup sizes as of expected Grade 12 are as follows: Never ELs: 140,813; Ever ELs: 72,198; Former ELs: 58,372; Current ELs: 13,826.
Black, K.E., Kieffer, M.J., & Francis, D.J. (2023). “How should we think about equity for English learners in New York City?” Spotlight on NYC Schools. The Research Alliance for New York City Schools.
The research reported here was supported by the Institute of Education Sciences, U.S. Department of Education, through Grant R305C200016 to the University of Houston. The opinions expressed are those of the authors and do not represent views of the Institute or the U.S. Department of Education.