A new 10 year study of California’s two largest school districts found the earlier an English learner is moved out into regular classes, the more success that student will have later.
"In both Los Angeles and San Diego, students reclassified in elementary school are among the best academic performers," said Laura Hill, a researcher with the Public Policy Institute of California. That group conducted the study, which tracked students in elementary, middle and high schools Los Angeles and San Diego whose first language isn't English.
The 5th grade year in elementary schools, Hill said, is key. English learner students reclassified by then graduated at rates comparable - or higher - than the general student population.
Hill said one in four public school students in California are classified as English learners and school districts make their own policies as to how best to educate them.
To be taken out of that category, students have to do well on state standardized tests and the California English Language Development Test. School districts can add their own criteria as well.
“We need to understand what we can do to bring more students out of the English Learner population and into the reclassified population," she said. "That will help us close the achievement gap in the state."
Statewide, 12.2 percent of students move out of the English learner category from one year to the next. That rate was 13.7 percent at L.A. Unified and 10.5 percent at San Diego Unified, according to Hill.
The study recommends a statewide standard for English learner reclassification. That's already in the works. A bill authored by Los Angeles-area State Senator Alex Padilla would ask state education officials to come up with that criteria.
Looking at English learner success is important now, Hill said, as California sets to increase state funding for schools with significant populations of English learner and low income students.
Of students classified as English learners, 84.24 speak Spanish, more than 10 times the number who speak the next four most common languages combined: 2.31 percent speak Vietnamese, 1.41 percent speak Filipino, 1.33 percent speak Cantonese and 1.17 percent speak Mandarin.