Multilingual students, who speak a language or more than one language other than English at home, have improved in reading and math achievement substantially since 2003, according to a new study.
This new research debunks a common myth that multilingual students and English Learners have made little progress in academic achievement in recent years, and that US schools continue to fail these students.
“Educators and policymakers have been misled by traditional ways of looking at achievement data for English learners,” says Michael J. Kieffer, associate professor of literacy education at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development at New York University. “When we look at the broader population of multilingual students, we uncover remarkable progress.”
“…there is real evidence of progress for this population.”
The researchers analyzed National Assessment of Educational Progress data from 2003 to 2015. The data demonstrated that although all students’ scores improved, multilingual students’ scores improved two to three times more than monolingual students’ scores in both subjects in grades four and eight.
There is little evidence that cohort changes in racial/ethnic, socioeconomic, or regional composition can explain these trends.
The research also demonstrates that multilingual students are about one-third to one-half of a grade level closer to their monolingual peers in 2015 than they were in 2003. The data cannot identify the specific sources for the change in achievement, but suggests that a bundle of policy changes which occurred between 2003 and 2015 may have moved schools in the right direction in serving multilingual students.
“Despite the dominant perception that these students have made little academic progress in recent years, our findings indicate there is real evidence of progress for this population,” says study coauthor Karen D. Thompson, an assistant professor in the College of Education at Oregon State University. “Students are showing what they know.”
The research appears in Educational Researcher.
Grants from the Spencer Foundation, the William T. Grant Foundation, and the Institute of Education Sciences in the US Department of Education funded the study.