ERIC Identifier: ED362073
Publication Date: 1993-10-00
Author: Rivera, Charlene - LaCelle-Peterson, Mark
ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington DC.
Will the National Education Goals Improve the Progress of
English Language Learners? ERIC Digest.
In the past decade, concern for the economic vitality and international
standing of the United States has fueled a school reform movement focused on
improving the quality and outcomes of schooling. This concern led to the
establishment of six National Education Goals to be attained by the year 2000.
The intent of the first four Goals is to take all students on a voyage to
improved educational opportunity and achievements. Although students from many
cultures in varying stages of learning English constitute a significant
proportion of the school-aged population, none of the Goals addresses English
language learners (ELLs) directly. In fact, the National Education Goals Panel
(NEGP) reports provide only limited, inferential information regarding ELLs'
progress toward meeting the Goals (NEGP, 1991, 1992, 1993). There also is a
general lack of national data on the educational needs, competencies, and
progress of these students. This Digest examines how instruction and assessment
practices must improve if ELLs are to accompany their peers in meeting Goals
GOAL 1: SCHOOL READINESS
Due to a lack of direct indicators measuring progress in Goal 1, "readiness
to learn," the National Education Goals Panel recommended in its 1992 report the
establishment of an Early Childhood Assessment System that would assess physical
well-being and social, emotional, and motor development. In addition, the system
would assess: 1) approaches toward learning with attention to "curiosity,
creativity, motivation, independence, cooperativeness, interest, and persistence
that enable children from all cultures to maximize their learning"; 2) language
usage--"the talking, listening, scribbling, and composing that enable children
to communicate effectively and express thoughts, feelings, and experiences"; and
3) cognition and general knowledge, including familiarity with problem-solving
strategies, patterns and relationships, and cause and effect.
Children from all cultural backgrounds are indeed endowed with these
prerequisites to learning, but those reared in different cultural settings
exhibit them in a variety of ways, not all of which are consonant with the
expectations of traditional schools. It is crucial that the working group
currently grappling with such challenges consult experts knowledgeable about
ELLs and their assessment (Prince & Lawrence, 1993).
To enhance ELLs' readiness, schools must train staff to be aware of language
acquisition processes and sensitive to children's cultural backgrounds. Schools
must discount the myths that young children "just pick up" languages and that
exposure or immersion is all they need (McLaughlin, 1992). Any new assessment
system developed for young children must take into account the unique abilities
and heritages of all families and document and validate the first language
capabilities of all children, so educators in the primary grades can ensure that
America's schools are ready for the learners they enroll.
GOAL 2: HIGH SCHOOL COMPLETION
Goal 2 calls for the high school graduation rate to increase to at least 90%.
Though inconsistent definitions blur the picture, national data suggest that for
some groups of ELLs, attainment of this goal is far off. The 1993 Goals Report
states that 16- to 24-year-old Hispanics born outside the United States are more
than five times as likely to drop out as non-Hispanics in the same age group.
For Hispanics born in the United States, dropout rates are still double that of
non-Hispanic groups. Better data collection systems that take language
experience into account are needed, but ELLs appear to be the least well served
among secondary students in regard to Goal 2.
U.S. high schools' success in increasing ELLs' graduation rates depends in
part on how well they engage students who come to them with rich life
experiences, extensive linguistic accomplishments, uneven academic preparation,
and limited-but-developing abilities in English. Because use of a language other
than English in the home appears to be related to dropping out of school (NEGP,
1993, p. 44), educators need to improve their understanding of both the
linguistic and cultural dimensions of these students' experiences. Ultimately,
to monitor progress toward this Goal, the array of indicators used to monitor
school leaving will need to improve.
GOALS 3 AND 4: ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
Goal 3 states that American students should leave Grades 4, 8, and 12 having
demonstrated competency in challenging subject matter in English, mathematics,
science, history, and geography. Goal 4 calls for U.S. students to be first in
the world in science and mathematics achievement. Efforts to clarify high
standards and develop better ways of assessing students' success in reaching
them have been initiated; however, instruction must also be stressed. Merely
raising the cross bar will not teach a novice athlete how to pole vault better:
If coaching and practice are essential to the development of athletic abilities,
certainly instructional and curricular inputs are crucial to student
NEGP's 1992 report showed that American 9-year-olds compare well with their
counterparts in other nations in science and math achievement. As teenagers,
however, American students fall behind, and their interest and achievement in
math and science never catch up. Math and science achievement for ELLs probably
parallels these trends, though definitive data are not available. Some studies
suggest that adequate instructional offerings in math and science typically are
not open to ELLs (Minicucci & Olsen, 1992). For instance, primary indicators
for Goal 4 in the 1992 and 1993 Goals Reports include the number of Advanced
Placement tests taken and scores on them. Research has shown that programs for
many ELLs do not provide access to courses that would prepare them for such
tests--in any language (Pennock-Roman, 1992).
Providing instruction in ELLs' first language appears to produce gains in
math and English achievement comparable to the general population, in addition
to developing increasing levels of competence in the first language (Ramirez,
1992). Also, a language learner becomes proficient at social interaction before
understanding complex, cognitively challenging, academic language (Cummins,
1989). While there is variation in the rate at which students acquire language,
research shows they may need 5 or more years to develop cognitive academic
language proficiency (Collier, 1992). In order for ELLs to fulfill their
academic promise and to achieve the national goals, high quality instruction
should be provided in students' first language for several years, preferably
while they are learning English. Most importantly, they must be provided access
to high quality content, including college preparatory coursework (Center for
Applied Linguistics, 1993). Model programs such as Cheche Konnen (Rosebery, et
al., 1992), developed in Cambridge, MA, provide standards against which the
quality and success of science programs for ELLs can be measured.
Interestingly, ELLs bring knowledge and abilities to schools that can help
the nation achieve two of the five objectives connected to Goal 3: namely, that
the percentage of students competent in more than one language will
substantially increase, and that all students will be knowledgeable about the
diverse cultural heritage of the nation and the world. In the 1992 and 1993 NEGP
reports, a main indicator of language learning was completion of high school
foreign language courses, which does not recognize the large numbers of
youngsters who already know a language other than English. In assessing progress
toward Goal 3, we must consider how well the linguistic competencies and wide
cultural awareness that ELLs bring to schools are being preserved, enhanced, and
shared among all students. Under Goal 3, it would also be appropriate to give
ELLs credit for learning a foreign language--English.
MOVING ELLS TOWARD THE EDUCATION GOALS:
Student Demographics. We cannot help all students meet the
Goals unless we know who they are, including understanding their linguistic and
cultural backgrounds. Demographic trends should affect program design and
instruction. It is imperative that systems be put in place to collect adequate
information about students' language backgrounds and educational histories,
including languages in which they have been taught and the curricula of those
Staff Development. The Goals assume all educators are able to prepare all
students to achieve them. Although most teachers will have the privilege of
teaching ELLs during their teaching careers, many do not know how to tailor
instruction for this population. All educators need professional development
opportunities to help them understand the backgrounds and educational needs of
ELLs. All teacher preparation programs should include information and experience
in teaching ELLs.
Instruction. The same standards must guide the instruction of all students,
including ELLs. Studies have documented important instructional features that
can help ensure the educational success of ELLs. Whatever program model is
chosen, challenging academic programs need to be made available to ELLs at all
levels. Research also suggests that attention to the first language is crucial
to academic development (Collier, 1992; Ramirez, 1992).
Assessment Systems. While there are many measures of English proficiency that
provide initial profiles of ELLs' English language abilities, the availability
of appropriate academic achievement measures is inadequate. Moreover, fear of
low scores too often results in ELLs being exempted from school district testing
programs. Better measures of linguistic and academic competencies are needed at
the local, state, and national levels (Council of Chief State School Officers,
1991). Assessment systems must be sufficiently flexible to allow students to
demonstrate academic knowledge through different linguistic modes, including
oral presentations. Testing that does not match the language of instruction
often results in underestimation of ELLs' academic achievement. At the local
level, such assessment strategies as performance and portfolio assessment need
to be carefully scrutinized to ensure that they are not unfair to ELLs. Test
data collected for accountability purposes should be disaggregated to show the
performance of ELLs as a group. If all students are to achieve the ambitious
National Education Goals, assessment systems must be refined so that all
students can show what they can do.
Center for Applied Linguistics. (1993). "The
national education goals: Goal 3, the issues of language and culture." Washington DC: Author.
Collier, V.P. (1992). A synthesis of studies examining long-term language
minority student data on academic achievement. "Bilingual Education Research
Journal," 16 (1&2), 187-221.
Council of Chief State School Officers. (1991). "Summary of state practices
concerning the assessment of and the data collection about limited English
proficient (LEP) students." Washington DC: Author.
Cummins, J. (1989) "Empowering language minority students." Sacramento, CA:
California Association for Bilingual Education.
McLaughlin, B. (1992)."Myths and misconceptions about second language
learning: What every teacher needs to unlearn." Santa Cruz, CA and Washington,
DC: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language
Minicucci, C., & Olsen, L. (1992) "Programs for secondary limited English
proficient students: A California study." (Occasional Papers in Bilingual
Education No. 5). Washington, DC: NCBE.
National Education Goals Panel. (1991, 1992, 1993). "The national education
goals report: Building a nation of learners." Washington, DC: Author.
Pennock-Roman, M. (1992). Interpreting test performance in selective
admissions for Hispanic students. In K. Geisinger (Ed.), "Psychological testing
of Hispanics" (pp. 99-136). Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Prince, C., & Lawrence, L. (1993). "School readiness and language
minority students: Implications of the first national education goal."
(Occasional Papers in Bilingual Education No. 7). Washington, DC: NCBE.
Ramirez, J.D. (1992). Executive summary. "Bilingual Education Research
Journal," 16 (1&2), 1-62.
Rosebery, A. S., Warren, B., & Conant, F. (1992). "Appropriating
scientific discourse: Findings from language minority classrooms." Santa Cruz,
CA and Washington, DC: National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and
Second Language Learning.