Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Effects of English Language Learner Classification on Students’ Educational Experience and Later Academic Achievement

  • Author(s): Shin, Nami
  • Advisor(s): Webb, Noreen
  • et al.

English Language Learner (ELL) students are the fastest growing student population within the United States. In spite of federal and state laws and regulations that require states and local districts to provide ELLs with support services, prior research has indicated that ELL students are in general lagging behind non-ELL students in academic achievement. An unanswered question is whether and how the initial designation of students as ELL (apart from their actual skill level) may influence their later academic progress and experiences. The main purpose of this study, then, was to examine the effects of initial ELL classification (while controlling for their actual skill level) on students’ academic experiences and later academic achievement. In particular, it compared outcomes for high-scoring ELL students (just below the cutoff for being classified as Initially Fluent English Speaking, IFEP) and students just above the cutoff who were classified as IFEP. This study also investigated whether students’ particular profiles of proficiency at the time of the initial classification (speaking, listening) influenced their academic experiences and achievement, as well as the experiences and achievement of students who retained their ELL status over a long term despite having initial scores placing them near the cutoff for being classified as IFEP.

This study used student-level longitudinal data (Kindergarten through tenth grade) from a very large school district in southern California. The sample consisted of 13,335 students who were near the cutoff score of the initial CELDT (administered in Kindergarten) for distinguishing ELL from Initially Fluent English Proficient (IFEP) students. Outcomes examined included standardized test scores, course grades, and whether students enrolled in gate-keeper courses (e.g., Algebra) in the normative year (e.g., 8th grade).

Regression discontinuity analyses showed that for students who were near the cutoff score for ELL and IFEP classification, being initially classified as ELLs was not a disadvantage. ELLs outperformed IFEPs in English Language Arts and Mathematics in early elementary grades; this difference disappeared in later grades, and the two groups showed equivalent performance. The patterns of differences and similarities between ELLs and IFEPs did not depend on whether students were more skilled in listening or speaking.

Among students who were initially near the cutoff for being classified as ELL, students who retained their ELL classification for a long term (at least five years) showed lower academic performance and developed English proficiency more slowly than students who were reclassified as IFEP in early years (before five years.) On average, students retaining their ELL classification for a long term tended to have lower initial CELDT scores, lower parent education levels, lower attendance rates in school, a higher proportion of students who were male, and a higher proportion of students who were designated as needing special education services.

Main Content
Current View