Students Who Speak a Language Other Than English

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Shaniva Johnson
Grand Canyon University
It’s all about the Law
Students who speak a language other than English at home and who are not proficient in English are known as English learners (ELs). These students constitute nearly one-third of California’s elementary school students and one-quarter of all K–12 students. As might be expected, these students’ incomplete mastery of English adversely affects their academic performance. Given that proficiency in English is vital to success not only in academic subjects but also, later, in the workforce, both state policy and federal policy consider English proficiency a major goal for EL students. The federal government’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001 establishes guidelines for improving both the number of students reaching fluency in English and the number of students making gains on a test of English proficiency. Despite the policy importance of this issue, we know little about EL students and what aids or hinders their advancement toward English proficiency.

Any study of English proficiency requires an understanding of the major state and federal policies affecting EL students. The most controversial policy affecting EL students is Proposition 227, enacted in 1998, which limits access to bilingual education by requiring that EL students be taught “overwhelmingly” in English. Equally important to the education of EL students is the federal NCLB Act. In addition to its English proficiency goals, NCLB requires improvements in academic achievement for EL students, with performance targets equal to those set for all students.

English proficiency is important for the success of EL students. Testing is becoming increasingly significant under the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act, and each school’s EL population must demonstrate improvements and success in both English proficiency and academic achievement. Academic achievement tests are given in English,2 and without...
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