Study: Summer school for EL students could boost 4-year graduation rates

Study: Summer school for EL students could boost 4-year graduation rates

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A summer school program for high school English learners who have lived in the U.S. for less than three years increased the number of core courses those students took that are required for graduation. But the program had little impact on four- and five-year graduation rates, according to a study in the American Educational Research Journal.

Offered by a large, urban school district in California, the five-week summer school classes were intended to help students earn credit they missed during the school year. Because doubt exists about the quality of credit recovery programs, author Angela Johnson of NWEA, a nonprofit assessment organization, also examined whether students’ English proficiency levels increased after participating in the classes.

The results show that listening, speaking and writing skills increased among the participants — as well as overall proficiency. But the effects on reading skills and the likelihood that students would be reclassified as English proficient were not significant. Johnson notes that because the program emphasized oral communication, students might not have spent much time on reading and, therefore, were not able to complete the “intricate, multistep reclassification process.”

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Because students were not randomly assigned to the program, Johnson used a method that compared student outcomes before and after participation in the program. The study contributes to the research on ELs by examining newcomers separately from those that have been in the U.S. for several years. ELs who have recently arrived need different types of services, the author writes. She adds that schools and districts don’t typically report data on these groups separately and “policy research addressing EL subgroups is scarce.”

The study shows that on average, students eligible for the program were not taking enough of the courses they would need by 12th grade in order to graduate. The findings show that the program had positive effects on the number of English language arts and math courses students took during their four years of high school, including college-prep ELA. And while students did not take a significant number of science and social studies courses during the summer, enrollment in these during the school year increased. The findings, Johnson writes, counter the argument that ELs must first focus on English proficiency before taking rigorous ELA courses.

“Opportunities to take academically challenging courses in high school extend access to four-year colleges and momentum toward bachelor’s degree completion,” she writes. “When high schools give ELs a chance to take and do well in advanced classes, they also give ELs a better chance at attending and finishing college.”

The program had minimal impact on the number of courses students took to be eligible for admission to the University of California or California State University systems. In fact, a year after the students became eligible for the program in 2013, the district in the study adopted UC/CSU admission criteria as graduation requirements — which some argue adversely affects “students who enter high school with the weakest academic preparation,” Johnson writes. The study is especially relevant as the CSU system is currently considering adding a fourth year of math — or quantitative reasoning — as an admission requirement.

One explanation for why four-year graduation rates did not increase is because the ELs in the study sample “had very little time to prepare to meet the demanding new requirements,” Johnson writes. But five-year graduation outcomes were stronger among later cohorts of students who were able to participate in the summer program for more than one year. And expanding the program to rising 9th graders and encouraging students to enroll in multiple summers would likely increase the number graduating in four years as well, she writes.

November 12, 2019