English Learners Succeeding in Math and STEM

The Office of English Language Acquisition (OELA) has released its third data story (“Academic Performance and Outcomes for English Learners,” www2.ed.gov/datastory/el-outcomes/index.html) about ELs in U.S. schools. This story, which builds on two previously released stories about the characteristics and educational experiences of English learners (Els), focuses specifically on ELs’ NAEP performance and high school graduation rates. Through interactive infographics (many of which are built on data from the National Center for Education Statistics), the story shows that higher percentages of ELs are proficient in math than in reading, but that nearly half of all states experienced declines in the number of ELs who scored proficient in math between 2009 and 2017. The story also shows that graduation rates for ELs improved by ten percentage points between 2010–11 and 2015–16 (from 57% to 67%), but still fall well below the rates for non-ELs (84%). While interesting and informative, the data story also underscores the necessity of research and development to produce better resources and information to support EL learning.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine have also released English Learners in STEM Subjects: Transforming Classrooms, Schools, and Lives (www.nap.edu/catalog/25182/english-learners-in-stem-subjects-transforming-classrooms-schools-and-lives). This report examines what we know about ELs’ learning, teaching, and assessment in STEM subjects and provides guidance on how to improve STEM learning outcomes for these students. It reflects the consensus of a committee of EL experts that was chaired by National Center for Education Research (NCER) and National Center for Special Education Research (NCSER) grantee Dr. David Francis and included past grantees Dr. Okhee Lee and Dr. Mary Schleppegrell alongside other experts in EL education, STEM education, and teaching. 

One of the report’s central conclusions is that ELs develop proficiency in both STEM subjects and language when their classroom teachers provide them with opportunities for meaningful interaction and actively support both content and language learning. Given that many STEM teachers do not receive preparation to teach in this way, the report provides several recommendations to improve preservice and in-service training. It also includes recommendations for how developers and publishers might produce better instructional materials and assessments to help both teachers and EL students. 

Efforts of both types—instructional preparation and development of new materials—may be further supported by two new toolkits (https://tech.ed.gov/edtech-english-learner-toolkits/) released by the Office of Education Technology. The toolkits are designed for educators and developers, and each is organized around five specific guiding principles to help the targeted group approach education technology with ELs’ unique needs in mind. The principles for developers emphasize the importance of thinking ahead about EL needs for those who wish to make products for this population. 

Meanwhile, the educator principles center on issues of awareness and encourage teachers to learn more about the features, platforms, and resources that are available for ELs in the world of education technology. The principles also complement one another—for example, developers are encouraged to offer instruction-focused professional development, and educators are encouraged to seek out the same. Brought together, these resources make a clear case for continued investment in R&D efforts to support STEM learning both for EL students and for their teachers.

1 COMMENT

  1. The most simple and useful from a practical point of view seems to me are statistics, probability theory, and combinatorics, and I would advise you to start with them. There are many textbooks in these disciplines, and some are quite well written.

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