Promise or Peril? NCLB and the Education of ELL Students
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This report describes the implementation of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in school districts
and schools with large enrollments of English language learners (ELLs) and immigrant students. The
study, part of a series on the education of young immigrant students, documents how this landmark legislation
in education policy played out in three high-ELL districts and six schools and traces the law’s
effect on the education of ELL students attending these schools. The research, which takes a case study
approach, addresses the following questions: 1) How has NCLB been implemented in high-ELL schools?
2) What has been the effect of NCLB on the improvement of high-ELL schools? and 3) What has been the
effect of NCLB on ELL students in high-ELL schools? The findings reveal that, while implementation
of NCLB in high-LEP schools has resulted in some problems for ELL students’ education, the net
effect of the law has been positive because it has increased attention paid to ELL students; increased
the alignment of curriculum, instruction, professional development, and testing; and raised the bar
for ELL student achievement.
Since the enactment of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act in January of 2002, there have been attempts
to document how the requirements of this legislation have affected policies and practices in schools
and school districts. There has, however, been little attention paid thus far to the way that NCLB
has affected educational practices for limited English proficient students (LEPs) or English language
learners (ELLs) (Lara 2005). And discussion of how NCLB may have indirectly affected pre-K education
has been missing from the research literature on this important legislation.
ELLs are likely to be immigrants or the children of immigrants, whether second or even third generation,
as has been found by other research in this series (Capps et al. 2005). Because of the lack of data
to identify students in U.S. schools by immigrant status, we have used ELL status as a proxy for immigrant
status, while recognizing that these terms are not perfectly interchangeable. The proportion of the
U.S. school-age population comprised of children of immigrants has risen sharply from 6 percent in
1970 to almost 19 percent in 2000 (Capps et al. 2005). The share of LEP students also rose during this
period to make up 7 percent and 5 percent, respectively, of U.S. elementary and secondary schools,
with a higher percentage of these students enrolled in the earlier years. About 52.6 percent of all
LEP students were enrolled in pre-K to 5th grade compared to 47.4 percent enrolled in grades 6–12
(Fix and Passel 2003). While schoolage children of immigrants were highly concentrated in six states
(California, New York, Texas, Florida, Illinois, and New Jersey), their numbers grew even more rapidly
in states that have not traditionally received immigrants: Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, and Nebraska.
LEP students showed a similar state distribution and growth trends (Capps et al. 2005).
Research in this series also found that LEP students were highly concentrated in a few schools (Cosentino
de Cohen, Deterding, and Clewell 2005). Nearly 70 percent of LEP students were enrolled in 10 percent
of elementary schools, with so-called “high-LEP schools” having enrollments of at least
50 percent LEP students. This study also found that high-LEP schools were more likely to be located
in urban areas and to have many of the characteristics of urban schools: larger class sizes; greater
racial and ethnic diversity; higher rates of student poverty; as well as the related problems that
these characteristics imply. The study also found, however, that high-LEP schools were more likely
to offer support and remedial programs tailored to their at-risk students together with providing specialized
instruction and assessment for their non-English speaking population. These schools also differed from
their counterparts with low—or no—enrollments of LEP students in terms of principal and
This report provides a snapshot of six of high-LEP elementary schools located in three urban school
districts with a focus on how NCLB requirements have affected policies and practices vis a vis LEP
students in these schools. Even though pre-K education is not covered by NCLB, because of the special
interest of the Foundation for Child Development in the pre-K through third grade student population,
the report pays special attention to the “spillover” effects of NCLB on this young population.
The focus of the study, therefore, is on pre-K through fifth grade. All the case study schools we selected
were high-LEP enrollment elementary schools with pre-K classes.
(End of excerpt. The complete report is available in PDF format.)
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