In the wake of the NCLB legislation, several recent analyses have examined the measured school achievement of English language learners (ELLs) at both the national and state level (Batalova, Fix and Murray, 2007; Fry, 2007). In both reading and mathematics, a majority of ELL students who took assessment tests scored below proficiency standards. Furthermore, ELL test-takers were far behind the other major racial/ethnic groups in measured achievement in elementary school. The gaps with other major racial/ethnic groups widen from elementary grades to eighth grade.

For the five states with large ELL student populations studied in this report, Figure 1 illustrates the difference in the share of white test-takers who scored at or above each state’s proficient level in mathematics and the share of ELL test-taking students who scored at or above the proficient level (or the difference in the “proficiency rates” on the mathematics assessment). For example, according to the 2004–05 NLSLSASD, 49% of Arizona grade 3 ELL test-takers met or exceeded the Arizona math standard on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS).5 Nearly 84% of grade 3 Arizona white test-takers met or exceeded the standard. Thus, Arizona ELL test-takers trailed their white counterparts by 35 points, or the difference in white and ELL grade 3 math proficiency rates was 35 points in Arizona.6 In all five states, the measured mathematics achievement difference increases from the early elementary grade (typically grade 3) to the middle school grade (typically grade 8).

In the 2004–05 NLSLSASD, the ELL test-takers often trail black test-takers in measured math proficiency (Figure 2). In grade 3 math in California and Texas, ELL test-takers were more likely than their black counterparts to meet or exceed the state standard, but otherwise ELL test-takers trailed their black peers. Fry (2007) reported large differences between standardized test scores for black and ELL students, based on an analysis of data from the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).