U. of C. study indicates that bilingual students’ performance is equal or better than their peers



The University of Chicago’s Consortium of School Research recently published a report that shows English Learners who start in Chicago Public Schools (CPS) in Kindergarten progress to eighth grade with similar or better academic achievement than their peers who are proficient in English.

“Available public data provides an incomplete picture of the academic performance of ELs, because they are based only on active English Learners—those students who have not yet reached proficiency on a state English test—at a specific moment in time,” said Marisa de la Torre, senior research associate and managing director at the UChicago Consortium in a CPS press release. “The Consortium study is different because for the first time we analyzed the long-term trajectories of 18,000 CPS students who began kindergarten as ELs and followed their progress all the way through eighth grade. EL students are making progress, but the growth is not apparent when you’re looking at different groups of students each year.”

The study, titled “English Learners in Chicago Public Schools: A New Perspective,” contradicts previous studies that have shown English Learners academically far behind their peers. In this study, nearly 80 percent of CPS English Learners achieved English proficiency by eighth grade, with the majority (76 percent) becoming proficient by fifth grade. English Learners who demonstrated English proficiency by eighth grade had higher attendance, math test scores and core course grades than their peers. Also, reading test scores and Freshman On Track rates were similar.

The study’s methodology and key findings are important because one-third of CPS students are classified as English Learners at some point in their academic career. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, the number of students who are English Learners across the country grew 26 percent from 2000 to 2015.

CPS CEO Janice Jackson said of the report’s findings in a press release: “This groundbreaking research challenges misconceptions and shows that CPS English Learners are playing a pivotal role in the district’s overall record-breaking academic progress. English Learners make up nearly 20 percent of the district’s enrollment and this research is a testament to the phenomenal work of students, teachers, principals and their families at schools across the city.”

While CPS English Learners are doing well others will need more support to reach proficiency. According to the study, one in five English Learners who did not reach proficiency by the end of eighth grade had lower attendance, grades, test scores than their peers who did attain proficiency by the end of eighth grade. The authors suggest there may be an opportunity to identify students who need more support in kindergarten or first grade.