Data dive

How well are English Language Learners doing in NYC schools? That depends on the stats you consider

PHOTO: Madeleine Cummings

When New York state released its latest round of high school graduation rates, the news was mostly good — but one troubling statistic stood out.

While graduation rates for all students continued a historic climb, English Language Learners experienced a dramatic drop in both New York City and the state.

The city was quick to defend itself, saying its graduation rate was flat if you consider the number of students who were classified as English learners the year they graduated along with those who learned the language well enough to test out.

Now, a timely new study lends support to the city’s stance.

Published by the Institute of Education Sciences, the report suggests that tracking the graduation outcomes of former English learners, as well as those who take slightly longer to earn diplomas, offers a clearer picture of how this vulnerable population is faring in school.

“We’ve had data on English learners, but it hasn’t always been interpreted carefully and it hasn’t always been used in a way that’s useful to schools,” said Michael Kieffer, an associate professor at New York University and lead author of the report. “We’re starting to have a conversation … about how are we going to use data better to serve English learners better?”

The report was based on New York City student data, and was released this week by an independent research arm of the U.S. Department of Education. The researchers looked at graduation outcomes among New York City fifth- and sixth-grade students who entered school as English learners in the 2003-04 academic year.

It found 64 percent of students who were ever considered English learners earned diplomas, “higher than might be assumed,” according to the study.

Counting both groups of students only makes sense, said Caroline E. Parker, co-author of the report and principal research scientist at the nonprofit Education Development Center.

“You get a better sense of how English learners are doing across a whole system in K-12,” she said, adding that students who test out “have been served by the English learner programs and are successful.”

It’s also important to consider how many students graduate within five and six years, the study states. Learning a new language is hard enough, but learning high-level academic content in another language is even tougher. The researchers found that 15 percent of English learners didn’t graduate on time, but did earn a diploma within six years — bringing the graduation rate to about 79 percent. That is virtually on par with the six-year rate for native speakers.

The findings are particularly relevant now, as the latest round of state and city graduation data were released earlier this month. According to the state, 72.6 percent of all New York City students graduated. But for students who are still learning English, the graduation rate was 27 percent — a 9.6 point drop from the previous year.

That figure only includes students who were classified as English Language Learners during their last year of school, but still managed to graduate in four years — an important metric to help judge whether schools are serving recent immigrants well, Kieffer said.

However, if the graduation rate is adjusted to include both current English learners and those who learned the language well enough to test out of the program, it rises to about 51 percent.

Given the findings, schools might want to think about creating different pathways to graduation, according to the study, and city and state governments may want to consider using longer-term graduation rates within accountability systems under a new federal education law called the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“The group of English learners is very complex,” Parker said. “One thing this research tries to do is unpack what does that group look like … and is it possible to create policies that account for that diversity of students and allow them to be successful?”

The city, which has been under state scrutiny for lagging in providing services for English learners, is working on ways to improve instruction. This week, officials announced the opening of 68 more bilingual programs. More than 12 percent of the city’s 1.1 million students are considered English learners.

“We are committed to ensuring all ELLs have the supports they need to succeed,” Yuridia Peña, a department spokeswoman, wrote in an email. “We’re encouraged by the improvements they’ve made.”

breaking

A student is in custody after Noblesville West Middle School shooting that injured another student and teacher

Police asses the scene outside Noblesville High School after a shooting at Noblesville West Middle School on May 25, 2018 (Photo by Kevin Moloney/Getty Images)

A male student shot and injured a teacher and another student at Noblesville West Middle School on Friday morning, police said.

Noblesville police Chief Kevin Jowitt said the shooting suspect asked to leave a class and returned armed with two handguns. The suspect, who police said appeared to be uninjured, is in custody and has not been identified by police.

The teacher, 29-year-old Jason Seaman, was in “good” condition Friday evening at Indiana University Health Methodist Hospital, police said. The female student, who was not identified by police, was in critical condition at Riley Hospital for Children.

News outlets were reporting that Seaman intervened to stop the shooter, but authorities said they could not confirm that on Friday afternoon.

The Noblesville Police Department has a full-time school resource officer assigned to the school who responded to the incident, Jowitt said. Local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies also responded to the shooting.

“We do know that the situation resolved extremely quickly,” Jowitt said. “We don’t know what happened in the classroom, so I can’t make any kinds of comments about what [the resource officer’s] involvement was.”

Students were evacuated to Noblesville High School on Friday morning, where families met them.

Jowitt said an additional threat was made at the high school, but they had “no reason to believe it’s anything other than a communicated threat.”

Police continue to investigate. They said they do not believe there are additional suspects. Noblesville Police spokesman Bruce Barnes could not say how the student acquired the guns, but he said search warrants have been issued.

Noblesville West Middle School enrolls about 1,300 students. Noblesville is a suburb of Indianapolis, about 20 miles north in Hamilton County. The district has about 10,500 students.

The frenzied scenes Friday outside the school have become sadly familiar. Already, there have been 23 school shootings in 2018 that involved someone being injured or killed, according to media tallies.

Just last week, 10 people were killed and 13 others were injured in a shooting at Santa Fe High School outside Houston. A student at the school has been arrested and charged.

In February, 17 people — 14 students and three staff — were shot and killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, and a 19-year-old faces multiple charges.  The Parkland tragedy set off a wave of student activism across the country — including in Indianapolis — calling for stricter gun control.

“We’ve had these shootings around the country,” said Noblesville Mayor John Ditslear. “You just never think it could happen in Noblesville, Indiana. But it did.”

Noblesville Schools Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer praised the “heroic” efforts of school staff and students, saying they followed their training on how to react to an active shooter situation.

Barnes also hinted at the broader trauma that school shootings can have on students and communities.

“We ask for your prayers for the victims in this case,” he said. “I think that would include a lot of kids, not only ones that were truly the victims in this case, but all these other kids that are trying to make sense of this situation.”

Watch the press conference:


A Chalkbeat reporter is on the scene:

In a pattern that has become routine, Democratic and Republican politicians offered prayers on Twitter.

temporary reprieve

Parents score a temporary victory in slowing the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school

PHOTO: Alex Zimmerman
Protesters gathered at the education department's headquarters to protest a recent set of closure plans.

A judge blocked the closure of a small Brooklyn elementary school Thursday — at least for now.

Three families from P.S. 25/the Eubie Blake School filed a lawsuit in March backed by the public interest group Advocates for Justice, arguing the city’s decision to close the school was illegal because the local elected parent council was not consulted.

Brooklyn Supreme Court judge Katherine Levine did not make a final ruling Thursday about whether the closure plan violated the law. But she issued a temporary order to keep the school open while the case moves forward.

It was not immediately clear when the case will be resolved or even if the school will remain open next year. “We are reviewing the stay and will determine an appropriate course of action once the judge makes a final decision on the case,” education department spokeswoman Toya Holness wrote in a statement.

The education department said the school has hemorrhaged students in recent years and is simply too small to be viable: P.S. 25 currently enrolls just 94 students in grades K-5.

“Because of extremely low enrollment, the school lacks the necessary resources to meet the needs of students,” Holness wrote. The city’s Panel for Educational Policy, a citywide oversight board that must sign off on all school closures, voted in February to close the school.

But the school’s supporters point out that despite low test scores in the past, P.S. 25 now ranks among the city’s top elementary schools, meaning that its closure would force students into lower-performing schools elsewhere.

“Why close a school that’s doing so well?” said Leonie Haimson, the executive director of Class Size Matters and one of the lawsuit’s supporters. “It doesn’t make sense to me.”

The lawsuit hinges on a state law that gives local education councils the authority to approve any changes to school zones. Since P.S. 25 is the only zoned elementary school for a swath of Bedford-Stuyvesant, the department’s plans would leave some families with no zoned elementary school dedicated to educating them, forcing students to attend other district schools or enter the admissions lottery for charter schools.

That amounts to “effectively attempting to change zoning lines” and “unlawfully usurping” the local education council’s authority to determine those zones, according to the lawsuit.

But even if the education department loses the lawsuit, the school’s fate would still be uncertain. The closure plan would theoretically be subject to a vote from the local education council, whose president supports shuttering the school.

Still, Haimson hopes the lawsuit ultimately persuades the education department to back away from closing the school in the long run.

“My goal would be to get the chancellor to change his mind,” Haimson said. “I don’t think the future is preordained.”