The Impact of Placement Practices on English Language Learners
Research Study funded by the U.S. Department of Education, 2006
Freeman and Freeman (2002) identified three distinct subgroups of ELLs: newly arrived with adequate formal schooling, newly arrived with limited formal schooling, and long term English learners. These subgroups require significantly differing approaches in instruction and vary extremely in terms of prior education, literacy, and English oral language proficiency. But what happens when these students are placed together in one classroom with one teacher attempting to use “differentiated instruction” to maximize each student’s learning rate and academic success? We contend that this effort is analogous to placing 20 students into one classroom who all need a credit in science, except that some need a credit in astronomy, others in biology, yet others in earth science. Meanwhile, the teacher assigned to the class is certified in elementary science education and provided with state science standards for physics and requested to provide differentiated instruction such that all students will maximize their learning in the areas in which they need help while making progress toward achieving high scores in the standardized state science test in physics.
We decided to take a look at these three groups in terms of their characteristics and instructional needs, and identify some of the causes for the failure of our secondary schools to provide the kind of help that allows them to be successful academically and economically. Our premise was simply that differentiated instruction cannot take place without differentiate placement when student characteristics are too varied to allow for successful implementation of such instructional strategies.
Table 1 summarizes some of the characteristics of these distinct ELL subgroups as identified by Fresno Unified School District, Office of Multilingual/Multicultural Education and Lenski, Ehlers-Zavala, Daniel and Sun-Irminger (2006). For discussion in this work, these three groups are classified as: Highly Literate New Immigrants (HLNI), Under Schooled New Immigrants (USNI), and Long Term Literacy English Proficient (LTLEP).