Improving academic outcomes for emergent bilingual students

In public schools throughout the US, the number of emergent bilinguals, or English language learners (ELLs), is growing at an increasing rate. By 2025, it’s predicted that they will represent 25 percent of total enrollment. Yet despite this growth, emergent bilinguals remain the lowest-performing subgroup nationally.

There are five million emergent bilingual students in grades K–12, representing hundreds of primary languages, the vast majority of which are native Spanish speakers. Though the country has made significant strides toward the equitable and effective education of these students over the past several decades, the efficacy of these efforts has been less than what’s needed. 

As a result, the academic achievement and schooling outcomes for emergent bilinguals vary greatly. Taken as a subgroup of the K–12 population, emergent bilinguals have low achievement outcomes, high dropout rates, low college attendance rates, and even lower college graduation rates. Two factors contribute to this: teachers may not be adequately trained to support their emergent bilingual students, and emergent bilinguals tend to be concentrated in highly segregated, underfunded schools. 

However, teachers and administrators can take six steps to improve academic outcomes for their emergent bilingual students: (1) embrace diversity; (2) focus on academic achievement; (3) identify long-term English learners; (4) accelerate learning with education technology, or EdTech; (5) address the ELL teacher deficit; and (6) recognize the bilingual advantage. For more details about each step, refer to the Rosetta Stone® white paper, Six Steps Toward ELL Success.

The use of technology, in particular, has been shown to help emergent bilinguals and other diverse groups of students engage cognitively at high levels, generate knowledge, analyze issues, articulate realities, and achieve academically through expanded notions of what it means to be literate. Technology tools, then, can be used to promote equity in education, providing increased access to content for emergent bilinguals. These tools also allow for learning differences and differentiation in the ways that students can demonstrate learning and express what they know.

Through education technology, students can learn English at their own pace. As their pronunciation is guided by real-time aural feedback, their oral proficiency increases. Lesson content is reinforced in interactive games and activities that make learning fun and interesting, for better student engagement. And expanded access using technology enables emergent bilinguals to learn and practice at home as well as at school.

In addition to technology, recognizing the bilingual advantage can also help emergent bilinguals thrive. Encouraging and celebrating bilingualism benefits everyone, as it’s an important requirement of college and career readiness in the twenty-first century global economy.

Emergent bilingual students succeed when teachers and administrators work together with parents and communities. Teachers can adapt curriculum and methods to accommodate emergent bilinguals in and out of the classroom, while administrators can allocate resources for teacher training tools to measure English language learning effectiveness. 

Working together toward a common goal will go far toward changing prevailing learning outcomes and assisting emergent bilingual students in their quest to achieve academic success at the same rate as their English-proficient peers. Download the Rosetta Stone white paper, Six Steps Toward ELL Success, to learn more.

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