The research on ELL students shows that English language supports are vital to the success of ELLs in school. Nami Shin, in the article “The Effects of the Initial English Language Learner Classification on Students’ later academic outcomes,” provides statistical analysis that shows the academic benefits of supports for ELLs. Elizabeth Vansant-Webb and Shamby Polychronis interviewed teachers to understand their views on ELL support, particularly in a school context where resources may be limited, for their article, “Supporting Teachers of English Language Learners at a Turnaround School.” From the perspective of teachers, and from the data on student outcomes, it is very clear that supports for English Language Learners are vital to their success.
Shin studied students who were tested for English language proficiency and landed close to the cutoff on either side. Students who were just below the cutoff were classified as ELLs, while those just above the cutoff were deemed IFEP (initially fluent English proficient) students. In practice, this distinction means that “ELLs become eligible to receive language support services, whereas IFEPs do not, given they are sufficiently proficient in English” (Shin, 1).
Her findings reveal that this classification had significant positive effects on the academic outcomes ELLs, who tended to have better outcomes, as measured by standardized test scores and grades in Math and English, than their IFEP peers. In large part, “the effect can be attributed to the language programs that only ELLs received, whereas IFEPs did not” (Shin, 16). While ELLs and IFEPs had similar language skills, demonstrated by both groups scoring near the cutoff, ELLs gained access to language supports that IFEPs may have benefitted from, which allowed ELLs to be more successful in school. This shows how important English language support can be for students who are not native speakers.
The importance of supports for ELLs, as demonstrated by student outcomes, is echoed by teachers. In Vansant-Web and Polychronis’s study, “Every participant in the study noted a desire for greater support among colleagues, teammates, coaches, administrators, and district personnel” (977). These teachers are conveying a need to develop a web of support that can help ELL teachers support ELL students. The respondents also expressed that “a lack of support inevitably leads to self-reliance when it comes to providing the support needed for ELLs and that this is inadequate with respect to time constraints” (Vansant-Web & Polychronis, 975). When teachers don’t have support from their colleagues to help them support ELL students, they end up taking on more work than they are capable of doing, given their already busy schedules. This is especially relevant in a school system like the Philadelphia public schools, where budget difficulties mean that schools are often understaffed.
These two articles, even with very different approaches to research, both advocate for better support services for ELLs. Schools must ensure that they are properly identifying students and providing the language supports that they need, as well as support teachers in their quest to provide education and support to English language learners. These studies point to the importance of advocacy for ELLs to fight for the supports that they need in order to thrive as students.