In a new study from the Regional Education Laboratory Northwest , English Language Learning students in six districts in Oregon were suspended and expelled at higher rates than their native English-speaking peers.
What might be most interesting is that, at least in Oregon, the proportion flips sometime during adolescence.
In elementary schools, native speakers on average lose more school days to suspension and expulsion than ELLs: 2.3 school days to 1.9 for ELLs.
But in middle school, the rates flip: 3.3 school days for native speakers to 3.5 days for ELL students. In high school, the disparity is even greater; 4.1 school days to 4.9. Most of these suspensions and expulsions stem from aggressive behavior and insubordination, according to the study.
Concurrently, test scores are lower for Oregon’s suspended ELLs compared to their peers who were not subject to discipline.
The districts who participated in the study represent 24 percent of the entire student population of Oregon. 14 percent of the districts’ students qualify as ELL.
Interestingly, this study flies in the face of civil rights data from the Department of Education. This data, released last year, showed that the nation’s ELL students were not suspended any more than native speakers. Other minority populations—African American and students in special education programs—were. Both the Oregon study and the Department of Education data reflect the same 2011-12 school year.
What Can the Two Sets of Data Show Us?
First, that the Oregon study was limited. The six districts who participated were not selected at random; they volunteered. That being said, the Oregon study does seem to go further in depth than the nationwide data from the Department of Education.
Perhaps the real question to ask is what happens to ELL students in Oregon’s middle schools. Are those teachers less trained in cultural competency than the state’s elementary teachers? Or are there cultural causes for ELL students becoming more aggressive as they reach adolescence. More study is needed in this regard.
To their credit, the Oregon state legislature has made ELL education a priority. They have authorized a $12.5 million increase in ELL education funding and have directed the state’s Department of Education to develop plans regarding the academic progress of ELL students.