Addressing the Literacy Underachievement of Adolescent English Language Learners: A Call for Teacher Preparation and Proficiency Reform

By Cartiera, Maria Rose | New England Reading Association Journal, January 1, 2006 | Go to article overview

Addressing the Literacy Underachievement of Adolescent English Language Learners: A Call for Teacher Preparation and Proficiency Reform


Cartiera, Maria Rose, New England Reading Association Journal


Being an urban secondary teacher of English Language Learners (ELLs) for roughly the last ten years in Connecticut has enlightened me on the lack of research and resources available to teach literacy to secondary students, especially for those whose first language is one other than English. Thus, as a doctoral student, I knew what I wanted to conduct further research on for my dissertation in order to add to its knowledge base - the literacy of ELLs.

Following is a brief review of my doctoral dissertation study, Best Practices for Teaching English Language Learners Found in Teacher Preparation Programs in Connecticut and Beginning Teachers' Level of Preparation and Proficiency in These Practices, highlighting the segments pertaining to teachers' perceptions on their level of preparation and proficiency in the teaching of secondary literacy to ELLs when compared to the teaching of elementary literacy to ELLs. An up-to-date national review on adolescent literacy, teacher preparation in research-based best literacy strategies for ELL, and current suggestions made by prominent organizations are discussed. Additionally, recommendations and implications based on the findings derived from this study are provided. It should be noted, however, that for the purposes of this article, several other related and significant findings from this study are not thoroughly discussed in this review.

Current National Stance on Adolescent Literacy

Typically, adolescent literacy encompasses the literacy skills of fourth grade through twelfth grade students. In order to understand where adolescent ELLs fare in regard to literacy, it is required to be aware of where adolescent non-ELLs stand in terms of literacy.

Recently, although still limited, there has been an increase in research on adolescent literacy. Much of this increase is in response to the federal mandates set forth by No Child Left Behind (NCLB), President Bush's 2002 reauthorization of the Elementary and secondary Education Act. In conjunction with increased research, NCLB lead to the creation of two federal attempts to improve the literacy achievement of adolescents: (a) the Striving Readers Initiative, and (b) the Adolescent Literacy Research Network.

Important, yet dismal data reflecting the literacy skills of our nation's adolescents has been found. For example, Table 1 depicts the 2002 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) data.

The above data is significant in that under NCLB states are required to participate in the NAEP (housed within the National Center for Education Statistics), in an attempt to generate a more equivalent assessment among states than as produced by comparing individual state-designed testing results. Further alarming is that in no state do even 50 percent of all students meet the NAEP national literacy standard of proficiency. Additionally, many states have fewer than 50 percent of their students meeting their specific state's proficiency standards. This includes states that regularly outperform nationally in literacy, such as Connecticut, Massachusetts, and New Hampshire. The performance of ELLs on such assessments is even more disconcerting.

Such underachievement in adolescent literacy is alarming in the 21st century, where a historically unmatched dependence on literacy skills is required in such a technological and global sensitive economy.

Purpose of the Study

According to Van Hook and Fix (2000), ELLs make up 20% of students in the United States. Similarly, the 2004 Department of Education Report identified 5.5 million ELLs in U.S. classrooms. Menken, Antunez, Dilworth, and Yasin (2001), and Rumberger and Gandara (2000) report that over the past decade this number has been growing at an average annual rate five times that of the total public school enrollment. Additionally, it is estimated that a minimum of 2.2 million teachers will be needed within the next decade, and the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) legislation calls for these teachers to be "highly qualified" by 2006. …

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