Minority Students Are Far from Academic Success and Still At-Risk in Public Schools

By Vang, Christopher T. | Multicultural Education, Summer 2005 | Go to article overview

Minority Students Are Far from Academic Success and Still At-Risk in Public Schools


Vang, Christopher T., Multicultural Education


As a teacher, it is my belief that every child deserves a good education, and every teacher should be committed to meeting every child's academic needs and providing all with an equal learning opportunity in the classroom. Quality teachers who deliver meaningful instruction have great influence on student learning and success. Knowing the characteristics of at-risk students can help teachers identify the factors in their academic success or lack of success.

I am excited to share some research findings involving at-risk students with those who are dealing with these kinds of students on a daily basis to help them understand why at-risk students are not learning at greater speeds. There is more than one way to teach students and not all students learn the same way.

BILINGUAL STUDENTS ARE SPROUTING IN CALIFORNIA

Today, language-minority students comprise one of the fastest-growing segments of the total student population in America, a culturally and linguistically diverse group. In California, approximately 80% of Limited English Proficient students (LEP) speak Spanish and the other 20% speak Vietnamese, Hmong, Cantonese, Tagalog, and other languages. More than one hundred languages are spoken daily by children in California's public schools.

Moreover, California has approximately 1.5 million LEP students in its public schools. At least 38% of the total student populace in public schools in the U.S. belongs to an ethnic minority, and a large portion of this group comes from a language-disadvantaged family. Zehr (2000) projected that in 25 years, one in every four elementary students will be Hispanic since Hispanic is the nation's largest racial minority. Moreover, 58% of the nation's LEP student population were born in America, and of that number, 74% are from Hispanic background (Manning & Baruth, 2004).

Many language-minority students in public schools are classified by the school as at-risk. However, the classification may not be an accurate portrayal of every student so designated. The classifications are probably based on a sorting paradigm in which some students receive instruction based on high expectations and the rest are relegated to lower quality education and lower quality futures (North Central Regional Educational Laboratory [NCREL], 1999).

HOW PUBLIC SCHOOLS CLASSIFY AND TRACK LANGUAGE LEARNERS

As required by academic mandates, public schools classify language-minority students as LEP or fluent English proficient (FEP) following an initial assessment process. California is currently using the California English Language Development Test (CELDT) to measure English proficiency in second-language learners. LEP students are classified according to five English-Language Development (ELD) levels: Level I (pre-production), Level II (early production), Level III (speech emergence), Level IV (intermediate fluency) and Level V (advanced). Public schools sometimes offer LEP students primary language instruction, bilingual tutoring services, English language development or specifically designed academic instruction in English, or bilingual instructional assistance.

Most public schools are more likely to classify language-minority students as LEP than FEP and place them in three main categories: (a) students identified by school districts as limited English proficient, (b) students who were foreign-born and entered public schools for the first time in the U.S. but learned English quickly, and (c) adolescents who were foreign-born and came to America between the ages of 11 and 18. Sedlacek (1995) stated that the labeling of bilingual students is often done for social control; he called the practice "the quest for the golden label" because public schools sometimes misuse the label to "solve" academic problems.

A large number of bilingual students fall into the at-risk category because their cultural and linguistic backgrounds put them at a disadvantage in the American educational system and place them in a position in which school, second-language learning, academic achievement, and crosscultural adjustment could be difficult. …

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