The English learner (EL) population has risen 51% since 1998 according to data published by the National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition in 2011. According to data reviewed by National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition during the 2008-2009 school year, more than 5.3 million or 10.8% of students enrolled in the nation's public schools (from prekindergarten to Grade 12) were classified as limited English proficient (National Clearinghouse for English Language Acquisition, 2011). In California, ELs account for approximately 33% of the total number of students enrolled in public schools. Of these students, the native language for approximately 85% of them is Spanish (California Department of Education, 2011).
Many culturally and linguistically diverse students fail to meet academic expectations. For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (1999) reported that despite having gains in reading achievement since the 1970s, the reading growth of ELs has lagged behind that of their native English speaking (NS) peers. In addition, ELs continue to fall behind their NS peers in reading (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2011). Although ELs made progress in reading achievement in 2002, a review of recent literacy data showed a lack of growth from 2002 to 2011 (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2011). Thirty-one percent of fourth-grade ELs performed at "Basic" levels of overall reading achievement, 7% performed at "Proficient" levels, 1% at "Advanced" levels, and the greatest percentage (69%) of ELs met "Below Basic" levels of reading achievement (National Assessment of Educational Progress, 2011). The data presented are troublesome and indicate that ELs are not accessing the core literacy instruction like their NS peers, which affects their ability to improve their literacy skills and ultimately show progress on core standards of education.
Klingner, Artiles, and Barletta (2006) suggested that inaccuracy in reporting procedures and the operational definitions of ELs in federal and state laws may actually serve to mask or minimize an even larger achievement gap than what is currently known. Moreover, ELs are a heterogeneous group and are not defined consistently across states or within the literature, which yields different views about how to classify EL students and measure their progress (Hakuta & Beatty, 2000; Rhodes, Ochoa, & Ortiz, 2005). In the following section we will discuss the implications of the variability in how EL is defined and how literacy skills are assessed for this population.
This diversity of ELs must be considered when observing learning outcomes because they may differ with respect to the type of instruction they receive and the language and literacy skills they exhibit. This information can help guide educators about the expectations for the subgroups of students and when to consider a student as at risk. In addition, examining within-EL distinctions may help minimize overgeneralization of assumptions commonly made about EL students (Artiles, Rueda, Salazar, & Higareda, 2005).
Students' level of English language proficiency (ELP) may contribute to different learning outcomes. For example, Kiefer (2008) conducted a longitudinal analysis of reading achievement outcomes among NS students, students who entered kindergarten with fluent English proficiency, and students with limited English proficiency. Results suggested that rates of growth among students with FEP were similar to those of NS students through Grade 5, and slopes of growth among students with limited proficiency diverged from those of NS students. Similarly, growth curve modeling comparisons of oral reading fluency performance among Latino NS, EL, and EL-exited students indicated similar growth for NS and EL-exited students in third grade, with fluency growth for Latino ELs significantly lower than the former groups through the third grade (Al Otaiba et al. …