Study Finds English Learner Students May Benefit From Differentiated Early Warning Indicators to Accurately Identify and Support Students at Risk of Not Graduating


Tuesday, March 21, 2017



Contact: Allyson Hagen, 503.275.9189

Portland, OR - A new study from Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Northwest reveals a need to look more closely at specific populations of current or former English learner students to identify and support students most at risk of not graduating. The study examined graduation and dropout rate data for English learner students who began grade 9 in 2008–09 in six of the Seattle-area school districts that make up the Road Map Project.

The study found that Road Map students who had ever been English learners had a four-year graduation rate of 64 percent versus a four-year graduation rate of 73.5 percent for those who had never been English learners.

Graduation and dropout rate differences were larger among groups of English learner students than between students who had been English learners at any time and students who had never been English learners.

Recent immigrants—known as newcomer English learner students—had the lowest four-year graduation rate of any group (42.6 percent), as well as the highest dropout rate (8.9 percent). Long-term English-proficient students had the highest four-year graduation rate of all student groups (76.4 percent) and the lowest dropout rate (3.1 percent). When looking at five-year graduation rates, the gains from an additional year were largest for current English learner students, particularly newcomers.

“The gap in graduation rates between newcomer English learner students and students who had never been English learners decreased from 31 percentage points to 14 percentage points between the fourth and fifth years of high school, “said Havala Hanson, one of the study’s authors. “Because newcomers made up so much ground in that fifth year, making a fifth year of high school appealing and feasible for students may be one way to support newcomers.”

The study also examined the accuracy of the grade 9 early warning indicators the districts adopted to identify students at risk of not graduating from high school. Students were identified as at risk of dropping out if they reached the threshold for one of two indicators: six or more absences, plus at least one course failure in grade 9, or at least one suspension or expulsion in grade 9.

The early warning indicators, originally developed specifically for Seattle Public Schools, did not accurately identify many students who dropped out—especially newcomer English learner students.

“This finding emphasizes how important it is to regularly evaluate early warning system indicator thresholds and make sure they’re accurate for the students in the district,” Hanson said. “It can also be beneficial to have early warning indicators developed for each year of high school, as the further back the indicator is from the graduation date, the less accurate it becomes.”

According to the study, a useful early warning indicator is precise enough not to flag too many students who would have graduated without additional supports yet sensitive enough to identify a substantial percentage of students who need additional interventions to avoid dropping out. The study’s findings suggest a need to examine the accuracy of indicators and interventions for newcomer English learner students.

Read the full report on the Institute of Education Sciences website.