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College-Readiness for English Language Learners and Students with Special Learning Needs

Module by: Rebecca M. Bustamante, John R. Slate, Stacey Edmonson, Julie P. Combs, George W. Moore, Anthony J. Onwuegbuzie. E-mail the authors

Summary: The authors examined the college-ready graduate rates of two groups of students in the state of Texas for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years: students classified as Limited English Proficient and students receiving special education services. Data from a state-mandated exit test administered to 11th graders revealed disturbingly low percentages of both groups of students who were college-ready in reading and math. Statistically significant differences were present in these subject areas among these groups of students. Implications for educational leaders are discussed.

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Note:

This manuscript has been peer-reviewed, accepted, and endorsed by the National Council of Professors of Educational Administration (NCPEA) as a significant contribution to the scholarship and practice of education administration. In addition to publication in the Connexions Content Commons, this module is published in the International Journal of Educational Leadership Preparation, Volume 5, Number 4 (October - December, 2010), ISSN 2155-9635. Formatted and edited in Connexions by Theodore Creighton and Brad Bizzell, Virginia Tech.

Introduction

In a global economy, competition for jobs and talent between the United States and other nations is increasingly intense, particularly in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math (Pont, Nusche, & Moorman, 2008). The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that more than one half of all new jobs through 2014 will require at least some college experience (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005). Yet, scores from 2008 American College Test (ACT) tests indicated that approximately 22% of recent U.S. high school graduates were likely to succeed in their first year at a credit-granting college or university (ACT, 2008). These percentages were even more grim grimmer for racial-minority students and students with special learning needs, including English language learners (ELLs) (Achieve, Inc., 2008). Many policymakers throughout the United States have considered this lack of college-readiness among U.S. high school students a national crisis. In response, recently, state policymakers have proposed legislation to accelerate the development of college and career-ready policies and interventions (National Governors’ Association, 2008). Texas was one of the first states to initiate policies specifically aimed at enhancing college-readiness and is one of only nine states to require a college-ready assessment (National Governors’ Association, 2008).

Purpose of the Study

For countries like the United States to stay competitive in a high tech, world economy, labor experts report that more people must attend college (U.S. Bureau for Labor Statistics, 2005). Additionally, researchers have discovered that high school students who are prepared to take on the academic rigor encountered in the college setting are more likely to complete a college degree (Adelman, 2006). Standards have been documented to be essential for effective program implementation (McLaughlin & Shepard, 1995) and college readiness is no exception. Therefore, some states have developed college readiness standards to promote consistency in the implementation of curriculum and assessment programs aimed at developing college preparedness in students. To monitor progress in meeting college readiness standards, these states also have developed data tracking systems. However, state initiatives related to college readiness are relatively new.

Although some researchers have begun to examine how college readiness is defined, implemented, and assessed, more studies are needed to understand better which students are performing adequately on college readiness measures and why. Because the numbers of students who are English language learners (ELLs) and students who have special needs consist of a growing percentage of the U.S. school age population, more research is needed to examine the college-ready graduate rates of students representing these special groups. Currently, Texas is one of only a few states specifying college-readiness standards and monitoring progress on standards assessments. Therefore, the primary purpose of this study was to investigate the extent to which students from two groups, students who are ELLs and students receiving special education services, met college-ready graduate standards when compared to all graduating seniors for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years in the state of Texas. It is important to note that students who are ELL are referred to as students who are Limited English Proficient (LEP) in the state accountability system. The term English language learners (ELLs) was used in this study because it is considered a more culturally and linguistically sensitive term by linguists and second language scholars (Echevarria, Vogt, & Short, 2004; Hakuta, Butler, & Witt, 2000). Moreover, the use of this term is “preferred over limited-English-proficient (LEP) as it highlights accomplishments rather than deficits” (Office of Civil Rights, 2005, ¶6). Research data were based on results from a state-mandated exit test administered to all 11th graders. Data were analyzed for students’ scores in reading, math, and both subject areas combined as recorded in the Texas Academic Excellence Indicator System (AEIS).

The second purpose of this study was to examine college-readiness for these groups through the lens of social and cultural capital theory (Bordieu, 1986, 2001) and by using relevant research on academic English language acquisition and special education. The third purpose was to provide educational leaders with recommendations for how to support better the college-readiness of English language learners and students with special needs by enhancing opportunities to obtain social and culture capital in high school.

Significance for Educational Leaders

In a very recent study, Bryk (2010) noted the importance of educational leaders, specifically school principals, in the area of instruction:

Principals in improving schools engage in a dynamic interplay of instructional and inclusive facilitative leadership. On the instructional side, school leaders influence local activity around core instructional programs, supplemental academic and social supports, and the hiring and development of staff. (p. 25)

It is our contention that educational leaders can play a major leadership role in the area of college-readiness. To the extent that differences are present in the college-readiness of the student subgroups whose test scores are analyzed herein, a need may exist for educational leaders to engage in the instructional leadership behaviors delineated by Bryk (2010) in the above quotation.

Research Questions

The following research questions were addressed in this study: (a) What are the college-ready graduate rates of all students in reading, math, and in both subjects for all students in Texas?; (b) What are the college-ready graduate rates of students who are LEP in reading, math, and in both subjects in Texas?; (c) What are the college-ready graduate rates of students in special education in reading, math, and in both subjects for all students in Texas?; and (e) What are the differences in college-ready graduate rates in reading, math, and in both subjects among these groups of students?

Why Texas?

It was deemed that analyses of college-readiness data from Texas might reveal trends and implications that could inform educational leadership and policymaking around the country for several reasons. First, after California, Texas is the most populous state in the nation (U.S. Census Bureau, 2005). Between 1999 and 2005, Texas ranked sixth in the United States in student growth at 11.1% with large numbers of students classified as low income or ELLs. Second, Texas is one of several states that has recently enacted legislation requiring higher college-readiness standards and has stipulated specific indicators of college-readiness. In 2006, Texas legislators passed a statute (Texas Education CODE [TEC] §39.051(b)(13)) requiring Texas high schools and districts to report publicly on six indicators of college-readiness (TEA, 2007). These indicators are: (a) Advanced Placement (AP)/International Baccalaureate (IB) exam scores; (b) advanced course/dual enrollment completed; (c) Recommended High School Program (RHSP)/Distinguished Academic Program (DAP) graduates; (d) Scholastic Achievement Test (SAT) or ACT test results; (e) Texas Success Initiative (TSI) Higher Education Readiness Component; and (f) the percentage of college-ready graduates in each high school and district as determined by the first four indicators (TEA, 2009a).

Three additional indicators are reported for AP/IB results, and two of these indicators are based on criterion scores of 3 or higher for AP examinations or 4 or higher for IB examinations. The first indicator for the AP/IB results is the percentage of students taking at least one AP/IB course, which is calculated by dividing the number of Grades 11 and 12 students taking at least one of these courses by the number of Grades 11 and 12 students who do not have special education needs. The second indicator is the percent of examinees with at least one AP or IB examination score above the criterion score (i.e., 3 or higher for AP examinations, 4 or higher for IB examinations). The third indicator reported for AP/IB results is the percentage of AP/IB examination scores at or above the criterion. This indicator is calculated by dividing the number of AP/IB scores at or above the criterion by the number of AP/IB examinations taken (TEA, 2009a).

Advanced course/dual enrollment indicators are reported for the percentage of graduates who completed at least one advanced course or dual enrollment course. Advanced courses must be approved by the principal or other school official and demonstrate rigor beyond the equivalent high school course (Texas Administrative Code §74.25). This indicator is calculated by dividing the number of Grades 9-12 students who successfully completed at least one advanced or dual enrollment course in the previous school year by the total number of students who successfully completed at least one course in the same school year (TEA, 2009a).

A third college-readiness indicator is the percentage of students completing the RHSP/DAP. This indicator is calculated by dividing the number of graduates who satisfied the course requirements for the RHSP/DAP by all graduates. The graduation codes are reported in the Public Education Information Management System (PEIMS). According to TEA (2009b, ¶ 1), “PEIMS encompasses all data requested and received by TEA about public education, including student demographic and academic performance, personnel, financial, and organizational information.“

Results for SAT and ACT examinations are another indicator used in reporting college-readiness. As described in the TEA (2009a) glossary of indicators, three values are calculated for this indicator:

(1) Tested.This indicator is the percent of graduates who took either college admissions test divided by number of non-special education graduates,

(2) At/Above Criterion. This indicator is the percent of examinees who scored at or above the criterion score on either test (1110 for SAT, 24 for ACT) divided by the number of examinees,

(3) Mean Score. This indicator is the average score for the SAT total and the average score for the ACT composite. (¶ 62)

A fifth indicator is based on TSI. The TSI assesses students’ readiness in reading, writing, and mathematics prior to entering college. However,

students may be exempted from taking a test for the Texas Success Initiative if they have a high enough score on their exit-level TAKS tests for mathematics and English language arts, as set by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board (THECB). The qualifying scores are scale scores of 2200 on their TAKS mathematics and English language arts with a written composition score of 3 or higher on the writing component. This indicator shows the percent of students who achieved this level of proficiency by subject (English language arts and mathematics) for 2008 and 2007. (TEA, 2009a, ¶ 86)

Also, in 2006, the Texas legislature added a new indicator to the original indicators of college-readiness by setting a minimum score for English and math performance on the SAT/ACT, or the state high school exit examination, in order for students to be considered college-ready. This newly added indicator is referred to as the college-ready graduate indicator for the state of Texas. College-ready graduate indicators are provided in Table 1.

Table 1: Texas AEIS Criteria for High School Students to Be Deemed a College-Ready Graduate
Subject Exit-level TAKS   SAT   ACT
ELA ≥ 2200 scale scoreand≥ 3 essay or ≥ 500 on Critical Readingand≥ 1070 Total or ≥ 19 on Englishand≥ 23 Composite
Math ≥ 2200 scale score or ≥500 on Math≥ 1070 Total or ≥19 on Mathand≥ 23 Composite

Note. Adapted from TEA (2009a)

Theoretical Framework

Some researchers have suggested that students often achieve in direct proportion to their opportunities to learn (Wang, Haertel, & Walberg, 1997). For some minority groups, scholars have consistently demonstrated inequities in opportunities to learn related to lack of access to educational resources and high quality teachers (Donovan & Cross, 2002; Kozol, 2005; Perna, 2006; Peske & Haycock, 2006). To understand this lack of access to resources and information, numerous scholars have used Bordieu’s (1986) and Bordieu and Passeron’s (1977) theories of social and cultural capital to frame their research on college-readiness of minority and at-risk students (cf. Cabrera, Deil-Amen, Prabhu, Terenzini, Lee, & Franklin, 2006; Contreras, 2005; Hong & Youngs, 2008; Lareau & Horvath, 1999; McDonough, 1997).

Bordieu (1986, 2001) defined social capital as benefits that are accrued through social networks and relationships. These social relationships are deliberate and institutionalized and contribute to one’s academic or financial success. Culture capital, on the other hand, may be described as the cultural symbols, skills, attitudes, dispositions, preferences, competencies, goals, formal knowledge, and behaviors that are required and rewarded in contexts, such as schools, to achieve academically or succeed professionally (Bordieu & Passeron, 1977). Some scholars have contended that many at-risk students are excluded from both the benefits of having the social networks and relationships required to be college-ready and the benefits of understanding the cultural capital necessary to succeed (Cabrera et al., 2006; McDonough, 1997). Cabrera et al. (2006) stated,

These networks shape college aspirations and provide information and guidance on what it means to be academically ready for college, what behavioral strategies to employ to get ready, how to prepare socially and financially, and how to apply for and make choices about college. (p. 89)

In reference to how social and cultural capital might influence college-readiness, Perna (2006) indicated that knowledge and information about college and family support were significant student-level predictors of college enrollment. Based on this information, the theories of culture and social capital provide potential lenses for examining differences in college-readiness between high school seniors who are enrolled in regular education classes and students designated at-risk, such as those receiving special education services or classified as ELLs (or LEPs in many U.S. states).

Review of Relevant Literature

Secondary English Language Learners

Researchers have indicated that high school ELLs do not perform as well as do other student groups with respect to high school completion rates, participation in advanced classes, and postsecondary enrollment and retention (Meltzer & Hamann, 2005). Lack of social and cultural capital among immigrant students in U.S. high schools has been cited as one explanation for poor postsecondary performance (Cabrera et al., 2006; Contreras, 2005). Additionally, researchers have discovered other potential, yet related, factors that influence the college-readiness of ELLs. These factors include: (a) the number of years it actually takes to acquire academic proficiency in a second language (Collier & Thomas, 1989; Hakuta et al., 2000); (b) the lack of secondary teacher preparation in second language teaching strategies, particularly in sheltered instruction (Flynn & Miller, 2008; Hill & Flynn, 2006; Lucas, 2000; Short, 2000); and (c) the cultural and linguistic bias on standardized tests (Abedi, 2006; Duran, 2008; Vasquez-Heilig & Darling-Hammond, 2008).

Second language acquisition. A key consideration in examining students who are ELL and college-readiness relates to the second language acquisition process, particularly for high school students who are ELL. Although nearly one half of all U.S. students who are ELL are secondary-level students, researchers have reported that secondary students face greater challenges when compared to elementary students who are ELL (Lucas, 2000). In particular, Lucas suggested that high school students who are ELL face greater cognitive and linguistic demands than do elementary students who are ELL and have far less time to catch up to English dominant peers than do students who are ELL who started at the elementary level. Furthermore, secondary students who are ELL must comprehend more advanced level content and demonstrate this high-level comprehension on tests that demand advanced English language skills (Lucas, 2000).

More than 2 decades of research on academic second language acquisition has provided evidence that 4 to 7 years of sustained school support are needed for students to develop academic English language proficiency (Collier & Thomas, 1989; Cummins, 2000; Krashen, 1982; McLaughlin, 1987; Saville-Troike, 1984). Oral proficiency for social communication (e.g., everyday language) precedes full academic English language acquisition (i.e., academic writing, high level reading comprehension, presentation skills, native-like discourse abilities) at the level required in secondary schools by as many as 3 to 5 years (Hakuta et al., 2000). For secondary students who came to the U.S. school system with little formal schooling or native language literacy, academic English development may take even longer to acquire (Collier & Thomas, 1989).

Despite extensive psycholinguistic research confirming the need for 3 to 5 years of second language immersion and direct instruction to acquire academic proficiency in a second language, Reeves (2006) reported that most high school teachers believed immigrant students should be able to acquire academic English within 2 years. This misconception may reflect teachers’ confusion about the difference between conversational fluency, known as basic interpersonal communication skills (BICS), and cognitive academic language acquisition (CALPS) (Cummins, 2000). This misconception also may reflect the fact that few teachers in the United States have acquired academic language proficiency themselves and have little knowledge of or empathy for the cognitive challenges involved (Hakuta et al., 2000). Lack of knowledge about the second language acquisition process on the part of secondary teachers may influence teacher expectations for students who are ELL and limit teacher use of researched strategies that support the academic and linguistic achievement of students who are ELL (Reeves, 2006).

Secondary teacher qualifications. Another issue relevant to college-readiness and the notion of social and cultural capital of students who are ELL relates to secondary teacher training and qualifications (Flynn & Miller, 2008; Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007). Some researchers have asserted that only 2.5% of mainstream teachers of students who are ELL across the United States had received special training in strategies for teaching second language learners (Ruiz-de-Velasco, Fix, & Clewell, 2000). This lack of specialized training was also reported in a 2003-2004 Schools and Staffing Survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Education (2006). Survey results were that of the 44% of mainstream secondary teachers who reported teaching students who are ELL, less than 14% of the teachers had received 8 or more hours of training in second language teaching strategies or sheltered content instruction. Sheltered content instruction essentially aims to address students’ linguistic and academic content needs by providing rich contexts and effective strategies (e.g., visuals, cooperative groups) that simultaneously facilitate both content learning and academic language development (Echevarria et al., 2004).

Although researchers have stressed the value of sheltered instruction at the high school level, few states require mainstream content teachers to have this training (Echevarria et al., 2004). Unlike states such as California that require a minimum of 12 hours of coursework in language acquisition theory and sheltered instruction for all content area teachers (California Department of Education, 2008), Texas requires no pre-service or in-service professional development and training in second language teaching and learning strategies. In the state of Texas, secondary teachers may become certified to teach English as a second language (ESL) by simply passing a test (State Board for Educator Certification, n.d.). Many certified secondary teachers in Texas may not have the skills or knowledge of research-based strategies found to support academic English language acquisition and academic achievement of secondary students who are ELL (Echevarria, Short, & Powers, 2006; Short & Fitzsimmons, 2007), and, therefore, would be unlikely to enhance the college-readiness of students who are ELL. Therefore, high school students who are ELL in Texas may not be receiving sufficient classroom support to develop the sophisticated academic English language levels required to perform well on college-readiness tests.

Nature of secondary schools. The nature of U.S. secondary schools and the lack of support for students in special programs have been criticized in the academic literature on students who are ELL and achievement (Ruiz-de-Velasco et al., 2000), as well as in the literature on students with special education needs and academic achievement (Field & Hoffman, 2002; Wille-Gregory, Graham, & Hughes, 1995). At the same time, adolescent students who are ELL often find few support programs available at the secondary level because the availability of bilingual and ESL programs tends to decrease as students approach high school (Ruiz-de-Velasco et al., 2000). In addition to this decreasing level of support for students who are ELL, Ruiz-de-Velasco et al. also suggested that the mere organization of secondary schools can be a barrier for students who are ELL because the division of subjects by departments discourages integration of language and content learning.

In investigating the achievement of long-term students who are ELL (i.e., students classified as ELL for more than 5 years) in California high schools, Callahan (2005) commented that low academic tracking occurred with these students, who consistently showed poor achievement scores. Low academic tracking of students is typically associated with a less demanding classroom discourse, language, and critical thinking (Raudenbush, Rowan, & Cheong, 1993). Contreras (2005) also stressed the importance of understanding how inaccessibility to coursework plays out in high school student achievement and standardized examinations, because college-readiness often is assumed to be cultivated through access to rigorous coursework. Consequently, high school tracking practices of students who are ELL may deserve further exploration.

Biased assessments. Also relevant to the college-readiness of students who are ELL is the literature on students who are ELL and the standardized assessments that are often used in determining college-readiness. Research on large-scale assessments and students who are ELL has revealed numerous concerns with score validity and score reliability related to linguistic and cultural bias in standardized tests (Abedi, 2006; Duran, 2008). Based on extensive research on the impact of language factors on assessment reliability, Abedi (2006) suggested that test items had, “unnecessary linguistic complexity” (p. 2290) that increased the unreliability of test scores. This linguistic complexity and unfamiliarity with culture-specific test items likely would impact the performance of students who are ELLs on standardized tests used to determine college-readiness.

Students in Special Education

Although federal legislation has increased the participation of students with disabilities in higher education, researchers have confirmed that students enrolled in special education continue to be less likely to obtain a college degree than are students without disabilities (Tincani, 2004). Extensive database searches revealed that academic literature specifically examining the college-readiness of students with physical and learning disabilities was very limited. However, a few relevant themes emerged in a review of the extant literature on students with special needs and post-secondary education. These themes could be described in terms of (a) instructional modifications, (b) self-determination, and (c) transition programs from high school to postsecondary education.

Instructional modifications. A review of U.S. policies governing the education of students with disabilities revealed considerable differences between K-12 requirements, which are mandated by the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB, 2001), and higher education, which is regulated by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA, 1991). These differences might affect the college-readiness of students enrolled in special education as they relate to the degree of instructional modifications required to support students academically. Essentially, the ADA has more to do with accessibility at the secondary level than required accommodations. Therefore, the transition from high school to secondary education for a student with special needs who has experienced considerable mandated accommodations and mandated modifications might be particularly difficult. Tincani (2004) was able to offer 10 instructional strategies that may assist students with disabilities with post-secondary studies. These strategies included the provision of the following: an accessible syllabus, study objectives, study guides, frequent tests, remedial activities, guided notes, response cards, peer tutoring, fluency building, and feedback.

Self-determination. Also relevant to college-readiness, some researchers have discovered significant relationships between self-determination levels of students with disabilities and their grade point averages (Sarver, 2000) and have attributed self-determination to students’ academic success in postsecondary programs (Field, Sarver, & Shaw, 2003). Scholars in special education have defined self-determination as a combination of skills, knowledge, and beliefs that allow one to identify and achieve goals based on knowing and valuing oneself (Field & Hoffman, 2002; Field, Martin, Miller, Ward, & Wehmeyer, 1998). As such, self-determination has been documented to play a central role in the service delivery of persons with disabilities across their life spans from pre-Kindergarten to adult settings.

Transition programs. Another theme in the literature related to special education and college-readiness was the importance of having high school transition programs in place to prepare individuals with disabilities for college (Dolyniuk, Kamens, Corman, DiNardo, Totaro, & Rockoff, 2002). Transition programs typically begin in K-12 settings and provide opportunities for students with disabilities and their parents to define their plans for students’ post secondary options. Transition planning normally is ongoing, initiated by the school counselor, and involves preparing students to have realistic expectations about the college setting (Hildreth & Dixon, 1994). Transition programs would appear to build the social and cultural capital of students enrolled in special education and their parents by providing valuable information, enhancing network building, and stimulating student self-reflection about future plans.

Nature of secondary schools. Secondary school challenges also have been documented to influence the achievement of students enrolled in special education (Skiba et al., 2008). These challenges related to the realities of secondary education for students with special needs have included: (a) less teacher contact time, (b) more independent study, (c) adjustment to new social expectations and different personal supports, and (d) pressures of high-stakes testing coupled with increasingly minimal actual classroom modifications when compared with modifications made for students with special needs at the elementary level. Overall, classroom modifications decrease as students move to higher grade levels.

Although many factors may influence the college-readiness of students who are ELL and students in special education, few researchers specifically have explored how these learners are performing on the newly developed and state-legislated college-readiness indicators. In general, reviews of the scholarly literature reveal limited empirical work examining college-readiness, and, specifically, the college-readiness of students who are ELL and students enrolled in special education. Yet, with a greater legislative focus on college-readiness in Texas high schools, a clear need exists to examine further the college-readiness of students classified as ELL and students receiving special education services, as well as to identify school-based strategies to provide better support for these students.

Relationship Between ELL and Special Education

At this stage, readers may be interested in the reasons we have focused on data from students with ELL and students with special education. One reason reflects the fact that school districts have overenrolled students with ELL in special education (Minow, 2001). Minow (2001) commented that “Inappropriate referral to special education can be stigmatizing and costly, inhibiting LEP students from achieving their full academic potential and diverting special education resources from students with actual disabilities and needs” (¶ 2). As far back as 1988, Cloud noted that students with ELL required “tailored educational services that account for their second language status. It is, therefore, reasonable to posit that exceptional LEP students require highly specialized programs formulated on a well-articulated, integrated knowledge base from special education and bilingual/ESL education” (¶ 1). Arguments have been made for enrolling students with ELL in special education, such as that made by Cloud (1988), as well as not enrolling students with ELL in special education (Minow, 2001).

Though certainly some of the students enrolled in special education in Texas are undoubtedly students with ELL, many of them are not students with ELL. Thus, the extent to which students enrolled in special education exhibit college-ready status compared to the extent to which students with ELL demonstrate college-ready status is needed. Both groups of students are regarded as requiring services other than those services provided in the mainstream classroom.

Method

Sample

Data from all public school high school campuses in Texas for the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years were utilized in this study. The aforementioned research questions were examined separately for each group of students in this study. The state of Texas through the TEA collects educational data from all public school campuses and public school districts annually and provides these data in aggregated form. These data are available and downloadable at the AEIS through the TEA website (TEA, 2009c).

Procedures

Data were downloaded from the TEA’s AEIS website. The AEIS website provides a link to each year of available data. By accessing the link to each year, data files for school campus and student achievement were located. Then, specific variables of interest were identified (e.g., college-readiness graduate rate variables, school campus level, school identifier) from the AEIS website. Because the data are organized on the AEIS website as separate data files, the variables of interest were selected from three separate AEIS data files and saved as Data (*.dat) files.Then, the data files were merged, using the school campus identifier as the linking variable, into a Statistical Package for the Social Sciences-Version 15 database and analyzed. Prior to statistical analysis, all schools not identified as high schools were eliminated from the database. Then, of the remaining schools, all charter and alternative high schools were removed from the database.

Results

Descriptive statistics were calculated so that the research questions could be addressed. Regarding the college-ready graduate rates of all students in reading in the 2006-2007 school year, Table 2 indicates that of the 1,188 high school campuses from which data were available, 43.34% of high school seniors were college-ready graduates in reading. A higher percentage, 46.31%, was present for the college-ready graduate variable of math. For each individual subject area, less than one half of the state’s graduating seniors for the 2006-2007 school year were deemed to be college-ready. When the percentage of college-ready graduates in both subject areas was examined, this percentage was 29.55% of all students. Thus, less than one third of Texas graduating seniors in the 2006-2007 school year were determined to be college-ready in both reading and math.

Table 2: Descriptive Statistics for College-Ready Graduate Rates for Students in Texas for the 2006-2007 School Year
College-Ready Graduates n M SD
Reading      
Limited English Proficient 237 4.44 9.97
Special Education 538 12.14 12.84
All Students 1188 43.34 17.29
Math      
Limited English Proficient (ELL) 239 17.04 16.32
Special Education 526 14.32 13.76
All Students 1188 46.31 16.87
Both Subjects      
Limited English Proficient (ELL) 232 2.55 7.12
Special Education 483 5.80 9.03
All Students 1186 29.55 15.91

For the 2007-2008 school year, Table 3 reflects, out of 1,208 high schools, that 43.23% of the high school seniors were college-ready graduates in reading; 50.33% were college-ready graduates in math; and 31.03% were deemed to be college-ready in both subject areas. With the exception of reading, the percentages of students deemed college-ready were slightly higher in the 2007-2008 school year than in the 2006-2007 school year.

Table 3: Descriptive Statistics for College-Ready Graduate Rates for Students in Texas for the 2007-2008 School Year
College-Ready Graduates n M SD
Reading      
Limited English Proficient (ELLs) 213 3.64 8.57
Special Education 519 12.55 13.93
All Students 1211 43.23 17.46
Math      
Limited English Proficient (ELLs) 218 23.46 17.38
Special Education 482 13.76 13.79
All Students 1210 50.33 16.74
Both Subjects      
Limited English Proficient (ELLs) 209 2.44 6.46
Special Education 456 5.80 9.22
All Students 1208 31.03 16.21

To ascertain whether the percentages of students who were college-ready in reading differed across these 2 school years, we conducted paired samples t-tests. After checking the normality of the data, all variables were judged to have data that were substantially non-normal (i.e., all standardized skewness and standardized kurtosis coefficients were either below -3 or above +3). Because these values reflected non-normally distributed data, nonparametric procedures, instead of the more traditional parametric ones, were utilized (Onwuegbuzie & Daniel, 2002). Specifically, we utilized a Wilcoxon Signed Ranks Test. For the college-ready rates in reading, the very slight difference in percentages was not statistically significant, Z = -0.49, p = .625. To determine whether the percentages of students who were college-ready in math differed across these 2 school years, we conducted another nonparametric dependent samples t-test, which revealed that this percentage difference was statistically significant, Z = -13.22, p < .001, with an effect size of .36 or medium (Cohen, 1988). An increase of more than 4% in college-readiness in math was observed in the 2007-2008 school year from the previous year. Finally, to ascertain whether the percentages of students who were college-ready in both subject areas differed across these 2 school years, we conducted a third nonparametric dependent samples t-test, which revealed that this percentage difference was statistically significant, Z = -5.33, p < .001, with an effect size of .13 or small (Cohen, 1988). An increase of slightly more than 1% in college-readiness in both subject areas was observed in the 2007-2008 school year from the previous year.

For the second research question in which the college-ready graduate rates of students who were LEP were of interest, Table 2 shows that data were available for a substantially fewer number of high school campuses, only 239 high schools. The reason for this difference in the sample size reflects the fact that not all high school campuses have a sufficient number of students identified as being ELL for scores to be reported. That is, the TEA through the AEIS does not report aggregated data when the number of students per campus is less than 15. Therefore, for the 2006-2007 school year, only 237 traditional public high schools in Texas had a sufficient number of students who are ELL for data to be reported on the AEIS. For the 2007-2008 school year, the sample size was slightly smaller, 218.

Regarding the 2006-2007 school year, a very small percentage, 4.44% of high school seniors who were ELL, were college-ready graduates in reading. A much higher percentage, 17.04%, of students who were ELL were college-ready in math. For each individual subject area, less than one fifth of the state of Texas’ graduating seniors who were ELL for the 2006-2007 school year were deemed to be college-ready. When the percentage of college-ready graduates in both subject areas was examined, this percentage was 2.55% of students who were ELL. Thus, a miniscule proportion of Texas graduating students who were ELL in the 2006-2007 school year was determined to be college-ready in both reading and math.

For the 2007-2008 school year, the percentages were similar in that 3.64% of high school seniors who were ELL were college-ready graduates in reading. For each individual subject area, less than one fourth of the state of Texas’ graduating seniors who were LEP for the 2007-2008 school year were deemed to be college-ready. When the percentage of college-ready graduates in both subject areas was examined, this percentage was 2.44% of students who were ELL. Thus, similar to the previous year, a miniscule proportion of Texas graduating students who were ELL in the 2007-2008 school year was determined to be college-ready in both reading and math.

Three nonparametric dependent samples t-tests were conducted to determine whether the percentages of students who were ELL who were college-ready in reading, math, and in both subject areas differed across these 2 school years. For reading, the difference in percentages was not statistically significant, Z = -0.93, p = .355. Concerning math for students who were ELL, this percentage difference was statistically significant, Z = -3.33, p = .001, with an effect size of .36 or medium (Cohen, 1988). An increase of more than 4% in college-readiness in math was observed in the 2007-2008 school year from the previous year. Regarding the percentages of students who were ELL who were college-ready in both subject areas, the analysis revealed that this percentage difference was not statistically significant, Z = 0.02, p = .981. The percentages of ELL who were determined to be college-ready in both subject areas remained unchanged over this 2-year time period.

In the third descriptive research question, interest was placed in the college-ready graduate rates of students enrolled in special education. Depicted in Table 2 for the 2006-2007 school year are the number of high school campuses from which data were available, 538, and the percentage of college-ready graduates. A small percentage, 12.14%, of students in special education was reported to be college-ready in reading. A similar percentage, 14.32%, of students who were enrolled in special education was college-ready in math. For each individual subject area, fewer than one fifth of the graduating students in special education for the 2006-2007 school year were deemed to be college-ready. When the percentage of special education college-ready graduates in both subject areas was examined, this percentage was a meager 5.80%. Thus, an extremely small percentage of Texas graduating students enrolled in special education in the 2006-2007 school year were determined to be college-ready in both reading and math.

Concerning the 2007-2008 school year, out of 519 high schools from which data were available, the percentages were similar (see Table 3). Percentages of students enrolled in special education who were determined to be college-ready in reading were 12.55%, in math 13.76%, and in both subject areas 5.80%. These percentages of college-ready students were very similar to the previous year. Three nonparametric dependent samples t-tests revealed that these differences were not statistically significant: Reading (Z = -0.52, p = .604); Math (Z = 1.11, p = .268); and both subject areas (Z = 0.52, p = .601). Thus, no changes were observed in the performance of students who were enrolled in special education in their college-readiness scores across these 2 years.

Next, our interest was in addressing whether the college-ready rates in reading, math, and in both subject areas differed among these three groups of students (i.e., students who were ELL, students who were enrolled in special education, and graduating seniors). Because more than two groups were present, the Friedman’s related samples test, a nonparametric analysis, was used. Readers should note that the numbers of high school campuses in this analysis are substantially lower than are the numbers of high schools for each of the three groups of students discussed thus far. The reason for this difference is that high school campuses that do not have a minimum number of students in subgroups such as LEP and students in special education do not report scores in those categories. Thus, high school campuses might have data on one subgroup, on two subgroups, or on all three subgroups. For the statistical analyses in which the Friedman related samples test was utilized, only high schools in which all three sets of scores were present were included in the analysis.

In the initial Friedman test for the 2006-2007 school year, the percentage of college-ready graduates in reading was compared among students who were ELL, students in special education, and graduating seniors. This analysis yielded a statistically significant result (Χ2[2]= 339.15, p < .001, n = 206). The students who were ELL had a statistically significantly lower percentage of college-ready graduates in reading than did the students who were enrolled in special education and all high school students. Similarly, students who were enrolled in special education had a statistically significantly lower percentage of college-ready graduates in reading than did high school students. The effect size, as measured by Cramer’s V, for this difference was .91, a large effect size (Cohen, 1988).

In the second Friedman test for the 2006-2007 school year, the percentage of college-ready graduates in math was compared among students who were ELL, students in special education, and all high school students. This analysis yielded a statistically significant result (Χ2[2]= 296.06, p < .001, n = 211). On this measure, students who were enrolled in special education had the lowest percentage of college-ready students, followed by students who were ELL, with the highest performance obtained by high school students. The effect size, as measured by Cramer’s V, for this difference was large, .84 (Cohen, 1988).

In the third and final Friedman test for the 2006-2007 school year, the percentage of college-ready graduates in both subjects was compared among students who were LEP, students in special education, and all high school students. This analysis yielded a statistically significant result, Χ2[2]= 319.52, p < .001, n = 195. Students in special education had more than two times the percentage of college-ready graduates in both subjects as did students who were ELL. The percentage of students in Texas determined to be college-ready in both subject areas was more than 10 times higher than was the percentage of students who were ELL who were college-ready in both subject areas and more than 5 times higher than the percent of students enrolled in special education who were college-ready in both subject areas. Cramer’s V effect size for this difference was .90, representing a large effect size (Cohen, 1988).

In the initial Friedman test for the 2007-2008 school year, the percentage of college-ready graduates in reading was compared among students who were ELL, students in special education, and graduating seniors. This analysis yielded a statistically significant result (Χ2[2]= 305.91, p < .001, n = 180). More than twice the percentage of students enrolled in special education were college-ready in reading than were students who were ELL, and more than 10 times as many high school graduating seniors were college-ready in reading than were students who were ELL. Similarly, students enrolled in special education had a statistically significantly lower percentage of college-ready graduates in reading than did high school students. The effect size, as measured by Cramer’s V, for this difference was .92, representing a large effect size (Cohen, 1988).

In the second Friedman test for the 2007-2008 school year, the percentage of college-ready graduates in math was compared among students who were ELL, students in special education, and all high school students. This analysis yielded a statistically significant result (Χ2[2]= 278.64, p < .001, n = 179). On this measure, students enrolled in special education had the lowest percentage of college-ready students, approximately one half of the percentage of college-ready students who were ELL in math. The effect size, as measured by Cramer’s V, for this difference was large, .88 (Cohen, 1988).

In the third and final Friedman test for the 2007-2008 school year, the percentage of college-ready graduates in both subjects was compared among students who were LEP, students in special education, and all high school students. This analysis yielded a statistically significant result, Χ2[2]= 275.26, p < .001, n = 164. Students in special education had almost two times the percentage of college-ready graduates in both subjects as did students who were ELL. The percentage of students in Texas determined to be college-ready in both subject areas was more than 15 times higher than the percent of students who were ELL who were college-ready in both subject areas and more than 6 times higher than the percentage of students enrolled in special education who were college-ready in both subject areas. Cramer’s V effect size for this difference was .92, a large effect size (Cohen, 1988).

Discussion

Findings from this study revealed substantial gaps between the college-readiness of students who were identified as English language learners-ELL (LEP in Texas) or were enrolled in special education programs and graduating seniors in Texas who were not enrolled in one of these special service categories. Overall, our findings were that these students scored statistically significantly lower on the Texas college-readiness indicator than did students not classified in these categories, during the 2006-2007 and 2007-2008 school years.

In particular, students who were ELL scored statistically significantly lower than did students enrolled in special education and other graduating seniors. Texas students who were ELL only performed better than did students enrolled in special education on the math indicator. Although this study is limited to a statistical analysis of differences in college-readiness, previous researchers have offered various reasons for such performance differences for students who are ELL. Reasons for this finding may include the fact that the numerical aspects of mathematical equations have been documented to require less English reading skills than mathematical word problems, increasing the likelihood of correct responses on purely numerical math problems (Abedi, 2006). As suggested by Echevarria et al. (2004), secondary teacher training in sheltered instructional strategies for math learners who are ELLs might enhance students’ abilities to combine second language comprehension and numerical abilities.

Other researchers (e.g., Harry & Klingner, 2006) have identified often-overlooked socio-cultural factors that have been found to play a role in the college-readiness of students who are in special programs. The findings from the present study reflect a need for future researchers to examine these socio-cultural factors as they might relate to college-readiness of students who are ELL and of students enrolled in special education. Contreras (2005) discussed potential socio-cultural factors by describing how gaps in social and cultural capital contribute to the lack of college-readiness of college-bound students who are ELL. These gaps were: (a) disparate income, (b) parent education levels, (c) access to Advanced Placement courses, and (d) performance on standardized tests. With students who are ELL, these gaps were further exacerbated by linguistic barriers that prohibited students and their parents from accessing information in English on college fairs, test preparedness courses, and general college information.

In reference to the college-readiness of students with disabilities, Defur (2002) discussed the importance of social capital by stressing that educational institutions should, “assume policies and practices that maximize student achievement rather than adopting access to a free, appropriate education as the only benchmark of inclusive practice” (p. 210). Defur also emphasized that high academic standards have to apply to a range of quality-of-life outcomes for students with disabilities and that these outcomes go beyond test scores or grades also to include study skills, resourcefulness, and self-determination.

Suggestions for Secondary School Leaders

Overall, the results from this study indicate a need for secondary school leaders to address proactively the college-readiness of students who are ELL and students with special needs. Based on the previous literature, school leaders might consider some of the following strategies: (a) seek ways to enhance the social and cultural capital among students who are ELL and students enrolled in special education, such as through school and university outreach programs for students and parents that aim to raise awareness about what is involved in going to college (Cabrera et al., 2006; Hong & Youngs, 2008); (b) provide additional student opportunities to practice test-taking strategies and study skills (Skiba et al., 2008); and (c) require teacher professional development and accreditation in sheltered ESL instruction for students who are ELL and differentiated instruction and determination-building for students with special needs (Echevarria et al., 2004; Field & Hoffman, 2002; Field et al., 2003; Flynn & Miller, 2008).

Building social and cultural capital. Some researchers have suggested that a student’s decision to go to college is a complex process that begins in approximately the seventh grade or earlier (Cabrera et al., 2006). Related to the role of social and cultural capital in college-readiness, researchers have implied that college awareness is more likely to occur when parents, teachers, principals, friends, and the community consciously work together with students (Kirst & Venezia, 2004). In particular to students who are ELL, parents of these students are typically U.S. immigrants who may be unaware of how to obtain the necessary information and resources about college or how to prepare their children for college. This lack of immigrant parent awareness may arise from unfamiliarity with the U.S. high school and college system, limited English fluency, or little contact with people whose children attend or attended U.S. colleges.

Before students even enter high school, school leaders should be aware of the importance of offering parent education and orientation programs for families through local schools and community organizations. By proactively orienting students and parents to college expectations and the college experience, schools might facilitate access to key information, raise parent and student expectations, and facilitate the development of study behaviors that might potentially influence college-readiness.

Recognition of Limitations to State Indicators for College-Readiness

In a recent review of the research on assessment of ELLs, Duran (2008) stressed the importance of examining the diversity present in the background characteristics of students typically defined as students who are ELL because consistency and agreement are limited regarding persons who are classified as English proficient across states. That is, all students who are ELL do not come from the same backgrounds and do not necessarily have the same learning experiences. Duran highlighted the need for more research comparing backgrounds and previous achievement records of students who are ELL who pass or fail their state’s high school examination.

Similarly, there are also many different types of disabilities according to the U.S. Department of Education (2009), who has identified a minimum of 12 categories of disabilities. In the state of Texas, students enrolled in special education may range from those individuals who receive an hour of speech therapy to students with mild learning disabilities and who are fully included in the general education classroom, to students with severe cognitive and physical disabilities who spend the entire school day in restricted classroom environments (TEA, 2009d). Inconsistencies in definitions and indicators become problematic in accurately determining college-readiness of students representing special groups and at-risk populations. Therefore, caution must be exercised in generalizing student performance of subgroups using accountability systems such as Texas’ AEIS.

A review of related literature on the college-readiness of students in special programs, along with the findings from this study, suggest a need for Texas policymakers and school leaders to examine more closely the validity of state-identified indicators of college-readiness in determining the college-readiness of students who are ELL and students enrolled in special education. In a report for the School Redesign Network, Darling-Hammond, Rustique-Forrester, and Pecheone (2005) recommended that states consider multiple measures in determining high school graduation status. Though some states might also consider multiple measures to assess the college-readiness of students in special programs, Contreras (2005) claimed that traditionally used exams are unlikely to change:

Despite the ongoing criticism of the predictive strength of the SAT, AP enrollment, and AP exam performance on college success, the proliferation of these exams and preparation efforts suggest that key stakeholders (e.g., students, parents, teachers, administrators, college admissions counselors) continue to reaffirm their highly relevant role in securing college success. (p. 198)

Conclusion

School leaders and policymakers must be aware of the numerous factors influencing the college-readiness of students with special learning needs and identify creative and successful support strategies at the secondary level. In particular, research indicates that enhancing the social and cultural capital of students who are ELL and students enrolled in special education through school programs might enhance the college-readiness of these students. As stated previously, people in the United States must be educationally prepared to be able to compete in the global economy. With more than one half of all new jobs through 2014 anticipated to require some college experience (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2005), as a nation, U.S. high school graduates must be college-ready.

With increasing numbers of students labeled as ELL in states such as Texas and California, educational leaders must much more effectively prepare these students for postsecondary education. Our results should serve as an alarm that we are currently failing at this task. With less than 3% of our students who were ELL having college-ready skills, a disservice has occurred to them and to our society, as a whole. These students are poorly equipped for postsecondary education. As such, these students do not enhance our nation’s ability to function in the global economy.

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Any individual member, a community, or a respected organization.

What are tags? tag icon

Tags are descriptors added by lens makers to help label content, attaching a vocabulary that is meaningful in the context of the lens.

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Reuse / Edit:

Reuse or edit module (?)

Check out and edit

If you have permission to edit this content, using the "Reuse / Edit" action will allow you to check the content out into your Personal Workspace or a shared Workgroup and then make your edits.

Derive a copy

If you don't have permission to edit the content, you can still use "Reuse / Edit" to adapt the content by creating a derived copy of it and then editing and publishing the copy.