English Learners (ELs) are students from diverse cultural backgrounds that have varying academic, language, and social-emotional needs. As most EL students are learning English, most of them have developed basic communication skills in English. However, they still struggle with academic language and tougher academic subjects. There are almost 5 million EL students in the U.S. public school system. This number represents 9.5% of students enrolled in U.S. public schools. Following are some facts about English Learners in our schools.
Native and Home Languages
Spanish is the most common native and home language for EL students. However, this isn’t so in every state. The U.S. Department of Education states that roughly 77% of EL students in U.S. public schools said that they spoke Spanish as their primary language at home. The remaining EL students reported to speak a variety of languages, which include Chinese, Arabic, and Vietnamese.
Grade Level and Age
A large majority of EL students are in elementary school. Two-thirds or 67% of ELs were in grades K-5, while one-third or 33% of ELs were in grades 6-12 during the 2015 school year. There are significantly higher percentages of younger EL students than those in upper grades, as students gain proficient English language ability as they go through the U.S. school system.
Highest Percentage of ELs
California has the highest percentage of EL students in the entire U.S. school system. California has over 1.3 million EL students, making up 21% of the state’s total of public school students. ELs account for 10% of the student population in seven other states including Nevada, Texas, Kansas, and Alaska.
U.S. Born ELs
According to the Census Bureau’s 2016 American Community Survey, most ELs in the U.S. public school system are U.S. citizens. Seventy-two percent of public school students between the ages of 5 and 17, who were born in the U.S., admit to not speaking English well. Only 28% of foreign-born students admit to not speaking English well.