This article was originally published in The Notebook. In August 2020, The Notebook became Chalkbeat Philadelphia.
New research is offering rare insight into how quickly Philadelphia’s immigrant students learn English, revealing hopeful signs as well as troubling trends.
The analysis, conducted by the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium, tracked English learner students who entered Philadelphia public school kindergarten in 2008 and followed them through 3rd grade.
Researchers found that almost 60 percent of those kindergartners became proficient in English during their first four years in Philadelphia schools.
"There are some things to celebrate," said co-author Ruth Curran Neild. "Students are learning English."
But there were wide, inexplicable gaps between the types of students who reached proficiency and the specific modes of language students were able to master.
For instance, 88 percent of kindergartners could read English proficiently by the end of 3rd grade, similar to the proportion who could speak and understand the language. Yet only 48 percent of that same cohort could write English proficiently.
Researchers also discovered that students whose native language was Spanish lagged far behind students with other commonly spoken languages.