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Urgent but Overlooked: The Literacy Crisis Among Adolescent English Language Learners

English language learners (ELLs) represent more than 10% of the national pre-K through 12th grade enrollment, and more than 70% of these ELLs fail to develop strong literacy skills. To increase this group’s educational, college, and job opportunities, policymakers must address the unique ELL literacy questions.

America’s secondary schools enroll roughly two million English language learners (ELLs), students whose proficiency in spoken and/or written English is not yet strong enough to permit them to succeed in an English-language classroom setting without extra support. These students comprise the fastest-growing segment of the middle and high school population, with enrollments soaring in almost every part of the country. However, while ELLs may be growing in numbers, in other respects they are being left behind — as a group, they are among the country’s lowest-performing students, scoring far below the national average on the reading portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. This issue brief reviews the existing research on literacy instruction for adolescent ELLs and describes a number of challenges and priorities for policymakers to consider.

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