By: Joshua Lin, Rosemary Hughes, Daniel Long, Dae Kim

June 2016


In Philadelphia, a growing and increasingly diverse population of English Language Learners (ELLs) is intensifying demands on the city’s public schools as they work to meet the educational needs of these students. Overall, the ELL student population grew from 11,549 students in 2009-101 to 12,129 students in 2014-15, a 5% increase. The catchment areas which saw the largest growth in ELL population were those served by West Philadelphia High School (75% increase) and Furness High School (44% increase). Four additional catchment areas saw increases in their ELL populations ranging from 25% to 37% (Overbrook, Franklin, Olney, and Gratz). As in many cities across the country, educators in Philadelphia are searching for ways to more efficiently and effectively meet the needs of ELLs and close long-standing achievement gaps2 between ELLs and their native English-speaking peers.

As a group, ELLs are diverse and come from a variety of home languages, cultures, educational backgrounds, and educational needs. This brief focuses on descriptive characteristics of the ELL students served by the School District of Philadelphia in 2014-2015. Specifically, this brief highlights the diversity of the ELL population in three key characteristics that impact schools’ resource needs and program decisions: ELL population concentration, linguistic diversity, and current English language proficiency levels.

This brief is part of a larger project focused on better understanding the characteristics and needs of ELLs in Philadelphia’s public K-12 schools as well as how schools are serving these students. Leaders in Philadelphia’s public district and charter schools commissioned the Philadelphia Education Research Consortium (PERC) to work with them on a series of studies to determine how best to meet the needs of ELLs. The information contained within this brief is based on administrative and assessment data provided by the School District of Philadelphia.

One in 10 students (12,129) in the School District of Philadelphia in 2014-15 were ELLs. All of the data contained within this brief are based on these 12,129 students. This brief provides a deeper dive into the concentration and linguistic diversity of ELLs across neighborhoods and schools, as these factors may affect schools’ staffing and resource needs. Additionally, this brief examines English language proficiency levels across grade spans and schools, focusing on high schools. English language proficiency levels are important to examine, as they are related to ELLs’ general academic performance and time to reclassification. The full report provides an overview of the ELL population enrolled in the School District of Philadelphia during the 2014-15 school year and highlight the manner in which these characteristics might inform an understanding of student needs, decisions about resource allocation, and the direction of future research.