Tooltip TextBy: David Bamat, Sean Vannata, Lindsey Liu, Molly Schlesinger, and Alyn Turner

September 2023

Resources and Services SDP Provides to EL Students and Families

There are several supports in place to ensure equitable access to institutionalized supports and services for EL students and families. Examples of these supports and services include:

Compliance with Policy 138 for Equal Opportunity: To ensure compliant and effective programming for English Learners, SDP provides clear guidelines for implementing English language development (ELD), which includes rostering and scheduling of ELs in grade-appropriate classes. These requirements are based on PA Regulations, Chapters 4 and 11, federal laws, including the Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA), and SDP Board of Education’s Policy 138: English Language Development and Bilingual Education. Specifically, across all grades, Policy 138 states that “ELs shall be identified, assessed, and provided an equal opportunity to participate in instructional programs with equal access to educational programs and extracurricular activities.” This policy guides SDP to provide a culturally and linguistically appropriate planned instructional program for all EL students, to equitably identify and assess EL students, and to provide them opportunities to participate in instructional and extra-curricular programs. Specific guidelines can be found here.

Transition to High School: For middle school EL students who are transitioning to high schools, students and families are provided with resources to help with the school selection process and help students adjust to the high school environment. For example, for incoming 9th graders, the LeGare Consent Decree ensures equal admission for EL students (as well as students with an IEP or a 504 Plan) at Criteria-Based schools or programs at City-Wide schools.

EL Point Person: English Learner Point Persons are designated by school principals and are responsible for EL identification, data management, and compliance related to Policy 138 and other state and federal mandates. You can find the names and contact information for each schools’ EL Point Person here.

Professional Development: SDP provides professional development for English Learner Point Persons and all teachers. Professional learning opportunities are provided to all teachers via different avenues, such as Quality Teaching for English Learners, Tune-Up Tuesdays, and district-wide professional development in collaboration with other offices and Professional Learning Communities (PLCs).

Multilingual Managers: For EL students who need additional support, the Multilingual Managers help them enroll in SDP high schools with programs that replicate their previous sheltered environment at middle schools for a more gradual transition into the general learning environment in high schools. Multilingual Managers also work in collaboration with other school and central office-based staff to support the academic acceleration of English Learners (ELs) in assigned networks.

The School District of Philadelphia serves a diverse population of English Learners with different ethnic backgrounds, cultural identities, and languages spoken. SDP’s population of ELs has grown significantly, from about 12,000 in 2014-15 to nearly 20,000 in 2022-23, an increase of 66%. During this time period, between 106-118 home languages were spoken in each school year.

This community-informed study focuses on English Learners in 7th and 8th grade, grade levels that are often overlooked in research but represent a critical juncture as students prepare to transition to high school. A successful transition to high school can bolster a student’s likelihood of graduating and demonstrating readiness for college and careers.

This study shines a spotlight on 7th and 8th-grade ELs who are about to make this important transition to high school. By describing the diversity of 7th and 8th-grade English Learners’ backgrounds and experiences, this study challenges the notion that the English Learner population is a monolith. As a foundation for further research on how to meaningfully study the experiences and environments of English Learners, this study describes the diversity of home languages spoken, countries and regions of birth, and duration of EL status across the population of English Learners in the years leading up to their transition to high school.

Key Findings

  • School District of Philadelphia English Learners in 7th and 8th grade are a linguistically diverse group, reflecting broader trends in the District. In the four years from 2017-18 to 2020-21, this group was comprised of students who spoke at least 85 different home languages.
  • Though Spanish is consistently predominant, significant shifts in the prevalence of less common home languages – like Portuguese – are worth noting. Over the four years we examined in this study, the share of Portuguese-speaking 7th and 8th grade ELs more than doubled from 4.4% to 9.1% and now represents the second most common home language, following Spanish and surpassing Arabic and Chinese (Mandarin). This growth in Portuguese-speaking English Learner students likely reflects a coinciding rapid increase in families immigrating from Brazil during this same time period.
  • Though nearly half of 7th and 8th-grade ELs in our study were born in the United States, a growing share of 7th and 8th-grade ELs were born in Central America. Much of this increase can be attributed to a notable increase in ELs born in Guatemala and Honduras.
  • The share of 7th and 8th grade ELs enrolled within a school can rapidly change over a short period.
  • While 7th and 8th-grade EL enrollment modestly increased in SDP schools over the course of the four years in our study, the share of ELs identified as long-term English Learners (LTELs) remained consistent at about 40%.

Implications for Policy and Practice

  • Our findings point out that there is a growing number of ELs across the District who were born in Brazil and speak Portuguese, suggesting a need to assess the extent to which current BCAs are equipped to meet this growing group of students and families.
  • To complement existing resources and services provided by the Multilingual Family Support Office, the District has very recently proposed a significant increase to its budget devoted to staffing EL teachers and BCAs: Additional financial resources could lead to hiring more than 50 percent additional staff (SDP School Budgets, 2022-23). We recommend using the findings in this study to shape priorities in language and cultural backgrounds of to-be-hired BCAs and ESL teachers, and consider the specific needs of middle school ELs, nearly half of whom are LTELs as they prepare to transition to high school.
  • Because the number of ELs enrolled in a school can rapidly change each fall, it could be worth exploring the prospect of strategically assigning newly centrally allocated ESL teachers to schools based on beginning-of-year enrollment.