How teachers perceive English learners

Drawing on data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study: Kindergarten Cohort, 2010-11, researchers sought to understand how K-2 students’ classification as English learners affected teachers’ perceptions of their skills in language arts, math, science, and social studies.

Results showed that teachers had lower perceptions of the skills of multilingual students who were enrolled in English learner programs than they had for multilingual students who were not enrolled in such programs. The difference was greatest in 1st and 2nd grade, and it was not significant in kindergarten language arts or math.

If the English learners were enrolled in a bilingual class, the teachers tended to rate their skills more highly than if they were not in a bilingual class. In fact, teacher perceptions of English learners in bilingual classes tended to be not significantly different from their perceptions of multilingual students in those classes who were not classified as English learners.

The study did not examine how these perceptions might affect student outcomes; however, the researchers note that the findings suggest that there are risks in relying solely on teacher perception when making important decisions about students’ educational fates.

Source: Umansky, I. & Dumont, H. (2019). English learner labeling: How English learner status shapes teacher perceptions of student skills and the moderating influence of bilingual instructional settings (EdWorkingPaper No. 19-94).  Providence, RI: Annenberg Institute at Brown University.

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