Long-term English language learners’ history of schooling and their perceptions of learning experience



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A large number of English language learners (ELLs) in secondary school are long-term ELLs who have attended public schools in the United States for at least seven years, having received English language support services, yet have not acquired English proficiency (Capps, Fix, Murray, Ost, Passel, & Herwantoro., 2005). Formal or informal programs and educational services to address the particular needs of long-term ELLs are scant to non-exist (Zehr, 2010). In spite of the growing presence of long-term ELLs in secondary schools, little research has been conducted about their academic challenges. Due to the scarcity of research, effective practices for long-term ELLs in secondary school are very limited (Ruix-de-Velasco & Fix, 2000). Research is needed to better understand risk factors associated with dropping out, retention, and the high incidence of disproportionate representation of long-term ELLs in special education programs. Equally absent from available literature are the voices of students themselves. This study aims to expand the existing database about long-term ELLs' academic challenges from the perspective of students themselves about their language and academic learning experiences. A qualitative, naturalistic inquiry (NI) approach was utilized to explore the perceptions of long-term ELLs about their learning experiences in the context of their school history, including program placements, special education referral, and academic outcomes. Thirteen long-term ELLs at a high school in metropolitan area of Texas were participated in this study. Data were generated from semi-structured, in-depth interviews and various documents, including students' cumulative folders, language proficiency assessment records, and the state assessment data, and analyzed using a grounded theory approach. The findings of the study indicate that participants experienced multiple layers of lack of opportunity to learn as they moved through the educational process. Participants perceived themselves as English-proficient, motivated learners who were successful in spite of challenges they had experienced, which they attributed mainly to their limited development of academic language proficiency in English. The study also revealed a gap between participants' postsecondary aspirations and the reality of their academic underachievement, which raises questions about the adequacy of general educational programs for this population and appropriate identifications of ELLs with disabilities.