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After-School Programs Might Help English-Language Learners Improve Reading Skills

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With President Trump’s proposed federal budget calling for cuts in after-school programing, the nonprofit advocacy group Afterschool Alliance released an issue brief this month highlighting several programs they say are helping students who are learning English.

The brief, “Afterschool Providing Key Literacy Supports to English Language Learner Students,”  notes the increasing number of ELL students in America’s public schools — 4.5 million in the 2013-14 school year or 9.3 percent.

The number of ELL students has grown steadily over the past decade, according to the brief, and they speak more than 30 different languages with 3 in 4 living with families who speak Spanish. “ELL students represent at least 6 percent of the public school population in almost half of U.S. states,” according to the brief.

The achievement gap in reading scores between ELL students and non-ELL students showed up in the 2015 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), often called the nation’s report card: 68 percent of ELL fourth graders scored below basic compared to 27 percent of non-ELL students. In eighth grade it was 71 percent versus 21 percent; and in 12th grade it was 76 percent to 26 percent respectively.

Those who support the Trump budget proposal to cut afterschool programs for low-income students say there is no evidence to show these programs are working.

The Afterschool Alliance brief, however, highlights six programs throughout the country they say test data show are helping ELL students in different ways.

For example, the Mighty Writers and Raider’s ARK (Academics Reinforcing Knowledge) program in Philadelphia uses bilingual mentors. In the fall of 2015, no student in the program scored a proficient writing score, according to the brief, but by the end of the school year 62 percent were proficient.

Some programs are “incredibly flexible” while others are “culturally responsive,” said Nikki Yamashiro, director of research for the Afterschool Alliance. The other programs the brief highlights are in Colorado, North Carolina, Ohio and two in Wisconsin.

Marilyn Garateix, a freelance journalist, has been an education editor at The Boston Globe and The Tampa Bay Times. You can email her at