According to Okhee Lee who works at the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development in New York, although non-native English speaking students are just as capable as their peers of learning subject matter in science, technology, engineering, mathematics fields, they face additional barriers because of a misalignment in the way K-12 schoolwork is taught.
Similarly, the STEM coursework these students are learning does not take into consideration that these students are new to the English language.
“We are holding English learners back from their ability to achieve the rigorous content standards expected of them”
“In the science classroom, English learners can communicate their ideas using any means of communication (tables, charts, diagrams, physical objects, gestures, etc.) beyond ‘language,’” said Lee.
She highlighted data released by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that showed English learners enrol and complete STEM courses at lower levels than their counterparts.
“The education system for English learners in the US is centred on what they are lacking, such as knowledge of the English language, and how STEM subjects are taught,” she explained.
“There is little focus on the assets English learners bring, such as knowledge of another language or languages, knowledge of another culture or cultures, or knowledge of STEM subjects learned in their home country.
“This pervasive deficit view in the education system is carried into negative perceptions by teachers and peers, leading to negative emotional impacts on English learners,” she added.
Lee is currently developing English language proficiency standards that are better aligned with what students are actually learning in the classroom.
Her work on the subject has been published in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association.
“In effect, we are holding English learners back from their ability to achieve the rigorous content standards expected of them to be ready for college or careers when graduating from high school,” she said.
“It is my hope that scholars from English language education and STEM subjects come to the table and agree on English language proficiency standards that will serve to uplift these children rather than hold them back.”
There are currently 4.9million English language students in the US, representing 9.6% of the country’s student population.