Transient population results in poor English performance
Glendale Star

By Jean Bihn

While a recent brief about English Language Learners by the Arizona Center for Public Policy appeared to state the obvious, a few conclusions confirm what Glendale Elementary School District officials have been saying for
years: A transient population often results in poor student performance.

GESD officials estimate about one-third of its 14,000 students are ELL students.

Assistant Superintendent Mark Joraanstad said the district has a transient rate of about 44 percent, with some schools experiencing movement of 20 students a day leaving or enrolling.

“What Does Arizona's ELL Population Look Like, and How Are They Doing” says children who are proficient in English perform better on the state-mandated AIMS assessment. The report says the reverse is also true: English Language Learners' scores are very poor - second only to special education students for the lowest scores in the state.

Brian Owin, a senior research analyst for the research institute nicknamed “thinkAZ” authored the June report.

Statistics were gathered from six Arizona school districts. Although GESD was not one of the districts used for the report, Owin said data from a nearby district with similar demographics was included.

Several points in the 11-page report spoke directly to mobility, an issue GESD officials have faced for decades.

“It seems to me it has gotten worse in the last few years,” Joraanstad said.
“Some of it is zoning issues.”

He said upward mobility is likely responsible for some movement, but huge apartment complexes have been built near some schools, substantially adding to the issue.

Among other items, the report cited the number of schools a student attends in a school year and how long they remain there as factors that affect academic performance. On the whole, Owin's study said, English proficient students are in school more than 99 percent of the school year, while their new, incoming ELL counterparts are enrolled less than 97 percent of the year.

Still, “even the least mobile ELL students perform well below their English speaking classmates,” the report said.

Owin believes addressing three key issues could make a difference for Arizona's ELL population.

With greater mobility among ELL students, school officials could look at improving peer integration or search for more effective transition programs.
He also noted new ELL students generally spend less time in school and often begin school well after their English-speaking peers. In addition to trying to effect when ELL students begin school, officials must also help students with the academics they have missed.

Joraanstad said GESD uses a program called Sheltered Instruction Observational Protocal, or SIOPs to battle the consequences of high mobility.

“All of our teachers receive extensive training in SIOPs, which are strategies for working with second language learners,” he said.

New ELL students are also treated to specialty computer programs that feature colorful, user-friendly graphics.

But with classrooms filled with students of varying abilities and languages, Joraanstad said, “It's very challenging for teachers. I think we could do better in differentiating our learning.”

Owin said it appears students who require more than three years of ELL education have an inherent difference or face different issues.

“The most clear finding in the report is that being proficient in English is definitely key to succeeding academically in an Arizona classroom,” he said.

Reach the thinkAZ policy brief by visiting and selecting the “New Releases” column on the left side of the home page.

Reach the reporter at or (623) 847-4611