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Finding Their Stride: Kindergarten English Learners’ Time to Proficiency in Philadelphia

PERC research is produced through collaboration between researchers from Research for Action and the School District of Philadelphia’s Office of Research and Evaluation. For more information, please visit

Paralleling demographic shifts in the city, the School District of Philadelphia has seen an increase in its English learner (EL) population. By 2014-15, one in ten students was classified as an EL.

While ELs enter District schools at all ages and grades, they are most likely to enroll in the early elementary years. Almost 60% of the new English Learner entrants to the School District of Philadelphia between 2009–10 and 2013–14 were in kindergarten through third grade, with 37% entering as kindergartners.

The young age of these ELs presents both a challenge and an opportunity. The challenge is to help these young Philadelphia residents make two important transitions at one time: adapting to the unfamiliar faces, routines, and expectations of schooling, while also becoming proficient in a second language. The opportunity is that these young learners can achieve English proficiency early in their school years when they are given strong instruction and support for acquiring English. Proficiency, in turn, enables them to take full advantage of opportunities to learn grade-level academic content and skills.