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Kindergarten English Learners’ Time to Proficiency in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is often called the original American melting pot for its rich mix of languages, people, ideas and religions. The city’s immigrant population is growing steadily, and more than 20 percent of the city’s population speaks a language other than English at home.

Paralleling the demographic shifts in the city, the School District of Philadelphia also has seen an increase in its English learner (EL) population despite overall declining enrollments. In 2009-10, about one in fourteen students in the School District of Philadelphia was classified as an EL. By 2014-15, one in ten students was an EL.

While ELs enter District schools at all ages and grades, they are most likely to enroll in the early elementary years, and acquiring English proficiency early in their schooling will enable them to take full advantage of opportunities to learn academic content and skills.

This latest report from PERC provides evidence on the progress toward English proficiency of ELs who entered the School District of Philadelphia in kindergarten during 2008-09 through 2011-12. The study finds that nearly 60% of kindergarten ELs who entered the SDP during that time frame achieved English proficiency within four years (by the end of third grade), and while reading, speaking and listening comprehension improved, writing remained a particular challenge.