There is a compelling need to better understand and address the needs of English Learners in secondary schools, who represent more than one third of all English Learners enrolled in the United States.

Two thirds of all secondary English Learners are labeled as long-term English Learners even though most have attended school entirely in the United States. The impact and consequences of persistent labeling — and lack of appropriate support — is known to have negative consequences for students during schooling and beyond.

The National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners serves a dual charge to:

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Identify and describe the systemic barriers that prevent secondary English Learners from successfully accessing the general curriculum

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Develop and test innovative educative curriculum materials that enable English Learners to reach their full potential in community, college, and career

Through our work, we strive to connect research findings to policy and practice, engage in national leadership, build capacity, and promote compelling and actionable information that improves opportunities for secondary English Learners.

The time is right to redress the education of secondary English Learners. Our proposed portfolio of work seeks to create actionable understandings of educational barriers as well as processes and tools that will create equitable learning environments and quality learning.”

Aída Walqui, Director

National Research & Development Center to Improve Education for Secondary English Learners


According to current research, secondary English Learners face two particular challenges as they simultaneously develop English proficiency and subject-matter knowledge:

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Barriers to enrollment in challenging courses

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Scarcity of quality learning opportunities

English Learners at the secondary level are consistently under-enrolled in mathematics courses. English Learners in the middle grades are also placed in courses based exclusively upon their English language proficiency, leading to placement in lower-level courses or exclusion from grade-level English Language Arts (ELA) courses.


Studies also find that middle school students are routinely underserved due to lack of access to intellectually rigorous instruction and diminished opportunities for engaging in subject-matter focused interactions with peers.

Persistent Differences in Academic Achievement Outcomes Among
English Learners and Non-English Learners

On the 2019 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), 8th grade English Learners were less likely to be Proficient or above compared to their non-English Learner peers by 30 percentage points or more.

Percentage at or above Proficient, 8th G


Four primary studies will be conducted to address systemic barriers
and a lack of access to rigorous grade-level content.
In addition, our Center will conduct supplemental studies that
respond contingently to changing needs in the field.