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Social Challenges And Benefits
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Social challenges and benefits
ESL students often suffer from the effects of tracking and ability grouping. Students are often placed into low ability groups based on scores on standardized tests in English and Math. There is also low mobility among these students from low to high performing groups, which can prevent them from achieving the same academic progress as native speakers. Similar tests are also used to place ESL students in college level courses. Students have voiced frustration that only non-native students have to prove their language skills, when being a native speaker in no way guarantees college level academic literacy. Studies have shown that these tests can cause different passing rates among linguistic groups regardless of high school preparation.
Dropout rates for ESL students in multiple countries are much higher than dropout rates for native speakers. The National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) in the United States reported that the percentage of dropouts in the non-native born Hispanic youth population between the ages of 16 and 24 years old is 43.4%. A study in Canada found that the high school dropout rate for all ESL students was 74%. High dropout rates are thought to be due to difficulties ESL students have in keeping up in mainstream classes, the increasing number of ESL students who enter middle or high school with interrupted prior formal education, and accountability systems. The accountability system in the US is due to the No Child Left Behind Act. Schools that risk losing funding, closing, or having their principals fired if test scores are not high enough begin to view students that do not perform well on standardized tests as liabilities. Because dropouts actually increase a school's performance, critics claim that administrators let poor performing students slip through the cracks. A study of Texas schools operating under No Child Left Behind found that 80% of ESL students did not graduate from high school in five years.
Access to higher education
ESL students face several barriers to higher education. Most colleges and universities require four years of English in high school. In addition, most colleges and universities only accept one year of ESL English. It is difficult for ESL students that arrive in the United States relatively late to finish this requirement because they must spend a longer time in ESL English classes in high school, or they might not arrive early enough to complete four years of English in high school. This results in many ESL students not having the correct credits to apply for college, or enrolling in summer school to finish the required courses.
ESL students can also face additional financial barriers to higher education because of their language skills. Those that don't place high enough on college placement exams often have to enroll in ESL courses at their universities. These courses can cost up to $1,000 extra, and can be offered without credit towards graduation. This adds additional financial stress on ESL students that often come from families of lower socioeconomic status. The latest statistics show that the median household income for school-age ESL students is $36,691 while that of non-ESL students is $60,280. College tuition has risen sharply in the last decade, while family income has fallen. In addition, while many ESL students receive a Pell Grant, the maximum grant for the year 2011–2012 covered only about a third of the cost of college.
Interaction with native speakers
ESL students often have difficulty interacting with native speakers in school. Some ESL students avoid interactions with native speakers because of their frustration or embarrassment at their poor English. Immigrant students often also lack knowledge of popular culture, which limits their conversations with native speakers to academic topics. In classroom group activities with native speakers, ESL students often do not participate, again because of embarrassment about their English, but also because of cultural differences: their native cultures may value silence and individual work at school in preference to social interaction and talking in class. These interactions have been found to extend to teacher–student interactions as well. In most mainstream classrooms, teacher-led discussion is the most common form of lesson. In this setting, some ESL students will fail to participate, and often have difficulty understanding teachers because they talk too fast, do not use visual aids, or use native colloquialisms. ESL students also have trouble getting involved with extracurricular activities with native speakers for similar reasons. Students fail to join extra-curricular activities because of the language barrier, cultural emphasis of academics over other activities, or failure to understand traditional pastimes in their new country.
Supporters of ESL programs claim they play an important role in the formation of peer networks and adjustment to school and society in their new homes. Having class among other students learning English as a second language relieves the pressure of making mistakes when speaking in class or to peers. ESL programs also allow students to be among others who appreciate their native language and culture, the expression of which is often not supported or encouraged in mainstream settings. ESL programs also allow students to meet and form friendships with other non-native speakers from different cultures, promoting racial tolerance and multiculturalism.
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