New WIDA report finds post-pandemic English learner proficiency scores continue to drop

Disparity between Hispanic and non-Hispanic English learners also grows

May 1, 2024   |   By WCER/WIDA Communications

WIDA Assessment Researcher Narak Sahakyan

WIDA Assessment Researcher Narak Sahakyan

A new report from WCER's WIDA, the third in an annual series, examines aggregate trends in English learner (EL) proficiency and growth since the pandemic. 

Titled "Examining English Learner Testing, Proficiency, and Growth: Continued Trends since the COVID-19 Pandemic," the report published in mid-April includes the most recent ACCESS assessment data from the 2022-2023 school year. It's also the first report in the series to disaggregate and present outcomes by English learner subgroup, drawing attention to persistent and growing disparities in the average proficiency of ELs identified as Hispanic and non-Hispanic.

The report examines English learners’ testing, proficiency, and growth during the six most recent academic years (2018-2023) to shed light on the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on English learners’ educational outcomes. 

It provides descriptive evidence on disparities in outcomes within WIDA's English learner population, with substantial average differences in outcomes between English learners identified as Hispanic compared to non-Hispanic ELs. Findings show these disparities are persistent and have been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, with Hispanic ELs reporting lower average English-language proficiency scores than their non-Hispanic peers.

An in-depth article from Education Week on April 30 examines the new assessment data from WIDA's report and features insights by report authors Glenn Alan Poole and Narek Sahakyan, a WIDA project assistant and a researcher in WIDA's assessment department, respectively. Poole also is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Educational Leadership and Policy Analysis at UW–Madison's School of Education. 

“If I was a public school or district administrator or policymaker, I would really focus my efforts in trying to see how large the disparities are, by whatever measure of socioeconomic status that the school or the district may have within the English-learner population, but also for the general student population, and try to come up with some interventions or some remedies,” Sahakyan said in the Education Week story.

Poole noted one positive in the results, as students in grades 1 and 2 were the one group seen to show more growth in learning in 2023, despite posting lower average scores in proficiency.

“That’s one indicator that educators are working to support all students, especially the ones that are coming in at lower proficiency and that’s super important,” Poole told Education Week. “Especially because while English learners are acquiring English, they’re also still expected to learn academic content, and some of those students are remaining in [English learner] status for longer times into middle school and even high school.”