Inequalities in Postsecondary Attainment by English Learner Status: A Case of Leveled Tracking

with Esmeralda Sánchez Salazar & Irina Chukhray

This study examines the role of English learner (ELs) status in four-year college enrollment and bachelor’s degree completion among Houston Independent School District (HISD) high school graduates. We divide students into four groups: students who are never classified as EL (hereafter referred to as “Never EL” students), ELs who are reclassified during elementary school (grades kindergarten-five), ELs who are reclassified during middle school (grades six-eight), and ELs who are reclassified during high school (grades nine-11) or still EL as of the fall of 12th grade (hereafter referred to as “reclassified during high school” students). We find that gaps in four-year college outcomes by EL status are large, but are entirely explained by differences in sociodemographic, academic, and school characteristics. Of the academic characteristics we consider, differences in college-level course taking during the junior and senior years of high school explain 7 percent of the gap in four-year college enrollment between Never EL students and students reclassified in elementary school, 18 percent of gap between Never EL students and students reclassified in middle school, and 22 percent of the gap between Never EL students and students reclassified in high school. We also find that differences in college-level course-taking explain 14 percent of the gap in four-year college completion between Never EL students and students reclassified in middle school and 40 percent of the gap between Never EL students and students reclassified in high school.

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