Implementing MTSS to improve graduation rates for English learners

Overall graduation rates for English learners (ELs) have increased in recent years, but they are still less likely to reach the academic milestone than their native English-speaking peers, according to the UCLA Center for the Transformation of Schools’ new brief, “The State of High School Graduation Rates.”

Considering data from 2018 to 2022, findings “highlight the need for targeted interventions and support systems to address the unique challenges faced by English learner classified students and ensure equitable access to educational opportunities,” according to researchers.

Graduation rates for ELs consistently rose between 2018 and 2022 from 67.9 percent in 2018 (compared to a rate of 85.6 percent for non-EL students and 83 percent for all students) to 71.8 percent in 2022 (compared to a rate of 89.5 percent for non-EL students and 87 percent for all students).

Among the brief’s key findings is that in California’s 15 largest districts, an average gap of 11.6 percentage points exists between total student graduation rates and those of ELs. Clovis Unified School District and Capistrano USD had the smallest disparities with just a 2-percentage point (Clovis) and 5.5-percentage point (Capistrano) difference in graduation rates between the total student body and ELs.

In the 15 largest districts, researchers also identified an average gap of 24.3 percentage points between the rate of total students who met University of California and/or California State University admission criteria and that of ELs. Districts including Los Angeles USD and Oakland USD had the smallest disparities with a 13.1-percentage point difference (LAUSD) and a 15.3-percentage point difference (Oakland USD) between the total student population and ELs.

“These trends are particularly concerning, especially given that University of California or California State University admission requirements are a measure of academic preparation,” according to the brief. “By the end of their tenure in California schools, ELs are less likely to graduate from high school ready for admission to a UC or CSU.”

Researchers identified the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) framework as a potential strategy to increase graduation rates for ELs as it can provide targeted interventions at varying levels.

Tier 1 interventions, for example, could include schools providing comprehensive academic and language supports to ELs; Tier 2 interventions could include small group interventions, targeted language and literacy instruction and academic supports tailed to students’ specific needs; and Tier 3 interventions could consist of individualized instruction, specialized interventions and close collaboration between educators, families and community resources.

“Moreover, a key aspect of MTSS is the coordination and scheduling of learning opportunities,” according to the brief. “By strategically organizing classes and educational activities, schools can ensure that English learner classified students receive the language supports they need while still having access to A-G courses.”