English as a Second Language Reform

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Policy Briefs

English as a Second Language Reform Reduces Costs but Maintains Student Outcomes

A reform in English as a Second Language (ESL) education implemented in British Columbia in 1999 has reduced costs and led to a slight improvement in reading scores in standardized tests of students.  

The newly released research results show that, after 1999 when British Columbia limited supplementary ESL funding to five years per student and increased the value of the annual supplement, ESL students in the Great Vancouver Area fared slightly better in the standard reading test at Grade 7. The study, conducted by Martin Dooley from McMaster University and Cesar Furtado from Ontario Ministry of Finance, also indicates that the reform resulted in a reduction in the overall cost of ESL programs.

The reform had a dramatic impact on the exit rate of ESL programs at the end of the fifth year, with an increase from 18 to 95 percent. As the authors point out, the loss in supplementary funding has eliminated a sixth year of ESL study for all but a few students.

ESL students in Kindergarten through Grade12 comprised from 15 to 24 percent of the student body in the Great Vancouver Area during the years from 1991 to 2005, numbering from 30,000 to 50,000 students per year. The research used data from a sample size of almost 80,000 students, including both students who speak English at home and those whose home language is not English.

As Dooley notes, the findings of their research could provide insights to other provinces that provide funding for ESL services. ESL is a program aimed at helping young immigrants whose home language is not English to improve their language skills in order to do better at school. The governments of British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba and Ontario all provide school districts with targeted funding for ESL services.

For more information, contact Martin Dooley.

A summary of the research can be found at the Population Change and Lifecourse Strategic Knowledge Cluster PolicyBrief11.html

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