STEM Outcomes for English Language Learners Fail to Meet Expectations

A new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine takes a comprehensive look at the state of English learners in STEM education and provides recommendations on ways to improve outcomes.

STEM Outcomes for English Language Learners Fail to Meet Expectations 

English language learners are falling behind when it comes to STEM education, a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine.  The report is the result of a consensus study from educators at universities across the United States.

When it comes to science and math, English learners lack opportunities to engage with challenging and appropriate content and disciplinary practices.  In high school, barriers to STEM learning include exclusion from rigorous science or math courses, placement in remedial courses and poor advising regarding course selection.

For teachers, the report found, setting positive expectations and beliefs about English learners in STEM can influence their learning in STEM classrooms. When teachers consistently support and incorporate English learners into classroom activities, English learners have better outcomes. English learners should also be considered at the beginning and throughout the design of curricula for STEM courses.

Part of the problem for teachers is that they have not received adequate preparation to provide STEM-related learning opportunities for English learners in their classrooms. Teachers can also bring in biases and beliefs into their work with English learners that negatively affect learning outcomes.  The report also found only a few states have systemic policies or programs to help teachers with their professional development in STEM related to English learners.

To help English learners have the same quality of STEM courses as their peers, the report outlined a series of recommendations for school districts and policymakers:

  1. Evaluate current policies, approaches and resources that have the potential to negatively affect English learners' access to STEM learning opportunities.
  2. Develop a high-quality framework to identify and remove barriers to English learners' participation in rigorous STEM learning opportunities.
  3. Provide teachers and teacher candidates with the requisite tools and preparation to effectively engage and positively position English learners in STEM content learning.
  4. Develop high-quality STEM curriculum materials and integrate formative assessment into classroom practices to facilitate and assess English learners' progress through the curriculum.
  5. Encourage and facilitate engagement with stakeholders in English learners' local environment to support STEM learning.
  6. Design comprehensive and cohesive STEM assessments that consider English learners and the impact of those assessments on STEM academic achievement for all students.
  7. Review existing assessment accommodation policies and develop accessibility resources.

The full report is available for download or purchase here.

About the Author

Sara Friedman is a reporter/producer for Campus Technology, THE Journal and STEAM Universe covering education policy and a wide range of other public-sector IT topics.

Friedman is a graduate of Ithaca College, where she studied journalism, politics and international communications.

Friedman can be contacted at or follow her on Twitter @SaraEFriedman.

Click here for previous articles by Friedman.