Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs
Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Alumnus, Gladfelter recipient team up to study ELL reclassification

Deven Carlson (MPA '07) and Jared Knowles, a 2015 Gladfelter Award for Government Innovation recipient, co-authored a report in the Summer 2016 issue of the Journal of Policy Analysis and Management. Their report is titled The Effect of English Language Learner Reclassification on Student ACT Scores, High School Graduation, and Postsecondary Enrollment: Regression Discontinuity Evidence from Wisconsin.

Alum Carlson Deven

Deven Carlson

Knowles Jared

Jared Knowles

Carlson and Knowles analyzed one dimension of policy relevant to English Language Learner (ELL) education – reclassifying students as fully English proficient. Using a data set with annual individual-level records for every Wisconsin student ever classified as an ELL between the 2006-07 and 2012-13 school years, they estimated the effects of being reclassified at the end of 10th grade on several measures related to postsecondary attainment.

“Our analysis indicates that being reclassified as fully English proficient in 10th grade has a positive effect on students ACT scores,” they wrote. “It also provides some evidence of a positive effect on high school graduation and the probability of enrolling in a post-secondary institution the fall after graduation.”

Carlson and Knowles theorize that the positive effects of reclassification are attributable to students being exposed to different college preparation activities and resources than their peers who scored below the reclassification threshold. “... although additional work should further explore potential mechanisms at work, such evidence suggests that school and district personnel may do well to ensure that they provide the same postsecondary-related resources to students who score just below the reclassification threshold as they do to student scoring on the other side of that cutoff,” they wrote.

In the article, Carlson and Knowles provide background information on ELL reclassification, summarize the limited previous research on the topic, and offer three main reasons why reclassification at the end of 10th grade is likely to be particularly consequential for students’ future postsecondary outcomes.

First, most students who take the ACT of SAT do so at the end of 11th grade, and many Wisconsin school districts structure their 11th-grade curriculum to prepare students for a college entrance exam. Second, to the extent that ACT performance influences other postsecondary outcomes, it is natural to focus on 10th grade reclassification when examining these additional outcomes. Third, high schools typically begin counseling students on postsecondary opportunities during 11th grade.

Carlson and Knowles also wrote a summary of their findings for the Brookings Brown Center Chalkboard blog, and Knowles discussed the report on Wisconsin Public Radio’s Central Time.

Carlson is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Oklahoma in Norman, and Knowles, most recently served as a research analyst at the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction. Carlson received his master’s degree in political science in 2008 and his doctoral degree in political science in 2012 – both from UW-Madison. Knowles also received his master’s (2009) and doctoral (2015) degrees in political science from UW-Madison.