Speaking the Language of Students: The Importance of English Language Training in High School

Posted by Des Sinkevich on July 10, 2024

Attaining a high school diploma is an American milestone that is essential for future success. However, earning that important designation – high school graduate – isn't often as straightforward for those students who are still learning English as a second language. With standard high school curriculum written and taught almost exclusively in English, those who aren’t proficient in the language are automatically facing a hurdle their English-speaking peers don’t have to overcome.


At a disadvantage, and often with no resources to help them succeed, these students have to work harder to achieve success. Without providing effective resources to these English language learners from day one, the outcome is academically disadvantaged learners who aren’t fully able to take advantage of economic opportunities. As the number of English language learners increase in schools nationwide, it’s essential to face these challenges head on and provide the necessary resources to help all students succeed.


Teen girl using cell phone in library.

The growing number of English language learners in schools

The number of English language learners (ELLs) in public schools has slowly increased over the last decade, with data indicating that 10.6% - 5.3 million students – were considered ELLs in 2021, compared to 9.4% in 2011. 71% of these students graduate compared to 86% of their English-speaking peers. For public schools with a low number of ELLs, these statistics may not greatly impact their graduation or dropout rates. However, for those with a larger population of ELLs, such as Texas where 20.2% of students are English language learners, these numbers could be potentially detrimental to overall school performance.


Says Katie Brown, PhD, founder of EnGen, a language upskilling platform, “a high school credential is critical for earning potential for access to training and opportunities. And if English is a barrier to getting that, then it's just impossible. So, by integrating an English on-ramp with the high school credential, we're really opening up opportunity to a hugely underserved population.”


Besides impacting dropout and graduation rates, ELLs who don’t have access to English language classes are less likely to be able to pursue higher education or may need to work harder to find success in the workforce.


Read more: A High School Diploma and English Proficiency: Combining the Keys to Success for Spanish Speakers


How schools can make a difference for ELLs

With many public schools already overwhelmed with a high student to teacher ratio and facing budget cuts for “non-essential” curriculum and extracurricular programs, it may seem nearly impossible to provide the resources that English language learners need to succeed. That’s where alternative high school options can make a difference. Instead of encouraging these students to attempt to adapt and learn on their own, leaving them isolated from their peers while still attending school, offering effective online alternatives could make a difference. Providing a pathway toward graduation and reducing your district’s dropout rates, an online program that teaches both English language proficiency and a standard high school curriculum could make a positive impact on success for both schools and their ELL students.


Read more: How English Language Learners Are Left Behind and What We Can Do About It


Students can gain English proficiency while earning a high school diploma

With Penn Foster’s online High School Diploma + English Language Training Program, English language learners can improve their speaking and comprehension skills before diving into standard high school classes like history, math, science, and English. Through partnership with EnGen, a virtual language upskilling platform, learners enrolled in the program can build or strengthen English language skills online through interactive lessons and videos.


Here’s how EnGen’s founder, Dr. Katie Brown, explains the importance of integrating English training and high school programs: "What we need are on-ramps to high school experiences for English language learners that help them get the English skills that they need integrated with high school skills. It serves both traditional high school students and also adults who have interrupted formal education."


Once they’ve become proficient, they’ll then move on to tackle their high school courses. With more confidence in their English skills, students are better set up for success. And, with self-paced courses and continued access to their EnGen lessons during their studies, learners can refer back to what they covered if they feel stuck or need a quick refresher.


While online learning is not always the best option for every student, for those ELLs who attend a public school that may not offer the resources they need to achieve their academic goals, a solution like Penn Foster can make all the difference.


Read more: How Penn Foster High School Supports Spanish-Speaking Learners


Provide a pathway to graduation for all students with Penn Foster

Through our proven High School + ELT learning model, your students can learn English and meet an important milestone – high school graduation – at the pace that works best for them. To learn more about how our program can help your English language learners succeed, or how to offer this pathway to your students, reach out to our expert team today.