Annenberg Institute at Brown U Looks at Migrant Impact on MA High Schools


A recently released report from the Annenberg Institute at Brown University’s Educational Opportunity in Massachusetts project offers the first-ever analysis of immigrant English learners (ELs) in Massachusetts public schools. The report – Rising Numbers, Unmet Needs: Immigrant Newcomers in Massachusetts High Schools – focuses on newcomers who arrive in grades 9-12, bringing linguistic and cultural diversity to the Commonwealth’s high schools.

High-school newcomers need intensive supports to learn English, complete high-school coursework and pass the MCAS tests, and, in many cases, overcome challenges of separation from their families, trauma and disrupted schooling in their home countries, and housing and food insecurity once they settle in Massachusetts.

The report highlights six key findings

  1. Over the past 15 years, the number of high-school newcomers has nearly tripled, and the population has changed dramatically. For example, the share of newcomers speaking either Spanish or Portuguese climbed from 48% in 2008 to 84% by 2022.
  2. More districts are serving newcomers, but half of newcomers are concentrated in only 14 high schools.
  3. The profiles of newcomers differ dramatically across districts in terms of language, country/region of origin, and initial English proficiency.
  4. Most newcomers do not meet growth targets for English language proficiency, and only 23% ever score at or above the level required to exit the English Learners program.
  5. The state’s competency determination (CD) policy disproportionately affects newcomers, who represent 5% of those who attempt at least one of the high-school MCAS tests but 31% of those who never pass.
  6. High school completion and college enrollment rates for newcomers are relatively low. Prior to the pandemic, about 53% of newcomers graduated within a year of their expected date, and only a third went on to college.

The report’s findings highlight the urgency to better serve this growing group of vulnerable, high-needs students. Ensuring that newcomers are academically prepared for higher education and skilled careers is critical to increasing their labor market opportunities and ensuring a diverse and skilled labor force in the Commonwealth in the coming years.

The Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) has been engaged in a years-long research-practice partnership with Annenberg that led to this report. A spokesperson from DESE said: “Massachusetts is committed to better understanding the needs of our ever-evolving student population, including our newcomer students. The publication of this report allows us to better inform and guide our districts in best practices to serve our newcomer population."

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