Evaluation of an Independent School District Newcomer Program

5/1/2022 – 8/31/2023


Principal Investigator: Dr. Brian Holzman

The United States has seen an unprecedented influx of migrants within the last decade, especially among school-aged children. Newly arrived immigrant adolescents, called newcomer students, often have limited school choices due to being marginalized in terms of language proficiency, race/ethnicity, poverty, and often trauma. However, newcomer programs are designed as a transitional environment to help immigrant adolescents develop English language skills, address socioemotional and mental health needs, and socially integrate into American life.

Using administrative data, samples of middle and high school-aged newcomer students from a large, diverse urban school district in the South, and focusing on separate-site, full-day newcomer programs, we explore the following broad questions:

1) What types of high schools do middle school-aged newcomers choose, and how does this vary among students who did and did not attend a newcomer middle school?

2) What is the effect of attending a newcomer middle school on English language acquisition, as measured by proficiency on state tests and reclassification rates?

3) What is the effect of attending a newcomer middle school on academic and behavioral outcomes measured early in high school?

4) What are the academic and behavior outcomes of high school-aged newcomer students, and how do they vary among students who did and did not attend a newcomer high school?

The analyses use correlational and quasi-experimental analyses and find that:

1) Compared to newcomer students who did not attend a newcomer middle school, newcomer students who attended a newcomer middle school tended to enroll in high schools that provided greater access to social networks with similar peers with respect to racial/ethnic diversity and foreign-born status. They were also more likely to enroll in high schools where they might have greater access to EL support and resources and which had contexts potentially more conducive to academic achievement, as measured by end-of-course exam scores.

2) Attending a newcomer middle school had a strong positive effect on English language acquisition among newcomer students by boosting scores on the state-administered English proficiency test and increasing English language reclassification rates. Attending a newcomer middle school also reduced the proportion of English as a Second Language courses students took over time, which might have served as a potential mechanism for accelerating English language proficiency and reclassification.

3) Some effects of attending a newcomer middle school continued into high school. Specifically, newcomer middle school attendance increased scores on the English 1 end-of-course exam and decreased in-school suspension rates.

4) A descriptive analysis of high school-aged newcomer students found that newcomer students who did and did not attend a newcomer high school demonstrated similar levels of academic performance. However, newcomers from the newcomer high school had lower attendance rates, higher dropout rates, and lower graduation rates.

Overall, this study finds that newcomer programs and schools are a promising strategy for addressing English language acquisition among recently arrived immigrant students. It also highlights potential mechanisms that may support their academic success, like high school contexts and course-taking patterns.