Lost in the Transition: The Cost of College-Readiness English Standards Misalignment for Students Initially Classified as English Learners

Tatiana Melguizo, Stella Flores, David Velasquez, Tim Carroll

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Using linked, individual-level data from a large metropolitan K-12 district and a large urban community college district in California, we examine whether indicators of college-readiness for graduating high school students who were initially classified as English Learners (ELs) are honored in community college course placement. In particular, we explore (1) whether there is misalignment in course assignment levels among former EL students between the K-12 and community college sector based on high school readiness metrics; and (2) if misalignment exists, we investigate its extent among various levels and identities of EL students. We employ an integrated capitals and funds of knowledge framework to emphasize students’ assets in the form of resources, knowledge, and skills while also acknowledging the role of education systems in reproducing social inequities. We find that along with students who speak Spanish at home, Latina/o, and Black students, former ELs who met college-readiness standards experienced the highest levels of inter-sector English misalignment (over 75%). Our results show a negative association between experiencing inter-sector misalignment and college credit accumulation. After controlling for course placement, background, and academic characteristics our analysis suggests that despite facing higher levels of inter-sector misalignment relative to other students, former ELs manage to accumulate five to six more transferable degree units than their monolingual English-speaking peers. The findings suggest a need for even greater inter-sector communication and accountability between legislators, K-12, and postsecondary leaders to ensure that state-level college-readiness standards are properly defined and consistently used in the transition from high school to college.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)815-846
Number of pages32
JournalJournal of Higher Education
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2021


  • English language learners
  • college readiness
  • community college
  • developmental education
  • longitudinal

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Education


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