NYU Steinhardt Professor Okhee Lee is working to develop English language proficiency standards that are better aligned with what students are actually learning in the classroom.

Latinx student building a robot and being creative with electronics
Photo Credit: Skynesher/Getty Images

Although non-native English speaking students are just as capable as their peers of learning subject matter in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) fields, they face additional barriers because of a misalignment in the way K-12 schoolwork is taught. Referred to as English learners, these students are learning the English language in tandem with other coursework. However, English language proficiency standards - the framework, curriculum, and instruction for which English is taught and learned - does not consider the academic content these students are learning outside of the English language. Similarly, the STEM coursework these students are learning does not take into consideration that these students are new to the English language.

Okhee Lee, professor of childhood education at New York University’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development, is working to develop English language proficiency standards that are better aligned with what students are actually learning in the classroom. In her latest research article, published in Educational Researcher, a peer-reviewed journal of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), Lee provides recommendations to support a federal mandate in the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 which requires that English language proficiency standards align with content standards.

“There is a problem in our public schools that English language proficiency standards do not align with the language-intensive content standards in STEM subjects,” says Lee. “In the science classroom, English learners can communicate their ideas using any means of communication (tables, charts, diagrams, physical objects, gestures, etc.) beyond ‘language.’ In the engineering classroom, English learners can make things work without using ‘language.’ In the computer science classroom, English learners can make a robot carry out their commands without using ‘language.’”

English learners make up the fastest growing subset of the U.S. student population. According to the most recent statistics, English learners constituted 9.6 percent of the public-school population, or 4.9 million students (National Center for Education Statistics, 2019).

“In effect, we are holding English learners back from their ability to achieve the rigorous content standards expected of them to be ready for college or careers when graduating from high school,” Lee continued. “It is my hope that scholars from English language education and STEM subjects come to the table and agree on English language proficiency standards that will serve to uplift these children rather than hold them back.”

In her published research, Lee identifies three considerations for aligning English language proficiency standards with STEM content standards, and highlights opportunities for substantive collaboration. She discusses her recommendations in a new video published by the AERA.

Watch the video here:


Lee is an award-winning education scholar. Over the course of her academic career, Lee’s research publications have put her on the national stage for taking on a range of controversial issues that affect diverse student groups. Earlier this year alone, the AERA - the authority in education trends - awarded Lee its Division K Innovations in Research on Equity and Social Justice in Teacher Education Award. She is widely known for advancing research, policy, and practice that simultaneously promote science and language learning for all students, including English learners.

To learn more about Lee visit her NYU Steinhardt Proffessor Bio

To read her latest research article visit SAGE Journals

About the Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development
Located in the heart of New York City’s Greenwich Village, NYU’s Steinhardt School of Culture, Education and Human Development prepares students for careers in the arts, education, health, media and psychology. Since its founding in 1890, the Steinhardt School's mission has been to expand human capacity through public service, global collaboration, research, scholarship, and practice. To learn more about NYU Steinhardt, visit NYU Steinhardt's web page.

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