Patterns of Student Mobility Among English Language Learner Students in Arizona Public Schools

Primary Researchers: Anthony Fong, Min Huang, Soung Bae

Publication Date: October 2010

This report analyzes the magnitude of student mobility among Arizona students, with particular attention paid to the difference between English language learners and non-English language learners.

Study Overview

Previous studies have found high rates of student mobility throughout primary and secondary education, with such mobility commonly associated with lower student achievement. While past research has examined the student mobility of all students collectively, little is known about the mobility rates of English language learners in particular. Understanding the magnitude of mobility among English language learners is important since research has found that mobility increases the amount of time it takes them to become proficient in English.

This study analyzes a Statewide Longitudinal Data System from Arizona, which tracks the mobility patterns of all students who were ever enrolled in a public Arizona K-12 school between the 2004/05 and 2007/08 school years. 

The study calculates the mobility rate of English language learners in comparison to non-English language learners; it also disaggregates mobility by other student characteristics such as free or reduced-price lunch status, special education status, ethnicity, grade level, and gender.

Research Questions

This study addresses the following research questions related to student mobility in Arizona during 2004/05 to 2007/08:
• Within a given school year, what proportion of Arizona English language learners are mobile compared to non-English language learners? Have these proportions changed over time from 2004/05 to 2007/08?

• Does the proportion of Arizona students who are mobile (disaggregated by English language learner status) vary by education level? Have these proportions changed over time from 2004/05 to 2007/08?

• Within a given school year, what proportion of Arizona students (disaggregated by English language learner status) made intra-district transfers (i.e., within district)? What proportion made inter-district transfers (i.e., across districts)?

• Do intra-district and inter-district transfer rates (English language learners and non-English language learners combined) vary by district size in Arizona? Have these rates changed over time from 2004/05 to 2007/08?

• How does the average number of mobility events that students experience over the entire period under observation vary by student characteristics such as English language learner status, free or reduced-price lunch status, ethnicity, grade level, gender, and special education status?


This study defines student mobility to include all students who:
• Transfer across school districts ("inter-district transfer")

• Transfer within a school district ("intra-district transfer")

• Experience a break in enrollment at a single school of at least 19 days ("enrollment break")

• Enter the Arizona public school system for the first time as a non-kindergarten student ("late entry")

Analytic results are presented using various descriptive statistics, such as the proportion of students experiencing a mobility event, the average number of mobility events, and the range of the number of mobility events experienced by students over a four-year period.

Key Findings

The study finds that more than one fourth of all Arizona students experienced at least one mobility event in any given year.

When disaggregating mobility events by the type of mobility, results show that inter-district transfers are the most common type of mobility, while enrollment breaks are the least common.

Moreover, when students transfer between schools in Arizona, they are almost twice as likely to transfer to a school in a different school district rather than to a school in the same district. This has important implications with regards to the alignment of curriculums across school districts.

With respect to English language learner status, results indicate that a higher proportion of English language learners experienced a mobility event as compared to non-English language learners. The mobility rates of both groups decreased over the four-year period, with the rate among English language learners decreasing at a faster pace.

When disaggregating the average number of mobility events by various student characteristics, students eligible for free or reduced-price lunches and students who were in special education experienced more mobility events, on average, as compared to their respective counterparts.

Overall, poverty (as measured by free or reduced-price lunch status) had a stronger relationship to student mobility than either English language learner status or special education status.


  • Published: October 2010
  • Research Type: Issues & Answers
  • Methodologies: Descriptive
  • Contact info:
    Tony Fong 415.615.3289

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