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Initial Spanish proficiency and English language development among Spanish-speaking English learner students in New Mexico

Region:
Southwest
Description:
The purpose of this study was to understand whether differences in initial kindergarten Spanish proficiency for English learner students were linked to disparities in attaining English proficiency and academic achievement in reading and math by grades 4 and 5. The study followed two cohorts of Spanish-speaking English learner students from four districts in New Mexico from kindergarten through grades 4 and 5. The 2010 cohort included students enrolled in kindergarten in 2009/10 and followed through grade 5, and represented 25 percent of the Spanish-speaking English learner students enrolled in bilingual programs in the state. The 2011 cohort included students enrolled in kindergarten in 2010/11 and followed through grade 4, and represented 35 percent of the Spanish-speaking English learner students enrolled in bilingual programs in the state. The descriptive study examined cumulative rates of English learner students progressing toward fluent English proficiency. The study also examined students’ demonstration of grade-level readiness on standardized academic assessments in math and English language arts in grades 4 and 5, particularly for those students who were successfully reclassified to fluent English proficient, and how they compared to state averages at the same grade level. Results were reported out according to three different levels of initial kindergarten Spanish proficiency: low, medium and high. The study found that a considerable portion of English learner students in both cohorts started kindergarten at the lowest English proficiency level, but that results favored students who started kindergarten with high Spanish proficiency. Results also indicated that grade-level readiness for grades 4 and 5 on NMPARCC English language arts and math scores for students who achieved English proficiency in grades 4 and 5 were generally lower than statewide averages for all students. However, students with high kindergarten Spanish proficiency were more likely to have higher English proficiency in kindergarten, to be reclassified to fluent English proficient by grades 4 or 5, and to be demonstrate grade-level readiness in English language arts and math in grades 4 and 5 compared to students with low or medium kindergarten Spanish proficiency levels. Results suggest that differentiated annual targets for English language proficiency progress based on results from the kindergarten Spanish proficiency assessment might produce more accurate annual growth targets for English learner students, and that those Spanish proficiency assessments could serve as a flag for targeting students with a higher risk of struggling to gain English and academic proficiency in elementary school.
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Publication Date:
January 2018
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