Publications & Resources

Final Report of Language Background as a Variable in NAEP Mathematics Performance

Aug 1997

Jamal Abedi, Carol Lord, and Joseph R. Plummer

This study investigated the influence of students’ language background and linguistic complexity on students’ performance on the mathematics section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Results from the analyses of the data from the 1990 and 1992 eighth-grade NAEP math tests clearly revealed that students who mainly spoke “a language other than English” at home had lower proficiency scores than students who mostly spoke English. The relationship was stronger for longer and more language-complex mathematics questions, providing additional evidence that performance was linked to levels of English proficiency. The researchers also found that students who always spoke a language other than English in the home failed to complete or reach as many questions as students who spoke only English at home. In another part of the study, the researchers found that modifying (simplifying) the wording of mathematics questions increased performance for some students, particularly those in low- and average-level math classes. The researchers concluded that the language of math questions may unfairly affect the scores of less English language-proficient students whether they are native or non-native English speakers.

Abedi, J., Lord, C., & Plummer, J. R. (1997). Final report of language background as a variable in NAEP mathematics performance (CSE Report 429). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).