Publications & Resources

Academic English in Fifth-Grade Mathematics, Science, and Social Studies Textbooks

Dec 2004

Frances A. Butler, Alison L. Bailey, Robin Stevens, Becky Huang, Carol Lord

This study expands on previous CRESST work that has undertaken the articulation of the academic language construct for broad educational purposes. The primary goal was to describe the language of textbook selections in terms of vocabulary, grammar, and organization of discourse for test development. Specifically, the work reported here has focused on the academic English used in fifth-grade mathematics, science, and social studies textbooks and will contribute to the conceptual discussion of the nature of academic language, and will provide concrete guidelines for test development. The vocabulary analyses included measures of lexical diversity, word frequency, and frequency of multisyllabic and derived words, as well as variety of clause connectors and frequency of nominalizations. In addition, academic vocabulary was identified as specialized (within a discipline) and general (across disciplines). The grammatical analyses included the following features: sentence type, clause type, passive verb forms, prepositional phrases, noun phrases, and participial modifiers. The discourse analyses captured the organizational features of the selections on three levels: rhetorical mode (e.g., exposition and persuasion) and both dominant and supporting text features (e.g., description, classification, and paraphrase). The analyses of textbook language reported here have provided the bases for a profile of typical texts in each subject at the fifth grade that will be part of the foundation for developing academic language proficiency tests. We conclude by illustrating how these profiles can be used in the creation of test specifications.

Butler, F. A., Bailey, A. L., Stevens, R., Huang, B., & Lord, C. (2004). Academic English in fifth-grade mathematics, science, and social studies textbooks (CSE Report 642). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).