Publications & Resources

An Investigation of Language-Minority Children: Demographic Characteristics, Initial Performance, and Growth in Achievement

Jun 2006

Douglas Ready and Gerald Tindal

Research on language-minority (LM) children has generally focused on language as the primary mediator of student achievement without considering other student demographic characteristics. This is unfortunate, as studies that approach languageminority children as a homogeneous group will misestimate relationships between language status and academic achievement. Moreover, extant research is often hampered by its lack of focus on language-minority students’ cognitive growth over time. Using data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Cohort of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K) and growth curve analyses within a three-level hierarchical framework, this report examines the academic skills of LM children as they enter kindergarten and progress through first grade. This report defines language-minority children as those having a primary home language other than English. A further distinction is made between language-minority children who are English proficient (LM/P) and those who are not proficient (LM/NP), although examinations of LM/NP children using the regular ECLS-K cognitive assessments are limited to mathematics and Hispanic (Spanish-speaking) LM/NP children. Descriptive findings stress the diverse socio-demographic and academic backgrounds of language-minority children. Despite the considerable variability, one theme that permeates this report is the socioeconomic and academic disadvantage among Hispanic LM children. Unsurprisingly, Hispanic LM/P children enter kindergarten with fewer English skills than non-LM children. However, Hispanic LM/P children’s initial literacy skills also lag behind those of other LM/P children. Much of this initial disadvantage is explained by the relative socioeconomic disadvantage of Hispanic LM/P children. Not coincidentally, non-Hispanic LM/P students and their non-LM peers share similar 2 socioeconomic and academic backgrounds. In terms of literacy learning, during kindergarten, Asian LM/P children erase the small literacy gap that separates them from non-LM children. The Hispanic LM/P literacy disadvantage, however, remains relatively constant during kindergarten and first grade and actually increases during the intervening summer months. As with literacy, Hispanic LM/P children enter kindergarten with fewer mathematics skills than their non-LM peers. An even larger mathematics skills gap separates Hispanic LM/NP and non-LM children. For both groups, a substantial proportion of these initial achievement differences can be explained by their socioeconomic disadvantage compared to non-LM children. Although Hispanic LM/P children gain mathematics skills at rates comparable to Hispanic non-LM children, Hispanic LM/NP children fall even further behind during kindergarten (but learn at similar rates during the summer and first grade). Non-Hispanic LM/P children enter kindergarten and end first grade with mathematics skills equal to non-LM children.

Ready, D., & Tindal, G. (2006). An investigation of language-minority children: Demographic characteristics, initial performance, and growth in achievement (CSE Report 686). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).