Publications & Resources

English Language Learners and Math Achievement: A Study of Opportunity to Learn and Language Accommodation

Nov 2006

Jamal Abedi, Mary Courtney, Seth Leon, Jenny Kao and Tarek Azzam

This study investigated the interactive effects between students’ opportunity to learn (OTL) in the classroom, two language-related testing accommodations, and English language learner (ELL) students and other students of varying language proficiency, and how these variables impact mathematics performance. Hierarchical linear modeling was employed to investigate three class-level components of OTL, two language accommodations, and ELL status. The three class-level components of OTL were: (1) student report of content coverage; (2) teacher content knowledge; and (3) class prior math ability (as determined by an average of students’ Grade 7 math scores). A total of 2,321 Grade 8 students were administered one of three versions of an algebra test: a standard version with no accommodation, a dual-language (English and Spanish) test version accommodation, or a linguistically modified test version accommodation. These students’ teachers were administered a teacher content knowledge measure. Additionally, 369 of these students were observed for one class period for student-teacher interactions. Students’ scores from the prior year’s state mathematics and reading achievement tests, and other background information were also collected.

Results indicated that all three class-level components of OTL were significantly related to math performance, after controlling for prior math ability at the individual student level. Class prior math ability had the strongest effect on math performance. Results also indicated that teacher content knowledge had a significant differential effect on the math performance of students grouped by a quick reading proficiency measure, but not by students’ ELL status or by their reading achievement test percentile ranking. Results also indicated that the two language accommodations did not impact students’ math performance. Additionally, results suggested that, in general, ELL students reported less content coverage than their non-ELL peers, and they were in classes of overall lower math ability than their non-ELL peers. While it is understandable why a student’s performance in seventh grade strongly determines the content she or he receives in eighth grade, there is some evidence in this study that students of lower language proficiency can learn algebra and demonstrate algebra knowledge and skills when they are provided with sufficient content and skills delivered by proficient math instructors in a classroom of students who are proficient in math.

Abedi, J., Courtney, M., Leon, S., Kao, J., & Azzam, T. (2006). English language learners and math achievement: A study of opportunity to learn and language accommodation (CSE Report 702). Los Angeles: University of California, Los Angeles, National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing (CRESST).