Do EAL pupils need an extra year to learn English?

Since 2002, all third grade (Year 4) pupils in Florida are required to obtain specific state-wide reading test scores in order to progress to the fourth grade (Year 5). A new NBER working paper considers whether this third grade retention policy, which includes additional teaching and support in reading, might be particularly beneficial for pupils with English as an additional language (EAL).

David N Figlio and Umut Özek used longitudinal data for all pupils between grades three and ten (Years 4 to 11) from 12 US school districts in Florida in order to examine the short-, medium- and long-term effects of repeating the third grade on EAL pupils’ English skills, as measured by their reading test scores, the length of time needed for them to reach required levels of English proficiency, and their course choice in middle and high school.

The results find that repeating the third grade (Year 4) can help to improve the English skills of EAL pupils, and that the benefits are even greater for EAL pupils born outside of the US, pupils whose first language is Spanish, and pupils in lower-poverty elementary schools.

Specifically, they suggest that EAL pupils who repeat the third grade:

  • do better on reading test scores in elementary and middle school
  • reach the required levels of English proficiency in half the time
  • are less likely to take a remedial English course in middle school
  • are more likely to take an advanced course in maths and science in middle school
  • are more likely to take college credit-bearing courses in high school.

Source: An extra year to learn English? Early grade retention and the human capital development of English learners (January 2019), NBER Working Paper No. 25472, National Bureau of Economics Research

Is free and reduced-price lunch a valid measure of educational disadvantage?

Almost 60% of American pupils receive lunch through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which provides free- and reduced-price lunches (FRPL) to pupils in households who demonstrate economic disadvantage. Income information is based on parent report of household income in the month preceding application to the programme. Because NSLP enrolment has been correlated with lower pupil achievement and is an indicator of how disadvantaged a school’s population is, this classification plays an important role in how funds are allocated to schools and how schools are classified in educational research.

Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, the US Census Bureau, the University of California at Irvine, and NORC at the University of Chicago recently examined how accurately FRPL enrolment measures actual income and educational disadvantage by comparing IRS income records with pupils’ lunch enrolment and achievement records. Specifically, researchers examined the records of all eighth grade (Year 9) pupils in a California public school district from 2008-2014 (n=14,000) and in Oregon public schools from 2004-2014 (n=363,000), examining the relationship between FRPL enrolment, IRS income records, and eighth grade English language achievement scores on the California Achievement Test and the Oregon Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.

Results showed that school lunch programme enrolment explains the relationship between economic disadvantage and pupil achievement better than IRS-reported annual income. Compared to their non-NSLP peers, California free-lunch pupils scored 0.40 standard deviations (SD) lower on the eighth grade English language test, and the reduced-lunch pupils scored 0.20 lower than those not enrolled. In Oregon, the FRPL pupils scored 0.36 SD lower than those not enrolled. In comparison, when using IRS-reported household income to explain English language achievement, economically disadvantaged pupils scored approximately 0.15 SD lower than pupils appearing to be ineligible for FRPL in one California district and 0.26 SD lower across Oregon public schools. In other words, FRPL enrolment accounted for 16% of the variance in English language scores, whereas IRS data only accounted for 13% of the variance. This indicates that FRLP appears to capture aspects of disadvantage that IRS data do not.

Source: Is free and reduced-price lunch a valid measure of educational disadvantage? (December 2018), Educational Researcher, Volume: 47 issue: 9

Examining research on the Big Lift preschool initiative

Celia Gomez and colleagues from the RAND Corporation have released a new research brief that examines Big Lift, a preschool to third-grade initiative designed to boost literacy skills and ensure that children are reading proficiently by third grade (Year 4). The initiative has been implemented in seven US school districts in San Mateo County, California, that have below-average third-grade reading levels. According to the brief, Big Lift seeks to improve third-grade reading through a set of four co-ordinated and integrated “pillars”: High-Quality Preschool, Summer Learning, School Attendance and Family Engagement.

The researchers have examined outcomes for two cohorts of pupils: Cohort 1 includes pupils in four districts who receive Big Lift services, and Cohort 2 an additional three districts. Data sources include early childhood cognitive assessments, kindergarten (Year 1) and first-grade (Year 2) entry forms completed by parents, and the San Mateo County Office of Education’s countywide data system.

The current research brief is part of a multiphase evaluation of Big Lift, and reports on findings after two years of implementation. Key findings are as follows:

  • Big Lift preschool children in the 2017–2018 kindergarten class were better prepared for kindergarten than demographically similar peers who did not attend preschool — but they were less prepared than similar peers who attended non–Big Lift preschool programmes.
  • Children who attended two years of Big Lift preschool were more kindergarten-ready than similar peers who attended only one year.
  • In the 2016–2017 kindergarten class, Big Lift preschool children had reading levels at the end of kindergarten and the start of first grade that were on par with similar peers who attended other preschool programmes and higher than similar peers who attended no preschool at all.

Source: The Big Lift preschool, two years in: What have we learned so far? (2018), RAND Corporation Research Briefs RB-10047-SVCF

Are immigrant children more likely to pursue STEM careers?

Findings from a new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences suggest that immigrant children study more maths and science in high school and college, which means they are more likely to pursue STEM careers.

Marcus Rangel and Ying Shi looked at the trajectories of more than 286,000 children born outside the US, and who moved to the US before age 16, using nationally representative datasets including the 2010-2016 waves of the American Community Survey, the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and the National Survey of College Graduates.

They found that among US-born children, about 20% of college students major in STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). However, among those born outside the US – particularly those who moved to the US after age 10, and don’t come from English-speaking or northern-European countries where the native language is linguistically close to English – this number is much higher, with around 36% majoring in STEM subjects.

The authors suggest that older children who immigrate to the US from a country where the native language is very dissimilar to English may choose subjects that rely less on language skills and build more on skills they are relatively more comfortable with, such as maths or science. The study found that children arriving after age 10 earn approximately 20% more credits in maths-intensive courses than they do in English-intensive courses. This focus then continues throughout college, which in turn leads to pursuing a career in a STEM field.

Source: Early patterns of skill acquisition and immigrants’ specialization in STEM careers (January 2019), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, volume 116, no. 2

Do young children favour boys over girls?

A new study published in American Psychologist looks at evidence of bias against women and girls for jobs or activities requiring intellectual ability.

Andrei Cimpian conducted a series of three experiments to test for evidence of gender bias and its developmental roots. In the two initial experiments, more than 1,150 participants (mean age 35 years) were asked to refer individuals for a job. The results showed that participants were less likely to refer a woman when the job description mentioned intellectual ability (43.5% female referrals) than when it did not (50.8%).

In the third experiment, the researchers looked at whether young children favour boys over girls for intellectually challenging activities. Children ages five to seven (n= 192) were recruited from a small mid-western city in the US, and taught how to play a team game. Half of the children were told that the game was for “really, really smart” children, the other half were not. Children were then asked to select three teammates from among six children (three boys and three girls) they did not know.

Initially, the children selected teammates of the same gender as themselves (so, girls chose the other girls, and boys chose the other boys), but by the third selection round they became less likely to select girls as teammates for the “smart” game (37.6% girls selected) than for the control game (53.4%). Girls were less likely to select other girls as teammates across selection rounds, particularly for the “smart” game.

Source: Evidence of bias against girls and women in contexts that emphasize intellectual ability (December 2018), American Psychologist 73(9)

Examining restorative practices in schools

A new research brief by Catherine Augustine and colleagues at the RAND Corporation examines findings from an evaluation of restorative practices as implemented in schools in Pennsylvania, USA. Restorative practices are described as inclusive and non-punitive ways to respond to conflict and build community, and these practices were implemented through the SaferSanerSchools Whole-School Change programme. Some key elements of the programme include:

  • Affective statements: Personal expressions of feeling in response to specific positive or negative behaviours of others.
  • Small impromptu conferences: Questioning exercises that quickly resolve lower-level incidents involving two or more people.
  • Fair process: A set of transparent practices designed to create open lines of communication, assure people that their feelings and ideas have been taken into account, and foster a healthy community as a means of treating people respectfully throughout a decision-making process so that they perceive that process to be fair, regardless of the outcome.

The research team conducted a randomised controlled trial of restorative practices in 44 schools in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, between June 2015 and June 2017. Data included findings from observations, surveys, and interviews, and administrative.

Key findings of the study were as follows:

  • Restorative practices were successful in reducing pupil suspensions.
  • Restorative practices reduced suspension rates of elementary grade (primary school) pupils, African American pupils, pupils from low-income families, and female pupils more than for pupils not in these groups.
  • Restorative practices did not improve academic outcomes, nor did they reduce suspensions for middle school pupils or suspensions for violent offences.

Overall, the research team concludes that restorative practices are promising, particularly for elementary schools seeking to reduce suspension rates.

Source: Restorative practices help reduce student suspensions. (December 2018), RAND Corporation RB-10051-DOJ