ERIC Identifier: ED329130
Publication Date: 1991-02-00
Author: Lewelling, Vickie W.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse on Languages and Linguistics Washington
Academic Achievement in a Second Language. ERIC Digest.
The academic achievement of limited-English-proficient (LEP) students
has long been a major national educational concern. Chamot & O'Malley
(1987) suggest that, before LEP students are confronted with achieving
in the regular classroom, they should be able to use English as a tool
for learning subject matter. Often, LEP students become proficient in communication
skills within a short time after their arrival in the United States. Sometimes,
as a result of their communicative competence, these students are too quickly
mainstreamed into the regular classroom where they encounter difficulties
understanding and completing schoolwork in the more cognitively-demanding
language needed for successful performance in academic subjects. Basic
proficiency is not adequate as language minority students do not have exposure
to, or lack an understanding of, the vocabulary and context-specific language
needed to perform the more demanding tasks required in academic courses
(Short & Spanos, 1989). Cummins (1982) discusses the difference between
the language needed for communication and the language necessary for achievement
in school in terms of content-embedded and context-reduced language. Context-embedded
language provides non-linguistic supports, such as facial expressions,
to give participants contextual information about what is being communicated.
Context-reduced language, such as that found in textbooks, provides only
limited contextual information or extralinguistic support.
FACTORS THAT PROMOTE OR INHIBIT ACHIEVEMENT IN L2
"Cognitive development and first language proficiency." Second language
acquisition research has shown that the level of proficiency in the first
language has a direct influence on the development of proficiency in the
second language. The lack of continuing first language development has
been found, in some cases, to inhibit the levels of second language proficiency
and cognitive academic growth. Saville-Troike (1984, p214) reports that
"in almost all cases, the bilingual instructors' judgments of students'
relative competence in native language studies coincided with the same
students' relative achievement in English." Hakuta (1990) views native
language proficiency as a strong indicator of second language development.
"Age." Snow and Hoefnagel-Hohle (1977) suggest older students are better
second language learners because they have achieved a higher level of cognitive
maturity in their first language. Cognitive maturity, knowledge, and experience
in the first language transfer to the second language. In contrast, Long
(1990) concludes that there are maturational constraints on language learning,
and that rate and level of attainment are contingent upon the age at which
learning begins. He suggests that a sensitive period occurs in language
learning. Learning that takes place during this period is successful, and
learning taking place later is limited. Collier (1989) maintains that,
for academic achievement, it does not matter when second language learning
begins, as long as cognitive development continues at least through age
"Uninterrupted academic development." It is important not to limit the
academic development of LEP students while they are learning English. Instruction
focusing on communication skills only for 2-3 years will leave LEP students
2-3 years behind their English-speaking peers in school subjects (Collier
& Thomas, 1989).
"Attitude and individual differences." Oxford (1989) maintains that
"language learning styles and strategies appear to be among the most important
variables influencing performance in a second language." Saville-Troike
(1984) found, in one study, that students who had active and competitive
coping styles, and a more positive attitude toward learning English achieved
better in school.
LENGTH OF TIME NEEDED TO ACHIEVE AT COMPARABLE LEVELS WITH NATIVE-ENGLISH-SPEAKING
In a study conducted by Cummins (1981) of Canadian immigrants, schooled
entirely in English since arrival to Canada, learners took approximately
5-7 years to achieve comparable grade norms on achievement on achievement
tests with their native-speaking peers. Collier (1987) and Collier and
Thomas (1988) studied the length of time it took for immigrants to achieve
norms comparable to native English speakers on standardized achievement
tests. Subjects were between age 4 and 16 when they arrived in the United
States, had been in the country for 2-6 years, and had received instruction
exclusively in English since their arrival. Results showed that children
who were under 12 when they arrived, and who had had at least two years
of schooling in their native country reached the 50th percentile on reading,
language arts, science, and social studies tests 5-7 years after arrival.
Students arriving between 4 and 6 who had received little or no schooling
in their native language, had not reached the 50th percentile after 6 years,
and were not expected to reach it after 7-10 years. The studies also found
that adolescent arrivals studying only in English need 7-10 years to achieve
at equal levels with native peers, and, if unable to continue the study
of academic subjects while learning English, will not have enough time
left in school to make up lost years of academic instruction.
A number of studies comparing the achievement of students schooled in
English only and bilingual education programs found that, after 4-5 years
of instruction, bilingual program students made dramatic achievement gains,
and the English-only group dropped significantly below their grade level.
"L1 instruction throughout elementary school years, coupled with gradual
introduction of the second language, seems to produce a consistent pattern
of greater achievement in the second language at the end of 4-7 years of
schooling, even though the total number of hours of instruction in the
second language may be dramatically smaller when compared with schooling
in the second language only" (Collier, 1989, p522).
TRANSFER OF SKILLS FROM L1 TO L2
Cummins (1982) refers to the language needed for academic success as
cognitive academic language proficiency (CALP). This type of proficiency
is related to cognitive skills and conceptual knowledge, and can be transferred
from the native language to English. Saville-Troike (1988, p5) describes
transfer as "a preexisting knowledge base for making inferences and predictions"
or a "Preexisting script for school." Hakuta gives the example that "a
child learning about velocity in Spanish should be able to transfer this
knowledge to English without having to relearn the concepts as long as
the relevant vocabulary (in English) is available" (Hakuta, 1990, p7).
PROGRAM MODELS THAT PROMOTE ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT IN L2
Successful program models for promoting the academic achievement of
LEP students are those that enable these students to develop, or continue
developing, academic skills while learning English. In areas where a significant
proportion of the LEP population speaks the same native language, "bilingual
education programs" "are highly recommended, since bilingual instruction
is the only approach that combines acquisition of the target language (English),
academic progress through the native language, and the bonus of bilingualism"
(Santiago, 1989, p15).
In schools where too few students share the same native language, a
recommended option is teaching "English as a second language" (ESL) using
"content area instruction," a technique that focuses on using a second
language as the medium for instruction for mathematics, social studies,
and other academic subjects. "Many ontent-based ESL programs have developed
to provide students with an opportunity to learn CALP, as well as to provide
a less abrupt transition from the ESL classroom to an all-English medium
academic program" (Crandall, 1987, p7).
Several studies have documented the success of "bilingual immersion
programs" (also called two-way language development, dual language, and
developmental bilingual education). Bilingual immersion programs are full-time
programs, for both LEP and English-speaking students, that use two languages--English
and the native language of the LEP group--for instruction. In some programs,
the languages are used for instruction on alternating days, or one language
may be used in the morning and the other in the afternoon. Other programs
divide the use of the two languages by content, with some subjects taught
in English and others taught in the language of the LEP students. Because
native English-speaking students and LEP students learn through both languages,
they can attain proficiency in a second language while continuing to develop
skills in their native language. Lindholm & Fairchild (1988), who evaluated
a bilingual immersion program in California, found that LEP students attained
a high level of achievement relative to national norms, and attributed
the success of the students to receiving initial instruction in the native
language, which, in turn, facilitated the development of English. They
found that in math, reading, and language proficiency achievement, bilingual
immersion students significantly outperformed students enrolled in non-bilingual
immersion programs (Lindholm & Fairchild, 1988).
ASSESSMENT OF ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
The academic achievement of LEP students can be measured by teacher-made
tests in each subject area, by grade point average, by student performance
on tests designed by a school district to measure the attainment of local
school curriculum objectives, or by standardized tests designed to compare
the performance of one group of students with that of all students in the
United States (Collier, 1989). Navarrete, et al. (1990) suggest using a
combination of formal and informal measures to assess the academic ability
of LEP students. Formal assessment may indicate how students are performing
in relation to other students across the nation, state, or school district.
Informal data can be used to support formal test findings or to provide
documentation of student progress in instructional areas not covered by
Duran (1988) maintains that, although standardized reading tests may
provide information on the reading ability of LEP students in relation
to other students at the same grade level, they do not provide qualitative
information about students' reading skills or information about specific
student strengths or weaknesses. He advocates the use of dynamic assessment,
which, rather than assessing current knowledge and skills, measures individuals
readiness for learning new knowledge and skills (Duran, 1988). Saville-Troike
(1988) views pragmatic vocabulary tests as a valid method of obtaining
information on student academic progress, asserting that they measure skills
and knowledge central to academic success. She concedes that "radical changes
are needed in testing procedures and interpretation," and that "scores
by LEP students on such tests should not be taken uncritically at face
value, but that debriefing interviews afterward are essential to check
on comprehension and reasons for responses" (Saville-Troike, 1988, p21-22).
LEP students have been identified as a group at risk if academic failure.
For these students to achieve their full potential, a strong commitment
must be made to their educational needs and futures. "Language minority
students are a national resource to be nurtured and encouraged to attain
their maximum level of achievement, just like any other children in our
educational system" (Council of Chief State School Officers, 1990. p51).
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