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Examining the Relationship Between Classroom Language Dominance and Latino Dual Language Learners’ Academic Achievement

Fri, March 22, 7:45 to 9:15am, Baltimore Convention Center, Floor: Level 1, Exhibit Hall B

Integrative Statement

Latino children are the largest minority group of children in the United States, rapidly increasing the population of Latino Dual Language Learner (DLL) preschoolers (Flores, 2017). This is evident in early childhood programs, such as Head Start, where approximately 30% of the population are DLLs; about 84% of these children come from Spanish-speaking homes (Administration for Children & Families, 2013). Given the growth of this population, it is critical to examine the factors that contribute to the healthy development of Latino DLLs, particularly given that they consistently score below national averages in academic achievement skills at kindergarten entry (Espinosa, 2013).
One factor that contributes to DLL development is the classroom language environment and language support from peers. Children are surrounded by peers that represent a range of academic and language competencies that overtime may affect their own development (Reid & Ready, 2013). Researchers have found that peers have a significant positive impact on children’s language development and children’s language abilities are positively predicted by those of their peers (Atkins-Burnett, Xue, & Aikens, 2017). However, no studies have determined how the overall language competence in the classroom affects the academic achievement skills of Latino DLLs. The present study aims to address this gap by answering the following research question: Are there differences in the academic achievement skills of Latino DLL children whose language dominance matches that of their peers and those who do not?
Three hundred and sixty-seven DLL children participated in the study. A classroom language dominance ratio was calculated using the proportion of English to Spanish PreLAS (Duncan & De Avila, 1998) scores for all children in the classroom. Academic achievement was measured using the Research-Based Early Math Assessment (REMA; Clements & Sarama, 2000), Lens on Science (Greenfield et al., 2010) or Enfoque en Ciencia (Greenfield, 2013), and Woodcock Muñoz Language Survey (Schrank, Wendling, Alvarado, & Woodcock, 2010). A series of independent sample t-tests showed significant differences in math (t(365)=2.97, p<.005), science (t(346)=4.35, p<.001), vocabulary (t(353)=8.75, p<.001) and letter word identification (t(353)=9.8, p<.001), in that children in classrooms that did not match their language dominance scored significantly higher than children in classrooms that did across all domains (see Table 1 for descriptive statistics). Results are discussed as they relate to the additional complexity faced by DLL children that must navigate between two languages in order to interact with peers in their classroom. DLL children whose dominant language does not match the language of the classroom may be using their executive function (EF) skills more often to switch between languages to communicate with their peers and teacher. Research has found that Spanish-English DLL children score higher in EF measures as compared to their monolingual peers (White & Greenfield, 2017), which in turn has been shown to predict academic achievement in preschool (Blair & Razza, 2007; Nayfeld, Fuccillo & Greenfield, 2013). The results of this study highlight the importance to examine the EF skills of DLLs as they may interact with their academic skills.

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