Academic Trajectories for Latinx and Black Immigrant Advantage in Middle School



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Immigrant children are found in all regions of the U.S. and make-up 27% of the U.S. child population. Students who arrive early in the U.S. face many obstacles but often have better outcomes compared to non-immigrants. Recent research shows that immigrant students often outperform their native U.S.-born peers academically, at least in the early years, and this is referred to as immigrant advantage. However, this pattern seems to decline during adolescence, especially during the transition to middle school. This dissertation longitudinally examined differences in academic outcomes during middle school (6th through 8th grade) between immigrant students and native-born students, in addition to 1st vs. 2nd generation differences within immigrant families. Data come from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP; Winsler et al., 2008), a cohort-sequential, longitudinal project that involved children receiving subsidized childcare and/or attending public school pre-K at age four who later attended Miami-Dade County Public Schools (N = 4,341; nfirst = 2,704; nsecond = 777; nthird+non-immigrant = 860). Outcome variables included standardized math and reading scores, end-of-year grades, absenteeism, retention, and suspension in grades 6 through 8. Research questions included: 1) Will immigrant advantage continue to manifest itself in academic outcomes (end-of-year grades, standardized math and reading scores, attendance, and retention) for students over time (from sixth to eighth grade)? And 2) Does race moderate the size and timing of immigrant advantage? Results of multivariate, hierarchical linear growth models showed that immigrant students earned higher GPAs and standardized math and reading after 6th grade compared to native-born students. For GPA, 1st-generation immigrants scored higher GPAs compared to 2nd- and non-immigrant across all three grades Similarly, 2nd-generation immigrants earned higher GPAs compared to non-immigrants. However, generational comparisons for math and reading test scores reveal a different pattern. 1st-generation immigrant students and non-immigrants earned similar scores in 6th grade, with 2nd-generation scoring the highest out of all three groups. However, by 8th grade, 1st-generation immigrants earned the highest scores on math and reading. For attendance, immigrants missed less days of school compared to non-immigrants, and this effect was stronger for 1st-generation immigrants. For retention, chi-squares indicated immigrants were retained at lower rates in 6th grade and sustained this advantage through 8th grade. Suspension from school followed a similar pattern. Some results varied by race. Immigrant advantage for Black students was larger compared to Latinx students for math and reading in 6th grade. By 8th grade, Latinx 1st-generation immigrants outperformed Latinx 2nd-generation immigrants in reading, but this was not the case for Black 2nd-generation immigrants who maintained their advantage relative to Black non-immigrants through 8th grade. The results of this study highlight the importance of diverse analytical approaches, such as longitudinal analyses, to model the academic trajectories of immigrant children and the need to understand how race can influence and change in academic trajectories. Further it is clear that blunt immigrant vs. native student comparisons are limited, and that investigations need to explore generational differences. The longitudinal results indicate that there is a need for a more nuanced picture of immigrant academic performance. Although there was evidence of immigrant advantage persisting through 8th grade, this varied by immigrant generation and race. For some outcomes, there was evidence of a stronger immigrant advantage for Black immigrants compared to Latinx immigrants. Despite past studies showing immigrant paradox for academic outcomes after elementary school, this study finds opposite results showing immigrant resilience. Future studies need to use longitudinal analyses to gain a more accurate perspective on the resiliency of immigrant students. Furthermore, it is imperative to study the resiliency of Black immigrants who are understudied compared to Latinx immigrants.