Child, Family, and School Characteristics Related to English Proficiency Development Among Four-Year-Old English Language Learners (ELLs) in Miami




Kim, Yoon Kyong

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English Language Learners (ELLs), in addition to increased risk for living in poverty, experience the extra challenge of learning a second language while trying to learn new academic content during early schooling. Due to such challenges, ELLs often lag behind their peers at school. This dissertation examines child-, family-, and school-level factors associated with the speed/growth of English proficiency among ELLs in early elementary school. The Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP) is a large-scale, community-wide project that assessed the school readiness of low-income children who attended subsidized childcare or public school pre-k programs and then followed them longitudinally throughout early elementary school. This dissertation examines a subset of ELL children (n = 19,454) and follows their trajectories for English language proficiency through 5th grade. Family background information was collected along with children’s school readiness assessments at age four, and characteristics of the child’s public elementary school were included. Hierarchical Linear Modeling and discrete-time survival analyses were conducted to examine initial status in kindergarten and growth over time until fifth grade, as well as latency to reaching district standards for being considered proficient in English. Growth curve modeling showed that White/Other and African American/Black children started higher in English proficiency compared to Hispanic/Latinos, but Blacks showed faster English language growth than Hispanics. Children whose parents were married started kindergarten higher on English proficiency compared to children of single parents but children of single parents showed steeper growth. Children high on socio-emotional skills and low on behavior problems started higher in kindergarten and showed faster growth in English proficiency. Children higher in cognitive/language skill started school with greater English skills. Larger schools and schools with fewer ELLs had children with greater initial English skills. Children who attended schools with fewer Hispanic students and larger classes showed faster English growth. Survival analysis indicated that it took close to two years for half of the ELLs to become proficient in English according to district standards. However, White/Others took less time to be considered proficient than Hispanic/Latinos, and Blacks took the longest. Children who were proficient enough to be assessed in English at age four reached proficiency on average a year earlier than those who were assessed in Spanish at age four. In kindergarten, 28% of the ELLs became proficient in English and the proportion increased each grade; 26% in first grade, 40%, in second grade, 50%, 42%, and 58% respectively in continuing grades. Being White, not receiving free/reduced lunch; having stronger cognitive, language, and socio-emotional skills in preschool; and being from a more-educated family were associated with faster attainment of the English proficiency milestone. It is important for teachers to understand that ELL students come from diverse backgrounds and that poverty and other factors influence their speed of English language development. Follow-up programs for ELL children after exiting out of English as a second language programs are recommended since ELLs need more than just basic oral English proficiency to be successful in school. Systematic exposure to English during preschool programs may be needed for ELLs to learn English faster. Policies supporting low-income ELL families are discussed.



English Language Learner, ELL, Early childhood, Language Learning, L2