A new study from Oregon State University (OSU) shows that English learners are more likely to become proficient English speakers if they enter kindergarten with a strong initial grasp of academic language literacy, either in their primary language or in English. The study, published recently in the journal Educational Policy, is part of an emerging body of research examining the role that language acquisition plays in a student’s education. “This study shows that building literacy skills, in English or the child’s native language, prior to kindergarten can be helpful,” said Karen Thompson, an assistant professor of cultural and linguistic diversity in OSU’s College of Education and lead author of the study. “Having those academic language skills – the kind of language used in school to retell a story or explain a math problem – is likely going to set them on a path to success.”
Thompson reviewed nine years of data from Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) to analyze the development of English proficiency. She found that students who do not master English in the typical window of four to seven years of study – generally by the upper elementary grades – are less likely to ever do so. Those who do not master the language and remain English learners tend to score lower on academic tests and graduate high school at lower rates than their native-English speaking peers. The findings highlight a pressing need for new curriculum and professional development for teachers to help students, and English learners in particular, to develop their academic language skills, Thompson said.