NCES: Early Childhood English Skills Vital to Academic Success

Lack of English proficiency during early schooling can have a lasting impact on student achievement, the National Center for Education Statics has found. In its report, titled Reading, Mathematics and Science Achievement of Language-Minority Students in Grade 8, the NCES data showed no difference in achievement between native English speakers and those who showed good English proficiency in kindergarten.

Contrary to expectations, the home language played almost no role in levels of student achievement, while how well a child could speak English in the early grades had an outsized impact on later math and language showing, as judged by the standardized test scores.

A consistent pattern of scale score differences was evident for all subjects: students whose primary home language was English and English Proficient students had higher overall mean eighth-grade (spring 2007) scores than did ELLs. Specifically, on a scale of 0 to 212, the reading scores for students whose primary home language was English and those for English Proficient students (169 points each) were higher than the scores for both groups of ELLs (152 and 140 points, respectively, for those who were proficient by the spring of kindergarten and those who were not). On a scale of 0 to 174, the mathematics scores for students whose primary home language was English and those for English Proficient students (141 points each) were higher than the scores for both groups of ELL students (129 and 126 points, respectively, for those who were proficient by the spring of kindergarten and those who were not).

The NCES looked at the 8th grade achievement scores for a nationally representative sample of students who were previously evaluated when they attended kindergarten during the 1998-1999 school year. The students were organized into four distinct groups based on their background and English language skills and their 2007 academic results were analyzed and studied.

Although all students who spoke English well when entering kindergarten or those who improved while in kindergarten scored better than their non-proficient peers, the effect was even more pronounced in those of non-Hispanic background. Based on the data, they significantly outscored their Hispanic classmates with similar English proficiency in every subject. Additionally, students whose mothers were least educated were at a particular disadvantage when it came to academic attainment. They scored lower than almost all other groups, even when the variable language skills were accounted for.