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Among Low-Income Students, Central Texas Bilingual Students Perform Better on STAAR Tests

Jon Shapley for KUT
Data from the E3 Alliance suggests that dual-language students often have better phonetic skills than their single-language counterparts.

New data from the education non-profit, E3 Alliance, shows that students who enter kindergarten and speak a language other than English are actually twice as likely to pass the third grade STAAR test.

E3 Alliance found when you take into account family income level and how ready a child is for kindergarten, English language learner (ELL) students are much more likely to pass the reading and math tests in third grade.

Third grade is an important year—those scores are often a predictor of college success.

“They’re learning a broader vocabulary, they have different ways of saying different things,” says Laura Koenig with E3 Alliance, which compiled the data. “And they have greater vocabulary, greater phonemic awareness, and a lot of skills that are foundational skills that held with emerging literacy and mathematics.”

Credit E3 Alliance

More than a third of students in Central Texas pre-K programs are English language learners. E3 Alliance looked at third grade student data from the 2014-15 school year.

“In the case of  ELL, that second language actually helps move them forward more than economic status brings them down,” she says.

Koenig says, if you think about it, these students are learning more words by learning them in two languages.

“How many words do I know? Well I know the word red and I know the word rojo. Are they the same word? Do they count as one? What we’re seeing in the educational research is more often they count as two words,” Koenig says.

Most of the region’s ELL students are in elementary grades. They gradually phase out of the bilingual program as they learn English.

In Central Texas, most bilingual students are raised in low-income families. The stress of living in poverty can negatively affect their performance in the classroom. But E3 Alliance found, among low-income students, those previously in bilingual programs perform as well or even better on state tests than low-income students who only speak English. Last year, low-income 8th grade students who recently phased out of the ELL program scored 15 percentage points higher on the state math test than other low-income students.

Credit E3 Alliance

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