School Readiness, Early Achievement, and the Role of English Language Proficiency for Children in Low-Income Immigrant Families

Jessica Johnson De Feyter

Major Professor: Adam Winsler, PhD, Department of Psychology

Committee Members: Rita Chung, Timothy Curby, Susanne Denham

David King Hall, 1024
June 23, 2011, 02:00 PM to 11:00 AM

Abstract:

Children in immigrant families, 88% of whom are U.S. citizens, will play a key role in the future economy as they replace today’s aging population of wage earners. Understanding their achievement patterns and educational processes has therefore become a new challenge confronting educators, researchers, and policy makers. A solid body of research has documented that children’s skills and abilities upon entering kindergarten, or school readiness, can help predict long-term achievement. However, the extent to which this research applies to culturally-diverse immigrant children remains an open question, and the unique role of English language acquisition warrants further exploration. Using a structural equation modeling (SEM) framework, this manuscript examined relations between school readiness and later academic achievement for a sub-sample of low-income children from the Miami School Readiness Project (MSRP; N = 2,657). Specifically, it investigated whether these relations were moderated by children’s nativity status (immigrant vs. non-immigrant family) and whether there were any indirect influences of school readiness on later achievement via the timing of children’s English proficiency. As part of the MSRP, cognitive and linguistic school readiness were assessed at age four with the Learning Accomplishments Profile – Diagnostic (LAPD), while social-emotional and behavioral school readiness were assessed with the Devereaux Early Childhood Assessment (DECA). Third grade academic outcomes were retrieved from the Miami-Dade County Public Schools and included end-of-year grades and math and reading scores from the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (F-CAT). Results indicated that the age-four school readiness measures predicted third grade outcomes similarly across children in immigrant and non-immigrant families. After accounting for a number of family background and demographic factors, greater behavior concerns at age four predicted lower end-of-year grades and lower reading scores in 3rd grade, while greater age-four pre-academic skills were associated with higher grades and higher standardized math and reading scores in 3rd grade. Additionally, early pre-academic skills exerted an indirect influence on immigrant children’s 3rd grade achievement by reducing the amount of time it took them to become proficient in English. These early academic processes were similar across children in Hispanic/Latino- and Black/African-descent immigrant families. Though previous research has found mean-level group differences in educational outcomes between children in immigrant and non-immigrant families, findings herein suggest actual educational processes may be quite similar between the two groups. Discussion highlights the importance of behavioral and academic school readiness, as well as early English proficiency, for the long-term achievement of children in immigrant families.