Children who started kindergarten already proficient in English—regardless of the language they spoke at home—scored better as 8th graders on reading, math, and science tests than language-minority peers who didn’t gain proficiency until after starting kindergarten.
That finding—published this week in an analysis by the National Center for Education Statistics— is one of several interesting revelations to come out of the center’s analysis of data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Kindergarten Class of 1998-99 or ECLS-K. That study tracked the educational outcomes of a nationally representative sample of students who entered kindergarten in the 1998-99 school year. Roughly 12 percent of the children in that sample were from homes where English is not the primary language.
Another finding in the NCES analysis: Non-Hispanic language-minority students who were proficient either at the beginning or end of their kindergarten year scored better in all three subjects in 8th grade than their Hispanic peers.
The NCES analysis also looked at how poverty status and mothers’ education levels affected language-minority students’ 8th grade scores.
Those who were English-proficient either when they started or finished kindergarten and who did not come from poor families did better than their low-income peers. And for students who had not gained proficiency by the end of kindergarten, those who were non-Hispanic and nonpoor scored higher on the 8th grade reading assessment than their Hispanic and poor peers.
Regardless of home language or English proficiency, the analysis showed those who had the most highly educated mothers generally had the highest scores in all three subjects, while those with the least educated mothers generally had the lowest scores.
The advantages for language-minority students to become English-proficient as early in the schooling experience as possible are underscored in this analysis, but the NCES findings are yet another reminder of how race and ethnicity, poverty, and parental educational levels can shape a child’s academic outcomes.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.