Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Effects of a Core Kindergarten Mathematics Curriculum on the Mathematics Achievement of Spanish-Speaking English Learners

Academic journal article School Psychology Review

Effects of a Core Kindergarten Mathematics Curriculum on the Mathematics Achievement of Spanish-Speaking English Learners

Article excerpt

While the societal importance of teaching for early mathematical proficiency has gained national attention (National Mathematics Advisory Panel [NMAP], 2008), mounting evidence suggests that students from a variety of subgroups struggle to meet grade-level expectations in mathematics. Among these at-risk subgroups are English learners (ELs) or children of linguistic minority groups who lack full proficiency in English and receive language assistance. ELs represent a major presence in U.S. schools, and for the past 20 years, they have been the fastest growing subgroup (Klingner & Eppolito, 2014). Recent estimates suggest that ELs comprise 10% of the U.S. student population and that 70% of this subgroup is Spanish speaking (Fry & Passel, 2009). Considering the rising presence of ELs in U.S. public schools and the alarming number being disproportionately identified for special education (Sullivan, 2011), schools and teachers face the daunting challenge of meeting the instructional needs of ELs. Recent research shows, however, that schools are struggling to support ELs in developing mathematical proficiency.

Mathematics achievement data from the 2013 National Assessment for Educational Progress (NAEP) indicate that 86% and 95% of fourth-grade and eighth-grade ELs, respectively, scored below proficient (National Center for Education Statistics [NCES], 2013). There are also strong indications that ELs do not achieve commensurate with their English-proficient peers. According to recent research, the math achievement gap between ELs and English-proficient students appears early and remains relatively stable over the years (Reardon & Galindo, 2009). Since 1996, NAEP results have shown that an educationally meaningful achievement gap exists between ELs in fourth grade and their English-proficient peers and that this gap is nearly twice as large in eighth grade (NCES, 2013).

The convincing evidence that suggests ELs experience early and persistent math difficulties comes at a time when the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics (CCSS-M; Common Core State Standards Initiative [CCSSI], 2010) have significantly raised the mathematical proficiency bar for U.S. students. The CCSS-M, relative to previous state standards, places greater demand on the development and use of academic language in math (Dingman, Teuscher, Newton, & Kasmer, 2013). Students must now use precise mathematical language and vocabulary, verbalize and justify solution methods, and critique the reasoning of others (Standards for Mathematical Practice; CCSSI, 2010). While all students face the linguistic challenges associated with learning to use the language of math in the context of the CCSS-M, these demands are compounded for ELs. They, unlike their peers who are native English speakers, face the unfortunate "double demands" (Baker et al., 2014) of having to simultaneously acquire proficiency in two languages: English and mathematics (Cirillo, Richardson Bruna, & Herbel-Eisenmann, 2010; Moschkovich, 1999).

Given the likelihood that many ELs will struggle to acquire math proficiency, a major focus of educational research and practice should be on improving the quality of core math instruction delivered in general education settings. For many students, core math instruction serves as the primary source of math instruction. This is particularly true in the early elementary grades, when logistic constraints (e.g., half-day programs in kindergarten) and a primary focus on reading instruction may limit the availability of time and resources to support math achievement beyond core instruction. Core math instruction, therefore, must be effectively designed and delivered to meet the instructional needs of all students, including ELs and other students at risk for math difficulties. Evidence from recent randomized controlled trials has begun to document the utility of effective core math instruction in promoting student math achievement, preventing math difficulties, and reducing student need for highly intensive math interventions (Agodini & Harris, 2010; Chard et al. …

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