Reconceptualizing the Task of Early Identification of Reading Comprehension Difficulties for Language Minority Learners: The Persistence Dimension

Investigator: Jennette Mancilla-Martinez

Funder: NAE/Spencer

Many students whose first language is not English, referred to here as Language Minority (LM) learners, struggle more to comprehend English text than their native-English speaking peers. These reading achievement gaps persist even among LMs learners born, raised, and educated in the U.S. At 12.1 million, the population of Latino school-age LM learners is both the largest and also the fastest growing. Given that poverty is a well-known risk factor for reading difficulties, the fact that Latino children are also the largest single group of poor children is of serious concern. Gaps begin early and evolve to the point that, on the onset of high school entry, the average Latino 8th grader performs at the level of an entering middle school student. Research-based interventions are therefore needed to boost young LM learners’ opportunities to learn, and to close the achievement gaps. The push for preventive efforts is not new, but understanding and remediating the role of persistent difficulties with early skills known to influence reading outcomes remains relatively unexplored.

This research re-conceptualizes the task of early identification of reading comprehension difficulties. Rather than focusing on potentially transitory difficulties during any given academic year, this study explores the extent to which persistent difficulties with early reading skills, in Spanish and/or English, better explain LM learners’ reading comprehension outcomes and more accurately predict difficulties through adolescence. Data are drawn from an existing longitudinal study of 173 U.S.-born, English-instructed Spanish-speaking LM learners from low-income homes. Results of this study are intended to provide concrete instructional and policy recommendations anchored in empirically-validated theoretical models of reading comprehension for LM learners.