A large Canadian study found that English Language Learners (ELLs) performed better on grammar items in a standardized test than students who were English speakers (L1). But, ELLs’ performance on vocabulary items on the Ontario Secondary School Literacy Test (OSSLT) was below that of L1 students, emphasizing the importance of vocabulary instruction for ELLs, reports a study in the journal, Language Learning.
“Students who were taught English as a second or foreign language in a classroom setting might have had intensive grammar instruction,” the authors explain, “whereas students who acquired English as a L1 in a natural setting might not have had the opportunity to receive such focused instruction in grammar.”
The Grade 10 ELLs who took the OSSLT, a high-stakes test required for graduation, also performed better on items that called for integrated reading and writing, the study reports. However, the researchers said that finding raises more questions than it answers. They speculate that the 3-level rating scale used to evaluate integrated reading and writing might not be detailed enough to discriminate among students with different abilities.
ELLs in Canada have a 51% success rate on the OSSLT compared with 84% for native English-speaking peers, according to the journal. The researchers examined differential item functioning (DIF) by identifying bundles of items that evaluated primarily grammar, vocabulary or integrated writing and reading. Six constructed response items and 48 multiple-choice items were included for analysis in the study. The study was based on test results for 1,969 L1 students and 3,675 ELLs (excluding French-speaking students).
“The fact that the ELL students were not as good as the L1 students on vocabulary items should indicate to classroom teachers or curriculum developers hat this student population needs a remedial class to improve vocabulary knowledge,” the researchers write.
“Differential Functioning of Reading Subskills on the OSSLT for L1 and ELL Students: A Multidimensionality Model-Based DBF/DIF Approach”, by Youn-He Kim and Eunice Eunhee Jeng, Language Learning, December 2009, Volume 59, Number
4, pp. 825-865.