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What the international PIRLS test reveals about teaching second language learners. A study of 4 th grade readers in the U.S., Canada, England and Germany. by Larry Ogle, PhD. August 2009. U.S. 4 th -graders score above most of their peers worldwide in reading.

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What the international PIRLS test reveals about teaching second language learners

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What the international pirls test reveals about teaching second language learners l.jpg

What the international PIRLS test reveals about teaching second language learners

A study of 4th grade readers in the U.S., Canada, England and Germany.

by Larry Ogle, PhD.

August 2009


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U.S. 4th-graders score above most of their peers worldwide in reading

SOURCE: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS), 2006


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Background Information

  • Purpose of the study: Compare the backgrounds, schools and teachers of language minority 4th-graders in the United States with their counterparts in other high-scoring countries: Canada, England, and Germany.

  • Database used: Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS) 2006. Data taken from responses to PIRLS 2006 background questionnaires from language minority 4th-graders, their principals and their teachers.

  • Language minority students defined as: Those 4th-graders who did not speak the language of the test (PIRLS) prior to enrolling in first grade

  • Details found in the full report at www.centerforpubliceducation.org


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The number of language minority students is relatively small, but growing

Language minority students in each of the countries are a relatively small proportion of all students (under 10 percent), but their numbers vary by locale and appear to be increasing

Approaches to developing literacy in language minority students seem to vary from country to country, and sometimes, different practices are used within countries.


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On average, language minority fourth-graders score lower

In each of the four countries in this report, (the United States, Canada, England, and Germany), language minority fourth-graders, on average, score significantly lower than the average of all other (i.e., non-language minority) fourth-graders.

The size of the gap varies among the countries. The U.S. gap is wider than Canada, but smaller than England and Germany.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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Overall child poverty rates are higher in the U.S.; trends for language minority students are not encouraging.

U.S. child poverty rates are the highest of any country in this study. Regardless of whether child poverty is calculated before or after taxes and other transfers, more than 20 percent of the children in the U.S. are living in poverty.

Poverty rates cannot be directly compared in this report. However, trends for language minority students are not encouraging for these countries.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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Fewer U.S. language minority students are likely to have access to some learning materials.

Students from homes with extensive literacy resources tend to have higher average achievement than those with fewer resources.1

Most U.S. language minority 4th-graders have access to computers, their own study desk/table, or their own books at home, but fewer of them appear to have this access than their international peers.

1 Mullis, Martin, Kennedy, and Foy, 2007.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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More language minority 4th graders engage with media and books

Over a quarter (!) of U.S. language minority 4th-graders watch television or play computer games more than five hours on a regular school day – more than their peers in either Canada or Germany.

But U.S. language minority 4th-graders were also more likely to report reading books for five or more hours a day.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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More U.S. principals report encouraging signs for beginning literacy skills

A majority of U.S. principals of language minority 4th-graders indicate that more than 75 percent of the students in their schools could perform beginning literacy tasks upon entering first grade.

In no other country did a majority of principals report similar levels. This is encouraging, but needs further investigation.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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U.S. language minority 4th-graders are more likely to attend schools serving economically disadvantaged families

A much higher percentage of U.S. principals reported that most of their students come from “economically disadvantaged” homes than principals in Canada or Germany.

Across countries, the average reading achievement in schools with a high proportion of disadvantaged students was lower than schools with fewer such students.1

1 Mullis, Martin, Kennedy, and Foy, 2007

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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The enrollments of language minority 4th-graders across schools is about the same in all four countries

There appears to be relatively little difference between the percentage of language minority 4th-graders attending U.S. schools and those in the other countries in this study.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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U.S. language minority students are more likely to attend large schools

Small schools have been found by researchers to benefit students.1

A much greater percentage of U.S. principals of language minority fourth-graders report having large schools (i.e., over 600 students) than do their counterparts in other countries. And fewer the U.S. principals report that their schools are small (i.e., 200 or fewer students) than those in Canada and Germany.

1 see School Organization, www.centerforpubliceducation.org

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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U.S. schools with language minority students have high home/school involvement

Parental involvement in schools may improve students’ achievement.1 To better understand home-school involvement internationally, PIRLS developed the Home-School Involvement (HSI) Index.

Almost all principals of language minority fourth-graders in Canada (94 percent) and 85 percent of those in U.S. were judged to have schools with a high level of home-school involvement

© The Center for Public Education, 2009

1 see e.g., Meier, 2002


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U.S. language minority 4th-graders are generally in safe and secure schools

In the U.S. more than half of the principals of language minority 4th-graders had a good school climate in their schools, and almost three-quarters of these principals had safe schools based on indices created by PIRLS.

Across the countries in this study, the only significant differences were between the U.S. and Germany.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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Language minority students in the U.S. tend to have teachers with less experience

According to their own reports, fewer reading teachers of language minority 4th-graders in the U.S. have more than 10 years of experience than did their counterparts in Canada and in Germany.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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More U.S. teachers of language minority 4th graders have second language training

More than one-quarter (27 percent) of the U.S. reading teachers of language minority 4th-graders reported that they received training that emphasized second-language learning. Although this is a small percentage, it is more than their counterparts in the other countries. Only 8 percent in England and 4 percent in both England and Germany reported receiving such training.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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U.S. language minority students are taught effective reading strategies more often

U.S. reading teachers of language minority 4th-graders are more likely to have their students make predictions and generalizations about what they have read, and assign reading for homework every day than are their counterparts in most of the other countries examined in this report.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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Teachers across countries report having high expectations for language minority students

Like their counterparts in Canada and England, well over 8 in 10 principals of language minority 4th-graders in the U.S. indicated that their teachers held high or very high expectations for all of their students.

What defines “high expectations” may vary from country to country.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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What this means for schools

  • Support policies that employ more qualified, experienced, and better trained teachers, especially for language minority children.

  • Support programs calling for a more equal distribution of educational resources, particularly for their language minority students.

  • Initiate international conversations to share what educators and education policymakers across countries are doing to enhance the reading literacy of their language minority students.

  • Avoid searching for an education silver bullet—a narrow reform policy which may result in raising average scores of language minority students by a point or two.

© The Center for Public Education, 2009


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Download the full report at:www.centerforpubliceducation.org


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