As a parent I understand why quantitative standardized test scores, such as Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMs), are important for immersion program evaluation; they’re concrete and easily used to compare with other non-immersion schools and with non-immersion classrooms within the same school. Equally as important, we can qualitatively measure our children’s bilingual/biliteracy skills, increased self-esteem, and emerging intercultural competencies through daily observations of language use and increased opportunities for multicultural interactions, such as the newly formed partnership and collaboration with the U of A’s Project SEED (Scholarships for Educational and Economic Development) Indigenous trilingual teachers from Mexico. These are not as concrete and easy to measure, however, so in this post we will focus on the positive relationship between standardized test proficiency and one-way Spanish immersion programs.
Whenever parents ask me about what to expect with their children learning content in two languages, my typical response is, “Literacy is literacy. Math is math. Students who learn in two languages can learn content at a deeper level by creating stronger cognitive connections that span two language systems in the brain.” However good this makes me feel, as a dad of an immersion student, it’s always good to look at actual studies. Egan (2007) conducted a dissertation at Arizona State University on the implications for learning in two languages in a one-way Spanish immersion program. He quantitatively compared 2nd & 3rd grade students’ (in and out of a Spanish immersion program at the same school) achievement in reading, writing/language, and math. His results showed that immersion students performed equal to or better in reading, writing, and math than students in English only classrooms. His results demonstrated specifically that immersion students had significantly higher math scores than students in English only classrooms on state adopted standardized tests. This study supports the results of similar comparisons conducted with other immersion programs in Arizona, Iowa, and Virginia.
My goal in writing this post is not to create a divide between immersion and non-immersion classrooms that exist within schools, but rather to celebrate schools and parents dedicated to innovative language programs and to perhaps begin to ease any anxieties that parents might have about their children’s achievement on standardized tests and participation in immersion programs.
As always, I welcome comments and questions regarding this or any other post on this blog. To ask a question without it being seen in the blog thread, click on the about button and fill out a contact and question form. Either a colleague in Second Language Acquisition and Teaching at the University of Arizona or I will address comments anonymously in future blog posts. Saludos, Steve.
Egan, R. L. (2007). A case study of a one-way Spanish language immersion program and implications for learning in two languages. Arizona State University.
Hollingsworth, L. K. (2013). Developing English and Spanish Literacy in a One-way Spanish Immersion Program (Doctoral dissertation, Liberty University).