Monday, January 14, 2013

NAEP Report: Vocabulary and the Achievement Gap

NAEP Report: Vocabulary and the Achievement Gap
(Contributed by Dr. Eleni Pappamihiel)

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) has just released a new report spotlighting the role of vocabulary in the infamous achievement gap.  For decades we have noted that there is a sizable achievement gap between groups of students, and for just as long schools have tried to reduce it, with some success in some areas and very little success in others.

This new report suggests that there is a consistent relationship between performance on vocabulary tests and the ability of students to comprehend a text. While the report did not identify English Language Learners (ELLs) as a group, this new finding hits ELLs quite hard.  We know that ELLs often have limited vocabularies in the English language, and their vocabulary level often impacts their achievement in English.  Not only did the NAEP report find a relationship between vocabulary knowledge and text comprehension, but they also noted a relationship between socioeconomic status (SES) and vocabulary knowledge, with children from lower SES backgrounds having a more limited vocabulary. Again, this hits our ESL population hard since many ELLs are also lower SES. 

The report emphasized that students must go beyond simply being able to define a word. They must be able to identify it in context to be able to effectively comprehend text. For our ELLs this means that we have to focus on both depth and breadth of word knowledge.  So we need to give them multiple opportunities to use words in different contexts as they’re learning words at multiple levels. Teachers may begin the process with a vocabulary notebook where students begin to notice and develop an initial knowledge of the word at a surface level. Then the teacher can use the word in increasingly complex contexts, moving from concrete to more abstract contexts. It’s also important that the student hear and read the word as s/he is developing this knowledge. 

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