Grade 6 French immersion students' performance ...

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Title Grade 6 French immersion students' performance on large-scale reading, writing, and mathematics tests: building explanations
Author(s) Sharon Lapkin, Doug Hart, Miles Turnbull
Date 2003
Volume 49
Issue 1
Start page n/a
Abstract A rudimentary conceptualization of the lag effect might be as follows. Total French immersion students' performance in English lags behind the students' academic potential due to lack of formal instruction in English. Once formal instruction begins, however, students show rapid gains in performance. The threshold amount of English-language instruction needed to set in motion gains in English language performance is quite low and easily met by virtually all early immersion program formats. Our analysis of the grade 3 EQAO test results for early immersion and regular program students yielded results consistent with this scenario. Only one group of early immersion students performed less well than regular program students in the same school districts. These were students in total immersion programs through to the end of grade 3; in other words, students who approached the EQAO tests having had no formal instruction in English. It is possible to extend this rudimentary scenario to account for the fact that although immersion students (except those in total immersion to the end of grade 3) do as well as their regular program peers on tests at grade 3, they outperform them at grade 6. We propose that there is a second, higher threshold of English-language instruction that once crossed results in added gains in immersion students' performance in English.(12) We leave the potential mechanisms at work here as an open question. Two possibilities, however, suggest themselves. The first is that early immersion students may on average have greater academic potential than those in the regular program. This greater aptitude does not translate into better performance, however, until supported by the amount of formal instruction in English represented by the second threshold. A second possible mechanism might involve metalinguistic effects associated with bilingual education, but only after a certain level of formal instruction is reached. For our purposes here, however, the key premise is simply the existence of a second, higher threshold of formal instruction in English (beyond what is needed for immersion students to reach parity with their regular program peers). This second threshold results in an extended lag before immersion students' performance overtakes that of students in the regular program. We can construct an alternative explanation of the different patterns in immersion student performance at grades 3 and 6 by focusing on possible changes in the composition of cohorts at each grade level. Attrition from immersion programs has long been a concern for both educators and parents on the grounds of equity for students and effect on both immersion and regular programs. As a 1989 Carleton Board of Education (1989) review of immersion states, 'The students who transfer out of French immersion programs are viewed not only as being under stress themselves but also as a stress which is created for the regular English program' (pp. 2-10). It should be noted that the report is citing perceptions, not documented facts. There is, however, probably a consensus among educators that students who transfer out of immersion in the early grades are generally those whose performance is below average. Where educators divide is on the issue of whether students' difficulties are specific to being in an immersion program or more general, and hence likely to reappear when they enter the regular program. There is also debate over how frequently weaker students are effectively 'counseled out' of immersion rather than leaving on their (or their parents') own initiative.

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