In a multiple regression analysis, it was shown that three of the CFE subtests (initial, ending, and rhyming sounds) “accounted for 25% of the variance in reading fluency in Spanish and 20% of the variance in English reading fluency” in first and second grade (Riccio et al., 2001, p. 596). For older students (third through fifth grades), these numbers were lower, at 17% for Spanish and 14% for English.
The study (Riccio et al., 2001) found that the ability to identify initial and final phonemes and rhyming sounds, and to delete phonemes on the CTE Spanish test was related to both Spanish and English fluency.
One challenge to the reliability of this study (Riccio et al., 2001) could be it’s use of the CFE, the Conciencia Fonologica en Espanol. The test was created for the study, and it was a pilot version. Though great care was put into the creation of the assessment tool, it is possible that there were flaws we might not see in a small scale study. It should be tested for reliability and revised. It is important for these assessments to be developed, but it may have affected the results of the study.
Chiappe, Siegel, and Wade-Woolley (2002) investigated the development of literacy skills for ESL students of a variety of ethnicities. The authors (Chiappe et al., 2002) cited important differences in the phonemic structures of different languages, as well as differences in the syntax of the languages that can cause confusion for ESL students learning to read. Until students have learned the phonemic rules for a new language, they are interpreting everything they hear in terms of their native language.
When there are factors that do not match, many things may be missed or misconstrued. Also, the power to predict words in a sentence is diminished when students are not familiar with syntax. It is suggested that this language barrier may delay the development of English reading abilities in ESL students and put them behind their native English speaking peers. This study sought to find what the effects these literacy skills had on the reading performance in kindergarten and first grade.
A total of 858 subjects, students from the North Vancouver (Canada) school district, coming from 30 different schools completed the study. (Chiappe et al., 2002). Most of the students lived in middle class areas. The sample included 727 students who spoke English as their native language, and 131more who were learning English as a second language and spoke other languages with their families. Of these ESL students, 38 spoke Chinese, 23 spoke Farsi, Korean, Japanese, and Spanish all had seven speakers, and Tagalog had 6 speakers. There were also several other languages spoken by between 1 and 3 students, “Arabic, Bulgarian, Dutch, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hindi, Italian, Kurdish, Norwegian, Polish, Punjabi, Romanian, Russian, Serbocroatian, and Swedish” (Chiappe et al., 2002, p. 374). Obviously, the classrooms were very linguistically diverse in this sample.
The classrooms in the schools included both systematic phonics instruction and an emphasis on phonological awareness (Chiappe et al., 2002). Extra help was given to at risk students in these areas. Most teachers in the district also used whole language activities, including “journal writing, Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) time, leveled books, read alouds, the use of big books, lively discussions, alphabet songs, and cloze activities to foster growth in literacy and oral language skills”( Chiappe et al., 2002, p. 374). Because special ESL classes are not available until students are older in this district, all the children in the study were in classes with English speaking children in English only classrooms.
Children were tested at the beginning of kindergarten using several different assessments (Chiappe et al., 2002). They were tested using the Wide Range Achievement Test-3 to test letter recognition of capital letters and words that ranged in difficulty. They were also given an exam to identify all 26 lowercase letters in random order, and then asked to spell their names and a few simple words. Students were also examined on their ability to reproduce pseudo words using the Sound Mimicry subtest of the GFW Sound Symbol Test.
Phonological awareness was assessed in four different ways, using subtests of the Phonological Awareness Test (Chiappe et al., 2002). First, a rhyme detection assessment from the where students picked a word that rhymed with the first word, then the Syllable Identification exam that asked students to identify the last syllable. The Phoneme Identification subtest asked students to say the last sound, or phoneme, instead of the whole syllable. Lastly, children were asked to delete a phoneme from a word with the Phoneme Deletion subtest.
Children were also assessed on their ability to do word retrieval, where they were not asked to read at all but rather were shown pictures of objects and had to say the name for them (Chiappe et al., 2002). There is no information given on whether the ESL students were allowed to say the word in their native tongue, this information was left out by the researcher. Though a subject might know the word for something in their own language and be able to retrieve the word from their memory banks, they might not know the word for it in English. It would provide more clarity if the researcher gave this information. I assume they were allowed to respond only in English, and in such case, obviously this assessment would not be one in which students who do not know English would find as much success as they would in their native language.
To assess the students’ familiarity with English syntax, a sentence with a missing word was read and students were asked to provide a word that fit (Chiappe et al., 2002). Students were also asked to repeat sentences to assess their verbal short term memory.
Finally, students were given pictures of signs and logos to assess their familiarity with environmental print.
First grade students were tested on decoding and spelling, as well as other measures using subtests of the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test (Chiappe et al., 2002). These included word attack for pseudowords and common and uncommon word identification. Students were also asked to spell ten real words and ten pseudowords.
Any phonetically plausible combinations of phonemes were accepted for the pseudowords, so multiple letter patterns were accepted as correct, as long as there was a precedent. First grade students were also assessed on pseudoword repetition, phoneme deletion and substitution, awareness of English syntax, and verbal short-term memory.
Children were tested at the beginning of kindergarten (in October and November), and in March and April of their first grade year (Chiappe et al., 2002). Kindergarten examinations lasted about 30 minutes, and for 40 minutes in first grade. Children were separated into at risk and not at risk for reading failure groups in each category of native English speakers and ESL students.
The study (Chiappe et al., 2002) found that in kindergarten “the interaction between language group and reading skill was… significant, F(1, 831)= 2.23, p<.05, indicating that differences between At-Risk and Not-At-Risk children were greater for NS [native English speakers] than ESL children” (Ciappe et al., 2002, p. 380). In comparing the two groups, ESL children struggled more with the rhyme identification assessments, f=11.64, p<.001. Overall, there was not a huge difference between English speaking and ESL students in the ability to process phonemically in English. There were greater differences in at risk and not at risk students than the language groups in phonemic awareness.
The native speaking children performed better on oral cloze tasks (repeating deleted words) than ESL learners (f=7.71, p<.001) (Chiappe et al., 2002). Though the results were not statistically significant, English speaking students were able to use their short term memory to repeat more of a sentence than ESL students. Perhaps because they were more able to rely on syntax, they were more able to remember the sentences as more than a meaningless string of sounds, which may have been the case for students with little proficiency in English.
In first grade reading scores and pseudoword repetition, it was found that language was not a significant factor (Chiappe et al., 2002). The only thing that would predict the reading performance in first grade from kindergarten would be membership in at risk or not at risk groups. Native English speakers did perform better than ESL student on the oral cloze measure, just as they had in kindergarten. It was statistically significant, f=50.80, p<.001. The study also found that the difference between at risk and not at risk group was more for students in the ESL group. Additionally, ESL students performed worse than their counterparts on remembering and repeating sentences, though the result was not statistically significant.
Between the two grades, ESL students grew more than native speaking counterparts (f=5082, p<.05) in reading skills (Chiappe et al., 2002). The researchers note they were still slower at word retrieval, which was the test where the students were asked to say a word for an illustration.
Native speaking children scored higher on providing a missing word (oral cloze) than ESL students (f=34.04, p<.001) (Chiappe et al., 2002). The differences between ESL and native English speakers were larger in first grade than they were in kindergarten. The study also found that native English students were stronger in their short term verbal memory, but that both groups grew at a similar rate. The study found that for ESL learners, phonological skills and letter knowledge in kindergarten, but not verbal memory, were related to the ability to read and decode individual words in first grade.
The study also reports ESL students caught up to native speakers in phonological processing, but not on syntactic awareness and short term memory of words (Chiappe et al., 2002). In fact, the gap actually increased between the two assessments for ability to use English syntax, showing that ESL students did not grow as fast as native English speakers.
The researchers (Chiappe et al., 2002) cite that “ESL students were decoding at the same level as their NS peers despite differences in their oral language skills” (Ciappe et al., 2002, p. 394). The final conclusion (Chiappe et al., 2002) was that students of all language backgrounds can find success in decoding with explicit and systematic instruction in phonics and phonemic awareness.
The researchers state “these results suggest that systematic and explicit instruction in phonological awareness and phonics will benefit children from diverse language backgrounds” (Chiappe et al., 2002, p. 393). The validity of this statement could be challenged, as there was a balanced classroom approach that included other methods to teach literacy as well, which may have been more helpful in teaching students reading skills. Just because phonics was used, there were many other methods as well, and there is nothing presented to prove that the improvements were not based on the story reading, silent reading time, or other whole language activities that were said to be present in the classrooms. It could also be argued that the researchers have seemed to neglect reading comprehension in their study. The ability to decode is important in learning to read, but it is incomplete without the ability to understand what had been read. The decision not to assess on any comprehension skills is a disappointing omission by the researchers.