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UBC Theses and Dissertations

A critical examination of the academic trajectories of ESL youth Garnett, Bruce William


This study modifies Cummins' (1997) theoretical framework of minority student achievement and social power relations to account for differences in educational achievement among different identifiable subgroups of the ESL population. This framework provides the conceptual structure for a multidimensional understanding of ESL academic achievement (e.g. Gonzales, 2001) whereby the mediating influence of the broad social power relations between dominant and minority groups, students' individual characteristics, including personal abilities, experiences and socio-demographic backgrounds, interacts with ecologies, including educational structures such as curricula, curricular organization, school populations and the policy environment to influence educational trajectories. This study employs descriptive, bi-variate, and logistic and multiple regression to perform secondary analysis on data describing the academic trajectories of the ESL students (n=7 527) of British Columbia's 1997 grade eight cohort (n=48 265). It compares the results to a native English speaker (NES) baseline. ESL students are disaggregated by ethno-cultural background, English proficiency, gender, age on entry to the BC school system, and socio-economic status. School population effects are also considered. The dependent variables are five and six-year graduation rates, and participation and performance across academic subjects. Results show that identifiable ethno-cultural subgroups of ESL students navigate widely varying academic trajectories. English proficiency and gender differences also affect achievement, more so in already under-achieving ethno-cultural groups. Later ages of entry generally prove advantageous for some groups in mathematics and the sciences but predict diminished outcomes in the humanities for all groups. Socio-economic effects only partially account for differences among ethno-cultural groups. School composition also has minimal effect. Most ethno-cultural groups have higher academic participation rates but lower performance scores than NESs. ESL graduation rates are more stable across socio-economic strata than NES graduation rates. The need to disaggregate data for research and decision-making, and to target support toward under-performing student groups is discussed. While ESL students perform well in aggregate, lower outcomes of identifiable subgroups are masked. The study concludes with a call for more refined data, and for further methodologically advanced research.

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