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Monday, March 22, 2004
Study: Student reading performance in minority-language schools2000
On average, students in French minority-language school systems performed at lower levels in reading than their counterparts in English school systems, according to a new study.
A report released today contains the results of two studies on the reading achievement of 15-year-olds. One of the studies in the report shows that the average reading performance for students in French school systems in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba was significantly lower than students in English-language school systems in those provinces. In Quebec, there was little difference in the results for French and English school systems.
The study found that in each province, there was a different combination of factors that distinguished students in French and English schools. These factors included adequacy of school resources, language spoken at home, socio-economic background of students, and the nature and availability of jobs in the community.
A separate study examined the performance of students in French-immersion programs in Canada. In every province, except Manitoba, students enrolled in French-immersion programs outperformed their counterparts in non-immersion programs in reading performance. In Manitoba, the results for both immersion and non-immersion students were the same.
The study found that, while students in French-immersion programs were more likely to come from better socio-economic backgrounds in terms of parents' occupations and education levels, these differences in family background alone do not explain the difference in reading performance.
Many factors may contribute to differences in reading performance in minority-language schools
A combination of factors may lie behind differences in reading performance between students in the French-language school systems and their counterparts in English-language school systems. In fact, minority-language school populations face a unique set of circumstances in each of the five provinces.
Students in minority-language schools were less likely to report the language of the school as their mother tongue. About 70% of students in minority-language schools in Nova Scotia, Quebec and Ontario reported the minority language as their mother tongue. In New Brunswick however, the vast majority of students in French minority-language school systems reported French as their own mother tongue (93%).
In addition, a greater proportion of students in these schools spoke another language most often at home. In French school systems in Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Manitoba, about 40% of students did not speak French most often at home.
The students in some provinces also differed in terms of their family background. In New Brunswick and Quebec, students in English schools were socio-economically better off than students in French schools. However, students in French schools in Manitoba came from families with significantly higher socio-economic status than the students in English schools.
The nature of the communities where students go to school has been shown to be an important factor in student performance. In Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Quebec, students in English schools tended to go to school in communities where the socio-economic conditions were generally more favourable. In Ontario and Manitoba, there were fewer differences at the community level.
In terms of school characteristics, there were significant differences related to school resources and staffing in all five provinces. Students in minority-language schools tended to be at a disadvantage.
The average student in a minority-language system was enrolled in a school where principals were more likely to report that inadequate material resources and teacher shortages hindered student learning. With the exception of Manitoba, they were also more likely to be hindered by inadequate instructional resources.
In Nova Scotia and Manitoba, students in French minority-language school systems reported significantly lower levels of teacher support and a less favourable disciplinary climate than students in English schools.
French immersion: Higher socio-economic background alone does not account for higher reading performance
French-immersion programs were introduced into Canadian schools during the 1970s to encourage bilingualism across the country. Three decades later, they exist to varying degrees in every province.
Data from PISA showed that in every province, except Manitoba, students enrolled in French-immersion programs outperformed their counterparts in non-immersion programs in reading performance. In Manitoba, the results for immersion and non-immersion students were the same.
The study examined whether the high performance of students in French-immersion programs was strongly related to differences in family background.
Students in French immersion are generally from higher socio-economic backgrounds. In most provinces, the average family socio-economic status of French-immersion students was significantly higher than that of their counterparts in non-immersion programs.
Except in Quebec, Ontario, Manitoba and British Columbia, French-immersion students were also significantly more likely to have a parent with a postsecondary education.
However, these differences in family background alone do not explain the difference in reading performance. In fact, no one factor alone explained the high performance of these students. When gender, socio-economic background and parents' education were each taken into account, French-immersion students still outperformed their counterparts in non-immersion programs.
For example, even among students who had a parent with a postsecondary education, French-immersion students had significantly higher reading results than non-immersion students in all provinces except Quebec and Manitoba.
The study pointed out that there are a number of other factors which may contribute to the high reading performance of French-immersion students. For example, schools and parents tend to screen students to ensure their readiness for immersion programs.
Moreover, there may be a tendency for less-skilled students not to enter French-immersion programs, or to transfer out of immersion programs if there is a concern about their ability to learn in the second language. It is also possible these programs provide an enriched environment for learning. More research is required to fully understand the French-immersion results.
Definitions, data sources and methods: survey number 4435.
The March 2004 issue of Education Quarterly Review, Vol. 9, no. 4 (81-003-XIE, $18/$55) is now available.
For more information, or to enquire about the concepts, methods or data quality of this release, contact Client Services (1-800-307-3382; 613-951-7608; fax: 613-951-9040; firstname.lastname@example.org), Culture, Tourism and the Centre for Education Statistics.