English Language Learners in Michigan

I have been working with Dr. Paula Winke on a series of projects to investigate the potential impact of a newly passed third-grade reading-retention law in Michigan. The law, which goes into effect in 2020, states that third-graders (whether ELL or non-ELL students) may repeat third grade if they are more than one grade level behind in reading. Using two third-grader cohorts’ test and background data from 2016 and 2017, Dr. Winke and I attempted to predict the potential impact of the law on third-grade ELLs and non-ELLs. We calculated and compared the potential retention rates in ELLs and non-ELLs. We also investigated the validity of the state reading assessment (which is used to determine “one grade level behind”) in assessing ELLs. For more details about our research, please read our paper published on TESOL Quarterly, or watch our video abstract.

For my dissertation, I investigate English language growth for Michigan’s ELL children. Specifically, I use multilevel discrete-time survival analysis to examine the time it takes for ELL children to reach English proficiency, as well as how this time varies by ELLs’ background characteristics (socioeconomic status, disability status, home language background, and initial proficiency) and school factors (instructional programming, school’s poverty, minority, and ELL rates). I expect the results of my dissertation to have broad implications for developing proficiency in ELL students and for understanding child second language acquisition.

Oral Proficiency Growth

There is a lack of longitudinal research in language testing and in second language acquisition (SLA) in general. Without longitudinal research, it is difficult to test the plausibility of key SLA theories (e.g., theories and hypotheses related to interlanguage development) and the appropriateness of various proficiency models (e.g., CEFR and ACTFL). In a project that I collaborated with Dr. Winke and Dr. Shaunna Clark, we examined the oral proficiency growth of 1,922 lower-division college foreign language learners. Using latent growth curve modeling, we mapped the students’ OPIc scores over a three-semester course sequence (2nd, 3rd, and 4th semesters) and examined the effect of background variables on the initial proficiency level and rate of growth. We found that the students’ oral proficiency grew at a nonlinear, and mildly accelerating rate.

Washback and Validity

Another line of research I am interested in is test washback and validity. I investigated the washback effect of a national English test in China, the Test for English Majors-Band 4 (TEM4), by drawing on survey and interview data from 496 English-major students and 71 English-major teachers at 18 geographically dispersed institutions of higher education in China. Analyzing the data quantitatively and qualitatively, I found that both the direction and magnitude of test washback varied substantially across local contexts of test use: While teaching and learning activities were less likely to be affected by the TEM4 at top-tier institutions than at lower-ranking institutions, teachers and students at top-tier institutions were more likely to perceive the TEM4 and its impacts negatively due to test-oriented instructional activities, such as practicing sample test items in class.