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Language-based Differences in the Literacy Performance of Bidialectal Youth


by Patriann Smith, Jehanzeb R. Cheema, Alex Kumi-Yeboah, S. Joel Warrican & Melissa L. Alleyne — 2018

Background/Context: Standard English functions as a dominant language in the English-speaking Caribbean context despite the bidialectal, bilingual, and multilingual nature of countries. Notwithstanding, Caribbean non-Standard English-speaking students continue to be administered literacy assessments that do not take into account their nonstandardized English language use. This practice inadvertently reinforces assumptions that privilege Standard English as a language of assessment (Canagarajah, 2006b; Shohamy, 2006) and that devalue certain World Englishes (Canagarajah, 2006a) in academia.

Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: In this study, we examined the way in which 3,184 15-year-old 9th and 10th grade Trinidadian bidialectal adolescent youth self-identified linguistically on the 2009 Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) literacy assessment and explored their reading, math, and science literacy performance based on their self-identification as native English and non-native English speaking students.

Population/Participants/Subjects: The population included 3,184 15-year-old students, 52.3% (n = 1,666) of whom were girls and 47.7% (n = 1,518) of whom were boys. Of this population, 28.5% (n = 909) were in Grade 9 while the rest were in Grade 10 (n = 2,275); 89.7% (n = 2,856) were enrolled in public schools and 10.3% (n = 327) were enrolled in private schools; and across these groups, 97.3% (n = 3,098) identified English (i.e., Standard English) while 2.7% (n = 86) identified a language other than Standard English as their “native” language (i.e., non-Standard English).

Research Design: The statistical results in our study were based on secondary analysis of a survey-based nationally representative sample of 15-year-old students from Trinidad and Tobago. We used analysis of covariance in order to control for demographic differences and used hierarchical linear modeling to verify the robustness of our empirical findings.

Findings: The majority of students self-identified as [Standard] English speakers despite the predominant use of nonstandardized Englishes in their country. Findings showed large and significant differences between “self-identifying native” and “self-identifying non-native” speakers of English, with higher mean scores for the former group in all three assessed areas of literacy as measured in English. Self-identifying native English speakers performed significantly below the PISA 2009 OECD mean of 500 and reflected a high degree of volatility in performance. These differences persisted even after controlling for important student demographic differences such as grade, gender, school type, and indicators of socioeconomic and cultural status.

Conclusions/Recommendations: The study serves to justify the need for closer attention to the pervasive role of colonialism in the dominance of Standard English in multilingual testing (Shohamy, 2006), highlights the need for attention to bidialectal students’ performativity in World Englishes that challenge normative Standard English literacy proficiency (Canagarajah, 2006a), and requires that assumptions steeped in colonialism that underlie Standard English literacy testing on the PISA international measure be revisited if bidialectal adolescent learners are to be accurately represented on these measures in much the same manner as their monolingual and Standard English speaking counterparts.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 1, 2018, p. 1-
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21947, Date Accessed: 7/22/2017 8:35:09 PM

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About the Author
  • Patriann Smith
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    PATRIANN SMITH is an Assistant Professor of Language, Diversity, and Literacy Studies in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction at Texas Tech University. Patriann’s work emerges at the intersection of language, culture, literacy, and multicultural teacher education and draws primarily on sociocultural, sociolinguistic, and acculturation theories to examine the ways in which cross-linguistic and cross-cultural differences intersect, clash, and collide to impact literacy teaching and learning for culturally and linguistically diverse learners across local, national, and international contexts. Specifically, Patriann advocates for literacy instruction and assessment that capitalizes on students’ cultural and linguistic affordances as a means of addressing language ideologies that impact literacy (under) performance for (immigrant) speakers of nonstandardized English(es). Her recent publications include “A Distinctly American Opportunity: Crossing Linguistic Boundaries by Exploring Non-Standardized Englishes in Policy and Practice,” published in Insights from the Behavioral and Brain Sciences, and the edited Handbook of Research on Cross-Cultural Approaches to Language and Literacy Development, published by IGI Global.
  • Jehanzeb Cheema
    University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign
    E-mail Author
    JEHANZEB CHEEMA is an Instructor at the University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business, where he teaches courses in Operations Research. He received both a master’s degree and a doctorate in Economics from the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee in 2006, and a doctorate in Education from George Mason University in 2012. His research areas of interest include missing data analysis and exploration of academic literacy gaps. Jehanzeb’s recent publications include “The Private-Public Literacy Divide amid Educational Reform in Qatar: What Does PISA Tell Us?” published in International Review of Education, and “A Review of Missing Data Handling Methods in Education Research,” published in Review of Educational Research.
  • Alex Kumi-Yeboah
    University at Albany, State University of New York
    E-mail Author
    ALEX KUMI-YEBOAH is an Assistant Professor of Education in the Department of Educational Theory and Practice at the University at Albany, State University of New York. Broadly, his research examines mediating cross-cultural factors (educational, social, psychological, sociolinguistic) that impact the educational advancement of Black immigrant students in United States schools. He also studies cross-cultural collaboration and multicultural contexts in online education. Alex’s recent publications include “Cross-Cultural Educational Experiences and Academic Achievement of Ghanian Immigrant Youth in Urban Public Schools,” published in Education and Urban Society, and “Factors That Promote Enhancement of Critical Multicultural Citizenship Education among Black Immigrant Youth,” published in International Journal of Multicultural Education.
  • S. Joel Warrican
    University of the West Indies
    E-mail Author
    S. JOEL WARRICAN has been in the field of education for over 30 years, with teaching experience at all levels, from kindergarten to tertiary. He holds a B.Ed. in Language and Literacy Education from The University of the West Indies, and an MPhil in Research Methods and a PhD in Language and Literacy Education, both from the University of Cambridge. He is currently the Director of Academic Programming and Delivery, the online division within The University of the West Indies Open Campus. His recent publications include the book The Complete Caribbean Teacher: Literacy, published by Pearson, and “Fostering True Literacy in the Commonwealth Caribbean: Bridging the Cultures of Home and School,” a chapter in the Handbook of Research on Cross-Cultural Approaches to Language and Literacy Development, published by IGI Global.
  • Melissa Alleyne
    University of the West Indies
    E-mail Author
    MELISSA L. ALLEYNE is a Planning Officer in the Office of Planning and Institutional Research for The University of the West Indies, Open Campus and a PhD student in Applied Linguistics at The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. She holds a B.A. in Linguistics and Literatures and English and an M.Phil. in Applied Linguistics, both from The University of the West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, Barbados. Her research interests are in applied linguistics, literacy, online and distance education, and institutional planning and development. A recent publication is “Predictors of Student Success in an Online Learning Environment in the English-Speaking Caribbean: Evidence from the University of the West Indies Open Campus,” published in Open Praxis.
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