Limited English Proficiency Students and Mathematics

An Annotated Bibliography

by Kristen Lockwood

Learning and Mathematics || Minorities and Math

This annotated bibliography provides resources for mathematics teachers and others interested in how language may affect the thought, achievement and assessment of students of limited English proficiency, as well as these students' access to knowledge and education.

Limited English proficiency (LEP) students are defined as those who perform in the bottom one-half to one-quarter on tests that measure knowledge of the English language. Through the Bilingual Education Act of 1968, these students are often provided with instruction in the public schools that supplements or replaces regular classroom instruction, including English as a Second Language classes which emphasize English language learning, and long- and short-term bilingual programs that facilitate the move to the regular classroom. More research needs to be done on the relation between language skills and mathematics learning; however, the resources below indicate that students' language capabilities do affect their learning of mathematics and classroom achievement.

Two sources that provide an important introduction to the subject are Linguistic and cultural influences on learning mathematics , edited by Rodney R. Cocking and Jose P. Mestre, and New directions for equity in mathematics education , edited by Walter G. Secada, Elizabeth Fennema, and Lisa Byrd Adajian.



  1. Cardelle-Elawar, M. "Effects of Feedback Tailored to Bilingual Students' Mathematics Needs on Verbal Problem Solving."
    The effect of teachers' verbal feedback on the ability of bilingual sixth graders to solve math word problems is examined. It is found that feedback targeted to bilingual students' individual needs, as well as bilingual classroom needs, improves student performance on mathematics word problems.
    In Elementary School Journal , 91:2, pp. 165-176, November 1990.

  2. Christian, D. "Two-way Bilingual Education: Students Learning Through Two Languages."
    Christian's study is useful for the educator who wishes to become familiar with the benefits of certain types of bilingual education programs that may include mathematics instruction. Two-way bilingual education programs, in which a group of English-speaking and minority language speaking students is taught together in both languages, are advocated because they combine "the best features of bilingual and foreign language [immersion] education for students." Both groups gain skills in a second language and content areas (like math), have the opportunity to work together, and learn in an environment that values both language backgrounds.
    Report published by the National Center for Research on Cultural Diversity and Second Language Learning, 1995.

  3. Chyu, Chi Oy W. "Teaching Mathematics Problem Solving to Students with Limited English Proficiency through the Nested Spiral Approach."
    The Nested Spiral Approach (NSA) is an instructional approach designed to facilitate motivated learning of mathematics problem solving by LEP students. NSA focuses on student needs and strengths related to their linguistic and cultural heritage. The approach and its experimental use with positive results in a classroom of bilingual Chinese eighth-graders are described. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the National Association of Bilingual Education in Washington, DC on January 9-12, 1991.
    Available from ERIC Document Reproduction Service, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia, 22153-2852.

  4. Cohen, E. G., R. Lotan and L. Catanzarite. "Can expectations for competence be altered in the classroom."
    This paper looks at nine bilingual elementary school classes in the San Jose area to determine how student characteristics affect the classroom. The children in the classrooms work together at learning centers and solve problems involving math and science concepts. The authors examine the data obtained from these classrooms to see whether the effects of student characteristics, such as having a first language other than English, can be altered.
    In M. Webster, Jr. and M. Foschi (Eds.), Status generalization: New theory and research (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1988, pp. 27-54).

  5. Darling-Hammond, L. "Inequality and Access to Knowledge."
    Darling-Hammond overviews the historical and current inequality in our educational system. She finds that different ethnic and language groups had and still have different levels of access to knowledge, which affects school success. She cites studies that show that ethnic and language minorities are often segregated within school systems and tend to go to schools that have lower pupil expenditure levels and inadequate facilities.
    In Banks and Banks (Eds.), Handbook of Research on Multicultural Education . (New York: Macmillan, 1995.)

  6. Ellis, N. E. "Collaborative Interaction for the Improvement of Teaching."
    This article looks at the effects of the implementation of collaborative interactions among elementary school teachers within an instructional math and science program for bilingual classrooms, and suggests that frequency and structured quality of collaborative meetings among teachers affected the quality of the implementation of the program. Ellis provides insights for teachers into how to use collaboration to improve mathematics instruction for bilingual students.
    In Teaching and Teacher Education , 6:3, pp. 267-77, 1990.

  7. Fernandez, R. M. and F. Nielsen. "Bilingualism and Hispanic Scholastic Achievement: Some Baseline Results."
    Fernandez and Nielsen show the association of English proficiency with higher scholastic achievement and the association of the frequent use of Spanish with lower levels of achievement and less ability to "convert family socioeconomic status into higher school achievement." Differences in achievement, which vary according to immigrant status and subpopulation group, are attributed to ethnic discrimination and linguistic disadvantages within the system.
    In Social Science Research , 15, pp. 43-70, 1986.

  8. Figueroa, R. A. and E. Garcia. "Issues in Testing Students from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Backgrounds."
    Figueroa and Garcia approach the task of educating limited English proficiency students from an assessment standpoint. They believe that these students often do not develop either their first or second language to its fullest potential because of an emphasis on learning English quickly rather than developing skills and engaging in content-area learning. This view suggests different methods of testing limited English proficiency students to reflect their linguistic backgrounds.
    In Multicultural Education , Fall 1994.

  9. Fitzgerald, J. "English-as-a-Second-Language (ESL) Learners' Cognitive Reading Processes: A Review of Research in the United States."
    While this article focuses on the reading processes of limited English proficiency students, it provides a look at ESL programs not supported by much of the research in this Forum location. Fitzgerald concludes that first language knowledge is transferred to English reading by the students in ESL classrooms, thus supporting the use of ESL instruction for limited English proficiency students.
    In Review of Education Research , Summer 1995, 65:2.

  10. Gourgey, Annette. "Computer-Assisted Instruction Evaluation Report, 1983-84 School Year, Division of Research, Evaluation and Testing Report No. 21."
    The Computer-Assisted Instruction program is made up of a regular component for remedial and average-achieving students, an enrichment component for higher-achieving students, and a bilingual component, all including mathematics instruction. Results from the study show that the students in the bilingual program who had the highest initial proficiency in English had the smallest returns but used the computer for the most time. Six recommendations are provided for future use of the program. The program could be used for comparison with the Math Forum's use in the classroom.
    Available from the Division of Research, Evaluation and Testing, Newark City School District, New Jersey, 1984; or from the author, Annette Gourgey, 333 West 86th Street, Apt. 1009, New York, New York, 10024.

  11. Hakuta, K. and L. Gould. "Synthesis of Research on Bilingual Education."
    Hakuta and Gould provide an accessible summary and evaluation of the research done on bilingual education. They focus on the 1980s when much of the research now cited as evidence to support or oppose bilingual programs was done. They emphasize rejecting the myths surrounding bilingual education, such as the suggestion that bilingual educators and the "bilingual education bureaucracy" do not wish students to learn English or to become part of English- speaking classrooms. They provide evidence that a strong foundation in the first language supports future learning of English.
    In Educational Leadership , 44:6, March 1987.

  12. Khisty, L. L. "Making inequality: Issues of language and meanings in mathematics teaching with Hispanic students."
    This chapter is based on the idea that "the teaching and learning process consists of an interaction between persons for the purpose of developing and sharing meanings." It is useful to the educator because it examines mathematics teaching to limited English proficiency students through actual classroom observation. The process of mathematics instruction can be hindered for minority and limited English proficiency children because classroom discourse may exclude them. Observations of five classrooms with large Mexican-American populations are presented, including classrooms in which the teacher spoke primarily English or Spanish.
    In Walter G. Secada, Elizabeth Fennema, and Lisa Byrd Adajian (Eds.), New directions for equity in mathematics education (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp. 279-297).

  13. LaCelle-Peterson, M. W. and C. Rivera. "Is it Real for All Kids? A Framework for Equitable Assessment Policies for English Language Learners."
    This article is a helpful companion to the Figueroa and Garcia testing piece in exploring issues of assessing limited English proficiency students. LaCelle- Peterson and Rivera track the placement of limited English proficiency students in classrooms. They find that many of these students are placed in lower ability classrooms and special education programs, which makes school success more difficult for them to achieve.
    In Harvard Educational Review , 64:1, Spring 1994.

  14. Lass, M. J. "Suggestions from Research for Improving Mathematics Instruction for Bilinguals."
    Fourteen realistic classroom suggestions for changing mathematics instruction to better teach bilingual students. The use of language in learning and solving mathematical problems is emphasized.
    In School Science and Mathematics , 88:6, pp. 480-7, October 1988. Download a PDF of the article (496k).

  15. McDonnell, L. M. and P. T. Hill. Newcomers in American Schools: Meeting the Educational Needs of Immigrant Youth .
    McDonnell and Hill identify the lack of interest among policymakers in improving the education of immigrant youth due to a perception that there will be large costs and diffuse benefits. Different outcomes were observed for immigrant and native-born students with respect to teacher expectations and tension between school and home, with native-born students exhibiting tension between the acquisition of English and school norms and holding on to their native language and culture. McDonnell and Hill suggest parent integration into schools, changes in course offering and teaching strategies, and higher teacher expectations for immigrant and native-born youth.
    Santa Monica, CA: Rand, 1993.

  16. McLoughlin, J. A. Assessing special students .
    McLoughlin looks at assessment strategies for "special students," including students for whom English is not their first language. Strategies include the use of computers and curriculum-based assessment. Chapter 14 focuses on limited English proficiency students and includes the assessment of mathematics and written and oral language skills.
    3rd edition (Columbus, OH: Merrill Publishing Company, 1990).

  17. Mestre, J. P. "The role of language comprehension in mathematics and problem solving."
    This chapter presents specific examples of the interaction between language and problem-solving performance for Hispanic students of two age groups (ninth grade algebra students and college students in technical fields). It is determined that language proficiency plays a large role in how students think.
    In Rodney R. Cocking and Jose P. Mestre, (Eds.) Linguistic and cultural influences on learning mathematics: The psychology of education and instruction (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1988, pp. 201-220).

  18. Myers, D. E. and A. M. Milne. "Effects of home language and primary language on mathematics achievement: A model and results for secondary analysis."
    From the Math and Language-Minority Student Project of the National Institute of Education. The article examines two models using the language usually spoken at home and the student's primary language, and the effect of the student's language use and background on mathematics achievement.
    In Rodney R. Cocking and Jose P. Mestre (Eds.), Linguistic and cultural influences on learning mathematics: the psychology of education and instruction (Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc., 1988, pp. 259-293).

  19. Ramirez, D. "Executive summary of the Final Report: Longitudinal study of structured English immersion strategy, early-exit and late-exit transitional bilingual education programs for language minority children."
    Ramirez's summary of his research gives an overview of the learning of limited English proficiency students in different types of bilingual programs. His study was one of the first that spanned a period of time in which some analysis of student achievement within various program types could be done.
    In Bilingual Research Journal , 16, pp. 1-62.

  20. Santiago, I. S. "The education of Hispanics in the United States: inadequacies of the American melting-pot theory."
    This article gives an overview of the education of Hispanics in the United States and emphasizes the need to provide Hispanics with equal access to education and appropriate instruction. Santiago argues that the use of "melting-pot" assimilationist theory in school reform negatively affects the education of Hispanics in the United States. Assimilationist theory "blame[s] the victims [Hispanic students]" for their failure and facilitates the implementation of "deficit models of instruction." This instruction, which usually focuses on the "basics" and English language learning, often causes Hispanic students (especially native- born Hispanics) to feel alienated from school, to have low expectations for their schooling, and to perform poorly or drop out. Santiago advocates universal maintenance bilingual education.
    In Dietmar Rothermund and John Simon (Eds.), Education and the Integration of Ethnic Minorities . (New York: St. Martin's Press, pp. 151-185.)

  21. Secada, W. G. "Diversity, equity, and cognitivist research."
    This paper discusses equity in mathematics education among population subgroups. It emphasizes research's role in questioning social arrangements currently surrounding mathematics education. In order to provide teachers with information about how they may treat different students differently on the basis of language and other factors, Secada studied what teachers were thinking while teaching mathematics and how different students approached and learned addition and subtraction.
    In E. Fennema, T. P. Carpenter, and S. J. Lamon (Eds.), Integrating research on teaching and learning mathematics (Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 1991, pp. 17-53).

  22. Secada, W. G. "Race, ethnicity, social class, language, and achievement in mathematics."
    Secada's chapter gives the reader a look at how language and other factors affect mathematics achievement. An intellectual approach to research is suggested when investigating how mathematics education is distributed. Secada argues that in our society mathematics education is provided unevenly on the basis of race, ethnicity, social class, and language. This disparity affects the achievement levels of limited English proficiency students, whose achievement levels are compared to other populations. Efforts to reduce the achievement gap among groups are reviewed and assessed.
    In Douglas A Grouws (Ed.), Handbook of research on mathematics teaching and learning (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Inc., 1992, pp. 623-660).

  23. Stoloff, D. L. "Limited English Proficient Students and Mathematics and Science Achievement: Strategies for Success Practiced within California Academic Partnership Program Projects."
    This paper looks at how the California Academic Partnership Project's (CAPP) curriculum development and assessment projects implement techniques for learning and teaching mathematics and science for limited English proficiency students over the period 1983-1989. Included are tutoring and counseling efforts, parental and community involvement, and team teaching and curriculum development, as well as a look at the continued efforts of CAPP projects. Paper presented at the Meeting of the California Association for Bilingual Education in Anaheim, California on February 16, 1989.
    Available from the author, David L. Stoloff, Sonoma State University, School of Education, 1801 East Cotati Avenue, Rohnert Park, CA 94928.

  24. Wilde, Sandra. "Learning to Write about Mathematics."
    The importance of making writing part of any mathematics curriculum is discussed, including the use of word problems, process problems, journals, etc. in bilingual classrooms. Includes student work and explanations.
    In Arithmetic Teacher , 38:6, pp. 38-43, February 1991.

  25. Young, Malcolm B. Academic Performance of Limited English Proficient Indian Elementary Students in Reservation Schools: Year Two Report of the National Evaluation of Services for Limited English Proficient Native American Students .
    This report provides a look at the academic performance of American Indian elementary school students with limited English proficiency. It includes data from classroom observation and other sources at public, tribal, and Bureau of Indian Affairs-controlled schools. Students scored below the national average on standardized achievement tests in mathematics and other subjects. The report suggests that low test scores can be partially attributed to levels of exposure to English and to lack of home support for educational achievement.
    Office of Planning, Budget, and Evaluation, Washington, DC, 1988. (Available from the author, Malcolm B. Young, 3226 1st Street North, Arlington, VA 22201-1035.)

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