Reading and Writing

, Volume 30, Issue 4, pp 829–856 | Cite as

Defying expectations: Vocabulary growth trajectories of high performing language minority students

  • Jin Kyoung Hwang
  • Joshua Fahey Lawrence
  • Catherine E. Snow


We investigated general vocabulary and academic vocabulary growth trajectories of adolescent language minority students using an individual growth modeling approach. Our analytical sample included 3161 sixth- to eighth-grade students from an urban school district in California. The language minority students in our sample were classified as initially fluent English proficient (IFEP), redesignated fluent English proficient (RFEP), or limited English proficient (LEP) students. The analytical sample was not a nationally representative sample and included a great number of Asian students and students who receive gifted and talented education. Students were assessed at four time points on a standardized measure of general vocabulary and a researcher-developed academic vocabulary test. On both vocabulary measures, IFEP students slightly outperformed English-only (EO) students on average, and EO students scored higher than RFEP and LEP students at baseline. RFEP and LEP students showed slower rate of growth than their EO peers in general vocabulary. While both EO and language minority students showed summer setback with general vocabulary knowledge on average, the magnitude of summer setback was not as great for LEP students. In academic vocabulary, all subgroups of language minority students showed more rapid rate of growth than their EO peers. Only the REP students experienced a change in the learning trajectory during the summer months. We discuss the implications of these findings for all language groups.


Language minority students Adolescent Vocabulary growth Longitudinal Academic language 



This research was supported by Grant Number R305A090555, Word Generation: An Efficacy Trial (PI: Catherine Snow) from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), US Department of Education (USDE).


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of EducationUniversity of CaliforniaIrvineUSA
  2. 2.Department of Educational ResearchUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  3. 3.Harvard Graduate School of EducationCambridgeUSA

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