In a longitudinal design, 51 low-achieving adolescents’ development in writing proficiency from Grades 7 to 9 was measured. There were 25 native-Dutch and 26 language-minority students. In addition, the roles of (1) linguistic knowledge, (2) metacognitive knowledge, and (3) linguistic fluency in predicting both the level and development of writing proficiency were assessed. Low-achieving students improved in writing proficiency, the language-minority students more so than the native-Dutch students. Regarding the level of writing proficiency, individual differences between low achieving adolescents could be accounted for by receptive vocabulary, grammatical knowledge, and speed of sentence verification, suggesting that these are important components in low-achieving adolescents’ writing. Regarding development in writing proficiency, grammatical knowledge predicted variation between low-achieving students. Explanations and educational implications of these findings are discussed.
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At the time of this study this aptitude test was obligatorily administered in primary schools at the end of grade 6 and was largely decisive for the secondary track that each individual student would take (roughly: prevocational, higher general secondary education and pre-academic education).
We accepted two exceptions to this rule. Two native-Dutch students have one parent born outside the Netherlands. We decided to include these students after verifying that Dutch is the only language spoken at home for these students.
In the Netherlands, most of the secondary-school students from immigrant backgrounds are from the second generation Turkish and Moroccan immigrants. In general, their families have low socioeconomic status, low level of education and low levels of professional training (CBS, 2012; Tesser & Iedema, 2001). At home, the language spoken by their parents is often the ethnic group language, although Dutch may be used beside this home language. Outside the domestic environment, for example, at school, Dutch is the language that is primarily used.
Twelve students dropped out of the study for different reasons (chronical illness, change of school and the burden of the requirements of research participation). t tests showed no significant difference on any of the measured variables between the students dropping out and the remaining students in our sample.
These writing assignments were pretested with students in the prevocational tracks (grade 7 and 9) together with three other assignments in order to select the ones that appeared to be the best prompts for the students in both ages.
For the purpose of another study not only the selected students within each class, but also their classmates produced texts on the writing assignments (N = 199).
For the vocabulary test and for all following tests, items were selected from the previous studies by deleting the items that were regarded too difficult for the group of low-achieving students.
Cronbach’s alpha coefficient for the typing speed test were .96 (Grade 7), .94 (Grade 8) and .95 (Grade 9).
During the 3 years of the longitudinal study students spread into diverse classes. In the analysis we chose to use the categories based on in which class they were in the first year of the study.
Coded as 0 (Grade 7), 1 (Grade 8), and 2 (Grade 9).
Coded as 0 (native-Dutch students) and 1 (language-minority students).
Improvement is also present between Grade 7 and 8 (Z = 4.38, p < .001) as indicated in the Time of measurement (2) row in Table 2. An additional analysis indicates that there is growth between Grade 8 and Grade 9 (Z = 1.99, p < .05) as well.
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Funding was provided by Nederlandse Organisatie voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (Grant NO. 411-06-503).
Correlations between writing tasks in Grade 7, 8 and 9. N = 51.
Grade 7 correlations
Grade 8 correlations
Grade 9 correlations
Results of multilevel analyses. Dependent variable is ‘writing proficiency—repeatedly measured’.
51 students, 10 classes, 3 times of measurement
Distribution of variance
Time of measurement
Fit (− 2 * loglikelihood)
Difference − 2 * loglikelihood
Means and standard deviations for native-Dutch (n = 25) and language-minority (n = 26) students in grades 7, 8 and 9.
Receptive vocabulary (Max = 73)
Grammatical knowledge (Max = 50)
Orthographic knowledge (Max = 68)
Metacognitive knowledge (Max = 45)
Word recognition (ms)
Lexical retrievala (ms)
− 120.2 (269.2)
− 63.1 (196.1)
− 45.9 (152.6)
Sentence verification (ms)
Significant effects of background on students’ (N = 51) performance on writing proficiency and the seven independent variables.
Word recognition (ms)
Lexical retrieval (ms)
Sentence verification (ms)
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Trapman, M., van Gelderen, A., van Schooten, E. et al. Writing proficiency level and writing development of low-achieving adolescents: the roles of linguistic knowledge, fluency, and metacognitive knowledge. Read Writ 31, 893–926 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11145-018-9818-9