Reconceptualizing the Task of Early Identification of Reading Comprehension Difficulties for Language Minority Learners: The Persistence Dimension
Jeannette Mancilla-Martinez

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Postdoctoral Fellowship

Award Year



University of California, Irvine

Primary Discipline

Literacy and/or English/Language Education
Many students whose first language is not English, referred to here as Language Minority (LM) learners, struggle more to comprehend English text than their native-English speaking peers. These reading achievement gaps persist even among LM learners born, raised, and educated in the U.S. Research-based interventions are needed to boost young LM learners’ opportunities to learn in order to close the achievement gap. The push for preventive efforts is not new, but understanding and remediating the role of persistent difficulties with early skills known to influence reading outcomes remains relatively unexplored.My research reconceptualizes the task of early identification of reading comprehension difficulties. Rather than focusing on potentially transitory difficulties during any given academic year, I will explore the extent to which persistent difficulties with early reading skills, in Spanish and/or English, better explain LM learners’ reading comprehension outcomes and more accurately predict difficulties through adolescence. This study utilizes existing longitudinal data on 173 U.S.-born, English-instructed Spanish-speaking LM learners from low-income homes and aims to provide concrete instructional and policy recommendations anchored in empirically validated theoretical models of reading comprehension for LM learners. Specifically, data on word recognition and language comprehension in Kindergarten, Grade 1, and Grade 2 will be used to identify which children experience persistent difficulties across time. The predictive power of persistent vs. grade-specific problems for later reading comprehension difficulties will be assessed at both the mean and various other points (via quantile regression) of the Grades 5 and 8 reading comprehension distributions.There is wide consensus about the importance of preventing children’s reading comprehension difficulties. However, valid and appropriate identification of students, particularly of LM learners, as “at-risk” for reading difficulties is a complex undertaking. It is essential that educators and policymakers alike focus their efforts on ensuring that students receive support that maps on to their specific instructional needs as early as possible. My research is predicated on the possibility that the persistence dimension constitutes a promising approach to identifying LM learners who can benefit from sustained, targeted instruction in the service of mitigating later reading comprehension difficulties. Results of this study have the potential to make a significant contribution to efforts aimed at ensuring that LM learners are provided with effective supports for achievement.
About Jeannette Mancilla-Martinez
Jeannette Mancilla-Martinez received her Ed.D. in Language and Literacy from Harvard University in 2009, and is currently a tenure-track Assistant Professor of Language, Literacy, and Technology in the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine. Focused on the language and literacy development of students whose ages span the toddlerhood years through adolescence and who are from linguistically diverse homes, she aims to conduct research that can inform classroom instruction and shape policy to close the reading achievement gap. Her longitudinal work to date underscores the need to focus on promoting linguistically diverse students’ language development, before and during formal schooling. She is currently interested in the utility of early identification for later reading difficulties and in classroom practices that promote language development in order to design research-based interventions to ensure linguistically diverse students are provided with effective supports for achievement.

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