Challenging the Definition of “High-Quality” Preschool for Dual Language Learners: Implications for Practice and Measurement
Natalia Rojas

About the research


NAEd/Spencer Dissertation Fellowship

Award Year



New York University

Primary Discipline

As the number of dual language learners (DLLs) in early care and education (ECE) programs increases, it is critical to examine whether the quality of practices in these settings reflect the needs of the diverse groups of children being served. High-quality ECE experiences have positive effects on DLL children’s early development and learning. However, even among those who attend high-quality ECE programs, DLLs begin kindergarten at an academic disadvantage relative to their non-DLL peers; the gap widens as children grow older. Likely this is because high quality in the ECE literature has never been conceptualized in a way that is specific to the experiences of DLL children. In order to tackle the school readiness gaps between DLL and non-DLL children, both what is universal to all children and what is specific to the needs of DLL children should be taken into account when defining a high-quality classroom.My dissertation addresses these limitations through two studies focused on the specific quality of instruction experienced by DLLs in ECE. In my first study, I will employ multilevel models to understand the quality of teacher-child interactions experienced by DLL and non-DLL children and their associations with children’s school readiness outcomes. Study 2 aims to develop and pilot the first child-level measure of quality that specifically addresses the unique needs of DLL children. The two studies together will deepen our understanding of the variability of interactions within classrooms across DLL and non-DLL children and determine whether DLL-specific practices are being used in ECE classrooms.
About Natalia Rojas
Natalia Rojas is a doctoral candidate in the Psychology & Social Intervention program in the Department of Applied Psychology at NYU Steinhardt working with Hirokazu Yoshikawa and Pamela Morris. Natalia works at the intersection of social policy, practice, and developmental psychology. Her research interests are a direct response to the gap in systems-level conceptualizations of early childhood education. At the foundation of her research is an interest in understanding the factors at the district, program, and classroom levels associated with preschool classroom quality. Within her work examining the broad and complex set of ecological factors that influence classroom quality, Natalia’s concentration on immigrant-origin children focuses the lens on a subpopulation of a particular policy and public interest. Examples of this work include a research-practice partnership with NYC district leaders to use and conduct research in the context of NYC’s Pre-K for All initiative and a collaborative project with the New York Immigration Coalition. Her dissertation analyzes the quality of interactions between teachers and immigrant-origin children within classrooms, their associations with school readiness outcomes, and explores whether specific practices for immigrant-origin children are used in preschool classrooms.

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