The Effect of Social Skills on Academic Achievement of Linguistically Diverse Elementary Students: Concurrent and Longitudinal Analysis
Due to the difference in cultures and languages, language minority students, who are mostly immigrant students, are confronted with more demands than are mainstream students (Ogden, Sorlie, & Hagen, 2007). Further, when they are limited in English proficiency (LEP), they tend to perform at lower levels in school and to be at risk of school failure. Based on the previous studies that addressed the importance of students' social skills for school success, this study examined the social development of the language minority immigrant students from kindergarten to fifth grade and investigated the longitudinal effect of their social skills on their academic performance in comparison with the English-speaking mainstream students.
Using a nationally representative database, the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study – Kindergarten Class of 1998-1999 (ECLS-K), this study first investigated the concurrent association between social skills and the academic achievement of fifth-grade students, and the profiles of their social skills during the first six years of schooling to identify the relative importance of various aspects of social skills that are related to academic performance. Next, the language minority student group, which was further divided based on their LEP status at kindergarten, was examined and compared with the mainstream student group with respect to their development patterns and levels of social skills from kindergarten to fifth grade. As a final step, the longitudinal effect of students' social skills on their reading and math performance was estimated and tested using the two-level hierarchical growth model.
The result identified approaches to learning as the most important aspect of social skills related to academic achievement. Language minority immigrant students from families living in poverty displayed extremely unstable development in all aspects of social skills, including their approaches to learning. In addition, the longitudinal effect of the social skills on reading and math performance was significant for all students but larger for the students in poverty regardless of the language minority status. The positive effect of improved social skills was the largest for the group of students who displayed the most unstable social development, which were the language minority immigrant students who did not show LEP at kindergarten and who were living in poverty. This result suggests the needs of students living in poverty, especially language minority students, for relevant supports and intervention.