STUDY: How Does Language and Location Affect Algebra Scores?

The goal of this research is to determine if Rio Grande Valley students who live and attend a school further from the Texas-Mexico border score higher on average on the Texas End of Course Algebra I exam than those students who reside and attend a school near the border. As teachers who reside and teach in both locations, we constantly see an influx of students who come from Mexico and enroll in public schools near the border. Many students make the journey across the border every morning to come to school and travel back home at the end of the day. With all the movement, we’ve noticed that certain schools out score other schools on the End of Course (EOC) state exams. Mr. Tobias is a mathematics teacher who teaches at a school that consistently does well on state exams. The school Mr. Tobias teaches at consists of students who live approximately 30 miles away from the Texas-Mexican border.

Mr. Barrera, another mathematics teacher, teaches at school that is under TEA review due poor EOC scores in Math and English. The school Mr. Barrera teaches at consists of students who live no more than 6 miles away from the border, with many students living across the border. The two schools of study are approximately 20+ miles apart, but there exist much diversity between the campuses. Fifty-four seniors were selected randomly from each campus. The data included the gender, raw score of exam, whether a student is an ESL student (English as a Second Language), and if the student is an “At Risk” student. Because the students were selected randomly, we are confident that the sample is a good representation of the senior student body at each campus. We ran a t –test to see whether the means of the two groups are statistically different from each other. The results showed that students who attend the campus further from the border score, on average, 3.6 to 11.4 points higher on their Algebra I EOC exam than those students who attend the campus near the Texas-Mexican border (P –value < 0.001).

Our model shows that for one ESL student, holding all other variables constant, the average score will decrease by 6 points.

So for an ESL student who attends Southwest and is considered At – Risk, we can expect the score to decrease by about 18 points, holding constant the other variables. We ran a two sample t-test and found the results to be statistically significant (P = 1.184e – 09). Non – ESL students were scoring, on average, about 9 to 16 points higher than ESL students (see TEST 2). The mean score of a Non – ESL student in our sample is about 31 while an ESL student’s mean score is about 19.

The results from our t-tests and regression model are as one would expect. Students who attend a school near the Texas – Mexico border will have a higher number of ESL students than a school who resides further north from the border. Our study shows that there seems to be an association between a student’s language status (ESL vs. Non-ESL) and their Algebra I EOC score.

This study has prompted us to focus and reevaluate our ESL teaching strategies. Maybe mathematics is not the issue here; rather, maybe it is the language barrier an ESL student faces that presents itself to be the greater obstacle.

A limitation that we encountered, which prevented us from extending these results to a wider population, was our educator accounts on D – MAC. These accounts restricted us to data regarding our own students. As teachers at these campuses, we are still confident that our sample is a good representation of the senior student body at each campus. For future research, Mr. Tobias and Mr. Barrera have submitted a request to their respective districts for access to the rest of the underclassmen high school student’s data and middle schools that feed into these two high schools. Further research may shed light on campuses that reside in the area, and provide teachers with greater insight and focus on their ESL teaching strategies.


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