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Dual Language Proficiency and Self-Regulation as Predictors of Academic Performance of Latino Children of Immigrants

Brian A. Collins, PhD (Hunter College, CUNY)


The present study investigates the roles of Spanish and English proficiencies and self-regulation, including executive functioning, on the academic performance of Latino children of immigrants in the early school years. Language competences and executive functioning such as the capacity to organize and process information, the flexibility to shift attention, skills related to problem solving, and inhibitory control are closely connected to completing academic tasks and functioning well in school contexts [1]. Within the academic environment, children who understand more complex language are better equipped to comply with the demands of school [2]. In contrast, children who have difficulty expressing ideas and understanding others are likely to face challenges controlling their attention and behavior when attempting to learn and focus in the classroom [3]. Given the evidence among the general population of the relationship between children’s executive functioning and language skills and implications for children’s academic success, it is critical to investigate the more complex case of dual language (bilingual) Latino children of immigrants. Dual language children from Spanish speaking low-income families have been evidenced to begin school with wide range language abilities in each language [4]. It is important to understand how high the variability of Spanish and English proficiencies of these children at school entry affects their executive functioning and school success.

This longitudinal study of second-generation immigrant children (n= 228) includes multi-dimensional data collected from direct child assessments, parent interviews, classroom observations, and teacher reports. Latino children of immigrants who were born in the US and were first language speakers of Spanish were recruited at kindergarten (mean age=6) from 15 public schools and followed 2 years later (mean age=8) at more than 25 schools, with 80% retention. Children were directly assessed using the following measures: 1) Dual language proficiency: Woodcock Language Proficiency Batteries-Revised (WLPB-R) 2) Working memory (including auditory/verbal): Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing 3) Executive functioning (including visuo-spatial): Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test, and 4) Academic performance including literacy skills (WLPB-R), and teacher reports of school functioning.

Hierarchical multiple regression models were used to analyze associations of dual language proficiencies and academic outcomes, and the role of executive functioning. Models controlled for demographics and kindergarten academic levels to examine residualized change. Spanish and English proficiency significantly predicted academic performance at 2nd grade (R2s=.13-39; p <.000) as well as executive functioning (R2s=.08-.21; p <.000). In separate models, executive functioning also predicted academic performance (R2s=.15-36; p <.000) yet when considering all predictors in one model, Spanish and English proficiency remained a significant predictor of academic performance while executive functioning did not, indicating a mediation effect of executive functioning through language proficiency. Methods, findings and conclusions will be presented.



[1] Zelazo, P.D., et al., The development of executive function in early childhood. Monographs of the Society for Research in Child Development, 2003.

[2] Bierman, K.L., et al., Executive functions and school readiness intervention: Impact, moderation, and mediation in the Head Start REDI program. Development and Psychopathology,. 20(3): p. 821, 2008

[3] Blair, C., Behavioral inhibition and behavioral activation in young children: Relations with self‐regulation and adaptation to preschool in children attending Head Start. Developmental psychobiology,. 42(3): p. 301-311, 2003

[4]Collins, B.A., et al., Dual language profiles of Latino children of immigrants: Stability and change over the early school years. Applied Psycholinguistics,. 35(03): p. 581-620, 2014