Harvard Educational Review
  1. Summer 2008 Issue »

    Language and the Performance of English-Language Learners in Math Word Problems

    Maria Martiniello, Educational Testing Service
    In this article, Maria Martiniello reports the findings of a study of the linguistic complexity of math word problems that were found to exhibit differential item functioning for English-language learners (ELLs) and non-ELLs taking the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System (MCAS) fourth-grade math test. It builds on prior research showing that greater linguistic complexity increases the difficulty of English-language math items for ELLs compared to non-ELLs of equivalent math proficiency. Through textual analyses, Martiniello describes the linguistic features of some of the 2003 MCAS math word problems that posed disproportionate difficulty for ELLs. Martiniello also uses excerpts from children’s think-aloud transcripts to illustrate the reading comprehension challenges these features pose to Spanish-speaking ELLs. Through both DIF statistics and the voices of children, the article scrutinizes the appropriateness of inferences about ELLs’ math knowledge based on linguistically complex test items.

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    Maria Martiniello is an associate research scientist at the Center for Validity Research at the Educational Testing Service, where she studies the validity and fairness of K­–12 content-area assessments for English-language learners (ELLs). She has previously taught at the Universidad Católica Andrés Bello, Escuela de Psicología in Venezuela, and has led professional development and teacher certification programs for Latin American educators through the Harvard Graduate School of Education. Martiniello’s prior research on Latin American education, assessment, and arts education has appeared in numerous books and journals, in both Spanish and English. Portions of her research on ELLs and assessment will be published in Applied Psycholinguistics and the Educational Testing Service Research Report Series.

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    Summer 2008 Issue


    Hijacking Education Policy Decisions
    Ballot Initiatives and the Case of Affirmative Action
    Michele S. Moses and Lauren P. Saenz, University of Colorado at Boulder
    Different Worlds and Divergent Paths
    Academic Careers Defined by Race and Gender
    Juanita Johnson-Bailey and Ronald M. Cervero, The University of Georgia
    Language and the Performance of English-Language Learners in Math Word Problems
    Maria Martiniello, Educational Testing Service
    The New Outspoken Atheism and Education
    Nel Noddings, Stanford University, Emerita
    Beyond NCLB and AYP
    One Superintendent’s Experience of School District Reform
    Ron Sofo, Freedom Area School District, Pennsylvania

    Book Notes

    Teacher Mentoring and Induction
    edited by Hal Portner

    Brick Walls
    by Thomas E. Truitt

    After the Bell
    edited by Maggie Anderson and David Hassler

    Call 1-800-513-0763 to order this issue.