ESL/EFL learners like slow readers?

Eleanor Chute ("Slow readers have difficulty trying to catch up, study says," Pittsburgh Post-Gazette) writes about the difficulty slow readers have in catching up:

Helping older elementary school children who are struggling to read is even harder than some of the experts think.

A study involving 50 schools in the Allegheny County suburbs -- the largest of its kind in the nation -- showed that the intensive help provided for such students improved skills for third-graders but was less effective for fifth-graders.

And even where there was improvement in both grade levels, the help wasn't enough to catch up with the strong readers, who were continuing to advance.


When she heard that third-graders fared better than fifth-graders, Robin Pleta, a resource support teacher at Eisenhower Elementary School in Upper St. Clair who participated in the study, likened it to learning a golf swing.

"If you can catch it and correct it early, it's a little bit easier to correct it. By the time you get to fifth grade, you've had five years of practicing skills that haven't served you well," she said.

Dr. Torgesen said he was both surprised and disappointed to discover that the interventions didn't work as well for low-income children.

"This amount of instruction doesn't appear to be enough or the right thing for many of the kids who need it the most," he said.

Stanovich in his classic paper "Matthew effects in reading" wrote about the problem of slow readers falling further behind as they advance through grades. His work suggested that interventions were needed to help students catch up. However, this study shows that it may be too late even by the third grade for native speakers. What do these results say about Generation 1.5 students or language learners in general? Forget about nativelike pronunciation. Can they ever catch up in vocabulary, grammar, and reading in general? How does this study's results inform the bilingual education vs. immersion controversy?

Another finding, as Dr. Torgesen reported, was that poverty works against interventions. This finding matches the California five-year study on Proposition 227 that "the strongest predictor of academic underperformance" is poverty.

Hmm. I wish I knew more about why poverty is such a strong predictor. However, there are always exceptions. I wish I knew more about the successes. That might be more informative about what it takes to become fluent in reading and in language learning.