Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Testing, teaching, and transfer: Helping first-year ESL business majors make the transition
by LaFlair, Geoffrey T., Ph.D., Northern Arizona University, 2015, 353; 3708142
Abstract (Summary)

The enrollment rates of non-native English speaking students in U.S. universities have continued to rise and have shown no sign of slowing down—with the largest number of students enrolled in business programs (Institute for International Education, 2014c). With this increase in non-native English speakers comes the need to ensure that the students who have been admitted to the university are prepared for the language demands of university study, especially as they take discipline-specific courses. There are two primary challenges in addressing this need. First, students who are at risk need to be identified and recommended to the appropriate type of language support. Second, after the students have been identified and recommendations have been made, the language support that students pursue needs to be effective.

This study examined an approach to overcoming these two challenges—the identification of students in need of assistance and effective language and content support—in a college of business. The study took a pragmatic approach; its design, data collection, and analysis were driven by the research questions. A discipline-specific post-entry language assessment was developed in order to identify first-year business students in need of language support and then screen them into a language-support course, which was linked to a first-year business course. Evidence of the validity of the post-entry language assessment was examined in terms of its dependability in a criterion-referenced test framework and its relationship to the first-year business course in terms of language and content. The effectiveness of the language-support course was evaluated in terms of the participants’ performances on a language test, a transfer of learning test, and their scores on the quizzes and exams in the content course.

Analyses of the post-entry language assessment showed ample validity evidence as a measure for identification and screening. It was dependable in its identification of participants who needed language support, and it was an indicator of success in the first-year business course. Its content was representative of the language found in the business course. However, subject matter experts indicated some of the content could have been sampled better.

The results of the analysis of the support course showed the participants who were enrolled in it made gains in language ability, performed better on vocabulary quizzes, and received passing grades in the first-year business course. However, the participants who were enrolled in the language-support course did not perform better on the transfer measure or the mid-term and final exams in the first-year university course.

Implications support the argument that: (a) post-entry language assessments would be useful tools for universities and their international students, (b) they should be analyzed under the framework that fits their purposes, and (c) language support for students who have been admitted to the university can help them develop their vocabulary knowledge, but the effect on content mastery is limited.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Jamieson, Joan
Commitee: McClure, John, McGroarty, Mary, Stoller, Fredricka L.
School: Northern Arizona University
Department: English
School Location: United States -- Arizona
Source: DAI-A 76/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: English as a Second Language
Keywords: Discipline-specific language testing, Post-enrollment language assessment, University language-support
Publication Number: 3708142
ISBN: 978-1-321-83120-7
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