Academic development and disparities in linguistically diverse middle school classrooms: The role of social network equality and linguistic integration

Lauren Molloy Elreda, Amanda K. Kibler, Haley E. Johnson, Joanna Lee Williams

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


As evidence mounts of persistent disparities in academic outcomes by English learner (“EL”) classification status, it is critical that we better understand how to create more equitable classroom learning environments. The present study investigates the role of classroom peer academic collaboration networks within linguistically diverse, “English-medium” middle school classrooms. Across 29 classrooms, 491 early adolescents (including 158 EL students) identified whom they “usually work with” in class; from these data, we operationalized two characteristics of each classroom's peer network: social network equality (the extent to which academic collaboration ties were equally distributed) and linguistic integration (the extent to which cross-group ties between ELs and non-ELs were as common as same-group ties). In multilevel models, we tested across-year mean and fall-to-spring change in each of these network characteristics as predictors of relative across-year growth in EL students’ assessed oral language proficiency, and in all students’ academic outcomes, including teacher-rated class participation and content understanding, and standardized test scores in the content area of the observed class. We additionally tested whether EL status moderated associations between classroom network characteristics and academic outcomes. Findings suggest benefits of positive across-year change in social network equality and linguistic integration for all students’ academic development in class. In addition, classroom network characteristics may help to reduce disparities: mean social network equality was more positively associated with relative growth in content understanding and standardized test scores for ELs than for non-ELs, and change in linguistic integration positively predicted oral language development among EL students.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)69-92
Number of pages24
JournalSocial Development
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2022
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)


  • achievement
  • English learners
  • language development
  • network segregation
  • peer relationships
  • social network equity


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