Stefan SchipolowskiAileen EdeleNicole MahlerPetra Stanat

Mathematics and science proficiency of young refugees in secondary schools in Germany


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Reliable information on the integration of refugee students in the German educational system is scarce. In this paper, we examine refugee students’ proficiency in mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics in comparison to other students with and without an immigrant background, including non-refugee foreign-born students. We analyzed test data from 44,882 ninth-grade students, including 939 refugees, who participated in a national educational monitoring study in Germany (IQB Trends in Student Achievement 2018). In a series of regression models, we estimated the extent to which differences in students’ language proficiency and their families’ social background account for disparities in mathematics and science achievement. Compared to students without an immigrant background, refugee students’ achievement scores were on average 15 to 17 points lower (on a scale with SD = 10 for all ninth-grade students in Germany). Refugees also scored substantially lower than non-refugee foreign-born students (difference of 7 to 10 points). Taking social background and language proficiency into account substantially reduced refugees’ achievement disadvantage to 2 to 5 points compared to students without an immigrant background and to 1 to 5 points compared to non-refugee foreign-born students, with language proficiency explaining the largest proportion of variance. The remaining disparities correspond to a learning gain of roughly one school year in Germany. The results emphasize the importance of providing effective support aimed at fostering refugees’ proficiency in the language of instruction.

Mathematics; Science; Achievement; Large-scale assessment; Refugee students