Recent research conducted by the ifo Institute and the University of Milano-Bicocca reveals a striking correlation between the academic performance of immigrant children and the overall ability level of their classmates in Italy. The study, focused on the impact of class composition on immigrant students, highlights a significant challenge faced by children from less advantaged immigrant backgrounds, especially those who do not speak the local language at home or have parents born abroad.

The findings indicate that immigrant children's academic success is negatively impacted in environments where a large proportion of their classmates are low performers. This trend is particularly pronounced among pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds. Conversely, immigrant students from socio-economically stronger backgrounds seem to be unaffected by the proportion of low-achieving classmates, showing resilience in diverse academic settings.

A key observation from the study is the pronounced effect a 10% increase in low-performing students can have. In a typical class of 20, just two additional low-performing students can decrease the performance of disadvantaged immigrant children by about 0.75 points. In contrast, immigrant students from better-off backgrounds benefit from being around high-achieving classmates.

Interestingly, the study also sheds light on the academic performance of native pupils, which appears to be unaffected by the number of low-achieving classmates. Instead, native students tend to thrive in classes with a higher average test performance and are mainly influenced by the academic achievements of their native peers, rather than those of immigrant students.

In response to these findings, researchers Vera Freundl and Caterina Pavese from the ifo Institute suggest a strategic approach to classroom composition. They advocate for a more balanced mix of abilities within classes to better support and integrate students with an immigration background. This recommendation comes in the wake of an increasing number of children from immigrant families entering schools, highlighting the need for effective integration strategies that cater to the diverse needs of all students.

Pavese emphasizes the importance of taking proactive steps in educational settings to ensure the successful integration and support of immigrant children, which is crucial in the context of increasingly multicultural classrooms. The study underscores the significant role that classroom dynamics and peer influence play in shaping the academic outcomes of students, especially those from immigrant backgrounds.