University of Delaware
The language development of children is being studied by Roberta Golinkoff.

In the beginning there was language

Computerized assessment to help identify preschoolers with language difficulties


9:40 a.m., April 8, 2011--Language is the core ability children need to succeed in school. Children rely on their language to understand teachers and peers, participate in conversations and when learning to read. For preschoolers who have language difficulties, failing to identify their problems at an early age can be detrimental to their future academic and social growth. But a new computerized language assessment tool, developed by Roberta Golinkoff, H. Rodney Sharp Professor in the University of Delaware's School of Education, will be able to track the language development of children, ages three to five, in the interest of identifying students with slower developing language.

"In order to compete in the 21st century global economy, American students must be equipped with the language skills that will enable them to communicate and write effectively," said Golinkoff. "With this tool, we'll not only be singling out those children who need language help, we will also learn more about what your average child knows and can do with language."

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With a $2.8 million research grant from the Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Golinkoff is bringing her research on language development from the laboratory to preschools, day cares and Head Starts along the Eastern Seaboard. The computerized assessment will test children's abilities related to vocabulary and word learning strategies, as well as the use of syntax in language comprehension. Children will use a touch screen to answer the question prompts in the test.

"By testing language capability through the route of language comprehension, we circumvent the need for sometimes shy children to talk. And by having the computer give the test and the children respond with a touch to the screen, we make it possible for a teacher or an aide to administer the test instead of a speech-language pathologist," said Golinkoff. "We need to be able to distinguish between children who are hearing less language -- possibly as a result of growing up in impoverished homes – and those children who actually have language problems. Early intervention is crucial for children with language issues.”

Golinkoff is working with colleagues from Smith College, Temple University and Laureate Learning on this research project. The project begins June 1 and test development and field-testing will continue over a period of four years.

This computerized assessment is different from other current language tests because it doesn't require a skilled examiner to administer it and it only takes 20 minutes to complete. Golinkoff also plans to pilot test a Spanish version of the assessment, in order to help identify native language difficulties among English language learners. 

Article by Cassandra Kramer


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