Skip to Content

Arnold School of Public Health

Lisa Fitton wins grant to help improve educational assessments for dual language learners

February 7, 2020 | Erin Bluvas,

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Foundation has awarded a $10,000 grant to Lisa Fitton, an assistant professor in the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, to support her efforts to improve educational outcomes for children from diverse backgrounds. With this project, Fitton will partner with Lexington 2 School District to collect assessment data from bilingual children in order to better understand the educational services best suited for this population. Co-investigator Marc Goodrich will also be working with schools near his lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln to collect data in parallel.

“Although the number of children from diverse linguistic backgrounds in the United States is growing, there is a significant gap in the research available to inform educational and clinical practice with dual language learners compared to that for their monolingual peers,” Fitton says. “Dual language learners are at disproportionate risk for misidentification as having language and reading disorders – experiencing over- and under-identification, both of which have negative implications for children and their families.”

Fitton’s work aims to understand current research and practice for supporting early identification and intervention for Spanish-English speaking children in the U.S. Her activities have included assessing recommended approaches for supporting language and literacy development of children from diverse backgrounds. Fitton has also evaluated the tools available for assessing children from minority linguistic backgrounds – tools which appear to function differently and/or yield different results based on both their application and differences in children’s background language skills and dominance.

Through her partnership with the school district, Fitton and the team of researchers in her Literacy Development among ​Diverse Learners Lab provide free bilingual language and reading screenings for students at Lexington 2 schools as well as reports on each child to offer teachers more in-depth information about their students. Their services have even included providing professional development trainings to help district teachers learn how to better work with bilingual students, their families and communities.

“Lexington 2 is at the forefront of best practice in early educational services for bilingual children and they serve a large Spanish-speaking population,” says Fitton. “However, they've had to bring in interpreters to conduct the mandated early educational screenings for speech and language. This can be costly and is time-intensive, so we’re happy to provide this service.”

In return, Fitton collects much-needed data to inform the development of new or adapted assessment tools and recommendations that are tailored to meet the unique needs of dual language learners and their families. Fitton and her team have already screened preschoolers and kindergarteners and will be providing screenings for first graders in the coming months through the support of this new grant.

The lab’s long-term goal is to secure additional funding in order to provide these free screenings every year while collecting critical information about children’s dual language development during their first three years in school. This data will offer valuable insights to the school district while also guiding the development of valid, reliable methods for early identification of dual language learners with and at risk for language and reading difficulties.

“I can't say enough about how great it is to get to work with such wonderful groups of people at the district and school levels,” Fitton says. “I also have an incredible research team, comprised mostly of undergraduate students at the University of South Carolina, who are invaluable to this work.”


Lisa Fitton brings expertise in improving educational outcomes for children from diverse backgrounds to COMD department

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.