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Arnold School of Public Health

Spelling Across Linguistic Contexts: Developing Appropriate Assessment

Funding: American Speech-Language Hearing Association Advancing Academic-Research Careers Award (PI: Werfel)

Overwhelmingly, spelling is assessed both in classrooms and
in research in single-word contexts. That is, a teacher/researcher says a word, may (or may not) use it in a sentence, and the child writes it down. However, this method of spelling assessment is not very ecologically valid. Indeed, rarely do we write single words. Rather, spelling skills are tapped more frequently in writing connected text, such as a letter or a book report. Teachers frequently report instances of students who perform well on spelling tests but struggle with spelling in connected text (Moats, 1995).

A growing research base consistently finds that spelling skills (measured in single-word contexts) are influenced by linguistic knowledge. Because connected text utilizes linguistic domains such as syntax that are not utilized in single-word spelling, and because spelling more frequently occurs in connected text than single-word contexts, it is vital to develop a valid method of measuring spelling in connected texts. In addition, spelling assessment that compares spelling in connected texts to spelling in single-word contexts, particularly the linguistic basis of spelling in each context, is needed to inform interventions.

In addition, spelling errors of children with specific language impairment (SLI) differ from those of children with typical language, and children with SLI struggle across linguistic domains. Previous research from the WLL found that [link to findings] linguistic knowledge contributes to spelling performance differently than in children with typical language. It is likely that the influence of linguistic context differs for this population.

spelling figure

Therefore, the goals of this study are twofold:

Goal 1: Using item response theory, identify appropriate target words for each grade level (1 through 6).


Goal 2: Develop and validate a spelling assessment that compares spelling of the same words in single-word and sentence-level contexts in children with typical language and children with SLI.

Impact: This study will provide a validated assessment of spelling across linguistic contexts for students in grades 3 and 4.

Want to be Involved?
If you are the parent of a child with typical language or a child with SLI who is in 3rd or 4th grade, click here to request more information about participating in this study.

If you are a student at USC and would like to volunteer on this study, click here.