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Filling in the Blank: The Development of a Writing Screener for Elementary School Students Who Speak African American English.

PURPOSE: Clinicians are tasked with using culturally and linguistically appropriate tools to evaluate oral and written language development accurately. However, limited tools account for linguistic diversity in writing. This gap can lead to under- and overdiagnosis of students who speak nonmainstream dialects. This study addressed that gap by developing a writing task to identify nonmainstream dialect features in the writing of early elementary school students. We describe the development, feasibility, and results of pilot testing of the task.

METHOD: One hundred fifty-one first and second graders participated in the study as part of a larger study of nonmainstream dialect use. Students completed standardized literacy and language assessments and the researcher-developed writing task. The writing task used a novel fill-in-the-blank format to identify morphological features that vary between Mainstream American English and nonmainstream varieties such as African American English.

RESULTS: Second-grade students performed better on the writing task than first graders, and writing performance was strongly related to standardized literacy scores. Literacy skills were the strongest predictor of Mainstream American English use in writing, but spoken dialect use also correlated with written dialect use.

CONCLUSIONS: The writing task captured dialect use in early elementary school students' writing, and students' performance on standardized literacy measures predicted written dialect features. These results are a first step toward developing a standardized measure to help professionals appropriately diagnose written expression disorders within linguistically diverse students.


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