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These studies represent more evidence against the use of standardized tests when assessing the linguistic abilities of culturally or linguistically diverse (CLD) children.
Background: In this study, the authors examined the linguistic profile of African American English (AAE)-speaking children reared in poverty by focusing on their marking of passive participles and by comparing the results with the authors’ previous study of homophonous forms of past tense.
Hypotheses: The researchers predicted that AAE-speaking children reared in poverty would mark passive participle forms at the same rate as middle-income AAE-speaking controls. Additionally, they thought AAE-speaking children reared in poverty would mark passive participles at the same rate as they mark homophonous forms of past tense. Lastly, they asked the research question of whether AAE-speaking children’s marking of passive participles would be affected by the same phonological characteristics that affect their marking of past tense.
Methodology and Participants: In the 2009 study, forty-five typically developing African American English (AAE) speaking children 5-6 years of age were administered a standardized vocabulary test, and then later assessed for past tense marking. Fifteen of the children were from low socioeconomic status (SES) backgrounds; the remaining participants were from homes of middle SES. In the 2011 follow-up study, a matched group’s use of passive participle marking was investigated.
Conclusion: The children from the low SES group presented with below average vocabulary scores while use of past-tense marking was found to be age-appropriate. However, the children from middle SES backgrounds scored within normal limits on both vocabulary and syntax assessments. Children from the low SES group were noted to have lower rates of passive participle marking when compared to age-matched middle SES controls. The authors found a correlation between vocabulary weaknesses and passive participle marking. In addition, some of the reduced rates of passive participle marking were attributed to phonological characteristics of AAE (specifically, consonant cluster reduction). In conclusion, the authors found decreased vocabulary and passive participle marking in low SES African American English speaking children when compared to age matched middle SES peers. However, both groups demonstrated similar skills in past tense marking.
Relevance to the Field: These studies represent more evidence against the use of standardized tests when assessing the linguistic abilities of culturally or linguistically diverse (CLD) children. Standardized language tests are generally biased against non-standard dialect speakers and those from low SES backgrounds. In addition, it is important to know which characteristics tend to mirror specific language impairment as a result of dialect, bilingualism, or SES status and not a true language disorder in some speaker. Another interesting aspect of these studies was the importance of noticing how the phonological systems of some dialects can change the grammar perceived by a speaker of a different dialect. The use of non-standardized assessment (e.g., dynamic assessment, language sampling) and subsequent comparison to performance of children from the same speech community can eliminate linguistic and cultural bias, reducing the potential for misdiagnosis.
Pruitt, S., & Oetting, J. (2009). Past tense marking by African American English-speaking children reared in poverty. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research, 52, 12-15.