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Assessing Grammatical Morpheme Production Using Elicited Sampling

Assessing Grammatical Morpheme Production Using Elicited Sampling
Brenda L. Beverly, Holly Goodnoh
August 23, 2004

Brenda L. Beverly
University of South Alabama
Mobile, AL

Holly Goodnoh
The Gregory Kistler Treatment Center for Children, Inc.
Fort Smith, AR


Language sampling is a well-known, performance-based assessment procedure. However, routine use by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) is limited. This is unfortunate, because assessment in educational settings warrants periodic use of language sampling. Furthermore, investigations of grammatical morphology using language sampling have revealed important differences between children who are specifically language impaired (SLI) compared to age-matched, typically developing (TD) peers and younger, TD children matched for mean length of utterance (MLU).

Correct production of three grammatical morphemes, possessive -s, past tense -ed and 3rd person singular -s, was compared in traditional free-play language samples, and in contextualized, elicited samples. Four children with SLI and three MLU-matched TD children participated. Results revealed significant differences favoring the younger TD children in the elicited format but no group differences for free-play samples. The number of obligatory contexts within the 100-utterance free-play samples was insufficient for possessive -s and past tense -ed. Only contexts for the 3rd person singular -s occurred with sufficient frequency to consider the free-play samples valid.

Elicited procedures are preferable to free-play language samples for assessing production of grammatical morphemes with children believed to be language-impaired. Elicited probes can be easily designed by clinicians, less time-consuming to administer and interpret, and provide an adequate number of opportunities to assess morphological performance in a valid manner. Finally, elicited sampling can be a central part of dynamic, functional assessments in the educational setting.


Speech-language pathologists are well-versed in their responsibilities to assess children's speech, language and communication skills for identification, goal development, progress measurement and accountability (ASHA, 1997). Assessment options include; standardized tests, developmental scales, performance-based or criterion-referenced measures, and less formal behavioral observations (Miller, 1981; Moore-Brown & Montgomery, 2001; Paul, 2001). Training programs in speech-language pathology include classroom and clinical practice opportunities directed toward these assessment options. SLPs in-training are instructed in the advantages and disadvantages of these procedures. Despite this, it is our impression that standardized test administration continues to dominate most assessments. This practice is understandable, but unfortunate.

Performance-based assessment, including language sampling, can be an important component of assessment and management in the school setting (Moore-Brown & Montgomery, 2001). Language sampling procedures can assist clinicians in overcoming limitations from standardized tests.

For example, the annual review for IEP purposes requires a progress assessment. However, annual evaluation with repeated standardized tests is not an indicator of children's progress toward educational outcomes in response to treatment, as many standardized tests measure decontextualized and fragmented behaviors (Moore-Brown & Montgomery, 2001). Furthermore, repeated standardized testing cannot adequately measure children's progress in response to treatment without consideration of effects due to practice and regression toward the mean (e.g., Dikmen, Heaton, Grant, & Temkin, 1999). These factors are not often addressed by clinicians. In lieu of standardized assessment, performance-based measures including language sampling can be used to measure functional change.

Brenda L. Beverly

Holly Goodnoh

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