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Raising the Standard: New Approaches for Language Assessment

Raising the Standard: New Approaches for Language Assessment
J.G. de Villiers, P.A. de Villiers, B.Z. Pearson, T. Roeper, H.N. Seymour
February 9, 2004

The Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation (DELV) Screening Test and the DELV-Criterion Referenced are new and powerful tests of language assessment.FN In this paper we describe the two-fold motivation behind the construction of these new standardized language assessment tools for children.

  1. Modern linguistics has revealed that linguistic knowledge can be discovered in "hidden" properties of sentences. Even mature adults are not aware they know and use "hidden" rules. In the future, language assessment tests for children should incorporate these insights to provide a deeper analysis of what children know and don't know. We argue that these properties are key to accurate diagnosis and maximal intervention. Previous language assessment tools focus primarily on outdated and low-level descriptive accounts of language. Thus, we need to raise the standard.

  2. The second motivation combines intellectual and social issues. To bring language testing into a new era, we need to go beyond so-called Standard, or Mainstream American English (MAE), to be inclusive of different dialects of English. By looking at deeper features of language we avoid confounding dialect and disorder. Hence we need to "raise the standard" beyond "standard" English.

    In this paper, we discuss the importance of these two motivations and we expose new intricacies in the syntactic and semantic knowledge of normally developing children. Our assessment work reflects theoretical approaches from the language acquisition literature, and is based on newly gathered data from several distinct populations. We present an innovative diagnostic perspective on several grammatical processes, including:

    • How morphological rules interact with lexical knowledge in vocabulary development,

    • How complex wh-questions are formed,

    • How definite articles engage presuppositions,

    • How passives encode hidden information, and

    • How variables and quantification work in language.

    In the following paragraphs we will offer one example from each of these domains and state the relevant principles of grammar and how they can be incorporated into a linguistically sophisticated, yet easy to use assessment.

    J.G. de Villiers

    P.A. de Villiers

    B.Z. Pearson

    T. Roeper

    H.N. Seymour

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