What test do you want 30% of kindergarteners to fail? A language screener

Did you ever add a child to your caseload and think, “Why haven’t I seen this kid sooner?!” You’re not alone. Underidentification of developmental language disorder in young children is a major issue. So, how can we deal with this? One way is to identify good screening tools. Previous research shows that effective language screeners should result in a failure rate close to 30%, meaning that 30% of the children don’t pass, and you’ll capture the children most likely to have a language disorder.

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The authors of this study found that probing for past-tense grammar was an effective way to screen for language disorder in kindergarten students. Specifically, they gave a large group of kindergarten students a screener of grammatical tense marking— the Rice Wexler Test of Early Grammatical Impairment (TEGI) Screening Test—which included past tense and third-person singular probes. Only the past-tense probes resulted in a failure rate close to 30%, showing their potential use as an effective screening tool. If children* fail past-tense probes, this is a red flag and tells us that close monitoring or a formal evaluation may be the next appropriate step.

The students were also screened for nonverbal intelligence, articulation, and emergent literacy skills. Interestingly, the children who failed the past-tense probe often had age-appropriate skills in these areas. What does this tell us? We can’t rely on screeners of related skills to identify children at risk for language disorder—we have to screen oral language directly. If we don’t, we may miss kids who fly under the radar due to their relatively stronger articulation or literacy abilities.

Want to know the best part? The TEGI Screening Test is FREE and available here!

*One very important note: the TEGI is only valid for children who speak Standard (Mainstream) American English. Students who speak African American English or Spanish-influenced English should not be screened with this tool. Check out this review for an alternative.

Weiler, B., Schuele, C. M., Feldman, J. I., & Krimm, H. (2018). A multiyear population-based study of kindergarten language screening failure rates using the Rice Wexler Test of Early Grammatical Impairment. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools49, 248–259. doi: 10.1044/2017_LSHSS-17-0071.