ASHA journals
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The writing of African American students (Fitton et al., 2021)

journal contribution
posted on 2021-11-01, 19:31 authored by Lisa Fitton, Lakeisha Johnson, Carla Wood, Christopher Schatschneider, Sara A. Hart
Purpose: This study aims to examine the predictive relation between measures obtained from African American students’ written narrative language samples and reading achievement, as measured by standardized academic assessments.
Method: Written language samples were elicited from 207 African American students in Grades 1–8. The samples were examined for morphosyntactic variations from standardized written Generalized American English (GAE). These variations were categorized as either (a) specific to African American English (AAE) or (b) neutral across AAE and standardized written GAE (i.e., considered ungrammatical both in AAE and in standardized written GAE). Structural equation modeling was employed to then examine the predictive relation between the density of AAE-specific forms in students’ writing and their performance on standardized assessments of literacy and reading vocabulary. This relation was examined while accounting for the density of dialect-neutral morphosyntactic forms, reported family income, age, and written sample length.
Results: The written samples were highly variable in terms of morphosyntax. Younger students and those from lower income homes tended to use AAE-specific forms at higher rates. However, the density of AAE-specific forms did not significantly predict standardized literacy scores or reading vocabulary after accounting for dialect-neutral variations, income, and sample length.
Conclusions: These results support the ongoing need to better understand the language, literacy, and overall academic development of students from all backgrounds. It may be essential to focus on dialect-neutral language forms (i.e., morphosyntactic forms that are consistent across both AAE and standardized written GAE) in written samples to maximize assessment validity across students who speak varying dialects of English.

Supplemental Material S1. Sample descriptives by group.

Supplemental Material S2. Standardized factor loadings from factor models.

Supplemental Material S3. Comparison model including constraints for all of the path coefficients between S-AAE and the outcome measures set to zero.

Fitton, L., Johnson, L., Wood, C., Schatschneider, C., & Hart, S. A. (2021). Language variation in the writing of African American students: Factors predicting reading achievement. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology. Advance online publication.


The research reported in this article was supported by the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, National Institutes of Health (Grant P50HD052120).