Using Spelling to Screen Bilingual Kindergarteners At Risk for Reading Difficulties

Chua, Shi Min; Rickard Liow, Susan J. and Yeong, Stephanie H. M. (2016). Using Spelling to Screen Bilingual Kindergarteners At Risk for Reading Difficulties. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 49(3) pp. 227–239.



For bilingual children, the results of language and literacy screening tools are often hard to interpret. This leads to late referral for specialized assessment or inappropriate interventions. To facilitate the early identification of reading difficulties in English, we developed a method of screening that is theory-driven yet suitable for first-language (L1) and second-language learners of English. We administered five conventional tests (phonological awareness, vocabulary, Wide Range Achievement Test–4 [WRAT-4] spelling, letter identification, rapid naming of digits) to 127 five-year-olds (60 English-L1, 67 Mandarin-L1) about 6 months after they started kindergarten, and used the WRAT-4 word reading score 6 months later as the outcome measure. Consistent with previous research, and with children with reading disabilities defined as below the 25 percentile on the reading outcome, logistic regression revealed that the full set of screening measures predicted reading disability status. However, when each predictor was taken as a single measure, spelling scores provided the best fit in terms of the compromise between sensitivity (.75) and specificity (.73) for an optimal cutoff point. Based on this exploratory study, group-administered spelling tasks could provide an efficient solution to screening difficulties in large classes of bilingual children.

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