Definition & Measurement of Academic Language Skills
What are academic language skills? How can these skills be measured in middle school populations?
As part of a project funded by the Institute of Education Sciences as part of the Reading for Understanding grant awarded to the Strategic Educational Partnership (SERP) and the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE), I worked as part of a small team (led by Dr. Paola Uccelli) whose work is guided by two goals: (1) to delineate the construct called “academic language” in a way that is specific and concrete enough to inform research and practice, respectively; (2) to design an assessment of academic language skills for upper-elementary and middle grade students (grades 4-8; the Core Academic Language Skills-Instrument, CALS-I). Consistent with my broader goal as a scholar, this work focuses on language skills that are relevant across content areas and necessary for navigating complex academic texts like those frequently read in grade four and above. Academic language skills as we have conceptualized them include knowledge of select lexical features, syntax, and text structures that are prevalent in academic texts. In turn, for the field, we have generated the first psychometrically-robust, standardized assessment of school-relevant language skills.