Janet Crapo and Dr. Barbara Culatta, Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology
Early literacy skills in children have become an area of national interest due to the implications in later-developing literacy and academics. These early literacy skills are closely connected with the concept of phonemic awareness, or “the knowledge of meaningful sounds, or phonemes, in our language and how these blend together to form syllables, words, phrases, and sentences” (Robertson & Salter, 1997). Phonemic awareness skills include rhyming, alliteration, phoneme isolation, sound blending, syllable identification, sound segmentation, and invented spellings, all of which play vital roles in learning to read and spell (Adams, 1990). Experts have demonstrated that poor rhyming skills in young children are associated with later difficulty in reading and spelling (Catts, 1997).
Researchers have hypothesized that there are ways to increase the phonemic awareness and thus literacy skills of young children. Dr. Barbara Culatta conducted a study involving preschool literacy programs and in conjunction with this research had a need to assess the phonemic awareness skills of the subjects. Although rhyming is an essential emerging literacy skill, there are no valid or reliable measures appropriate for assessing it in preschool children. Thus the rhyme sort measure was developed to collect data on the changes in rhyming abilities of the children over the duration of the literacy program. Before it could be used to measure the children’s attainments and the effectiveness of the program, the rhyme sort task had to be proven reliable.
My objective was to establish the reliability of the preschool rhyme measure developed by Dr. Culatta. This was done by administering alternate versions of the test to children attending Mountain Land Head Start Programs in the Provo area. Each child was given two forms of the rhyme measure and the reliability was statistically analyzed using correlation coefficients. A high positive correlation was desired because it would imply that the children’s scores on the two versions were close or identical, and thus that the test was reliable.
The measure was a dynamic assessment task designed to tap latent rhyme awareness by providing the child with support in learning to sort examples of a rhyme pattern from nonexamples. The measure consisted of a score sheet, a stack of dogs or frogs, a doghouse or pond, and procedural text for the examiner. It was presented in a game-like activity where “dogs that sound like Mickey live with Mickey.” The child was shown pictures of dogs with names that sound like Mickey and was told that they live with Mickey in a doghouse. The child was then shown a dog whose name did not rhyme with Mickey and was told that it did not live with Mickey. The examiner modeled throughout the test, asking the child to sort the dogs while helping him to feel successful and learn along the way. The child’s sorting decisions were recorded on the score sheet and he was given a sticker for participating. The alternate form of the measure used frogs whose names rhymed with Zappy.
Each child was given the two alternate forms of the rhyme sort measure within several days of each other. Two examiners administered and scored all of the tests. In total, 59 four-year-olds were involved in this research, which included both typically developing children and those with delays from diverse cultural backgrounds. The measure was given in the child’s primary language, which included English and Spanish.
Using statistical analysis, a correlation coefficient of 0.77 was calculated, with the range of possible coefficients being –1.0 to 1.0. This indicated a significant and positive correlation between the two scores for each child. A correlation of this magnitude was not likely to occur by chance. When a child did well on one version of the measure, he or she also did well on the other, and vice versa. Based on the correlation coefficient of 0.77, the rhyme sort measure was found to be reliable.
Further research into the inter-rater reliability of the measure has been planned for this fall. Two examiners will score approximately 10 children either simultaneously or using video tapes. A percentage of agreement between their scores will be determined. Other qualitative observations, such as the children’s engagement during and understanding of the task, could be analyzed in an effort to make the task an even more effective tool for assessing preschoolers’ rhyming abilities.
Since the rhyme sort measure has been proven reliable, it can now be implemented to monitor progress and evaluate instructional strategies. Ultimately the task will be used to identify children with delays and adjust instruction to meet their needs so that efficient and effective programs can be created to increase early literacy skills.
- Adams, M. (1990). Beginning to Read. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
- Catts, H.W. (1997). The early identification of language-based reading disabilities. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in the Schools, 28, 86-87.
- Robertson, D. & Salter, W. (1997). The phonological awareness kit: Intermediate. East Moline, IL: LinguiSystems.
- Yopp, H.K. (1988). The validity and reliability of phonemic awareness tests. Reading Research Quarterly, 23, 159-177.