Course Title: CE Workshop 03 - At the Intersection of Poverty, Dialect, and Literacy: Assessment of Language and Reading of Low-Income African American Children (Washington)


Credit Hours: 1.5


Instructor(s) Julie A. Washington


Julie A. Washington, PhD
Professor and Chair
Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders
College of Education and Human Development
Georgia State University

CE Workshop # 3:


At the Intersection of Poverty, Dialect, and Literacy: Assessment of Language and Reading of Low-Income African American Children

Abstract & Learning Objectives:

The poor reading outcomes and academic achievement gaps among impoverished African American children has been well-documented and is widely referenced. Findings from large studies involving these students suggest that it likely is the intersection of these influential variables, poverty, dialectal variation and literacy attainment that contribute to the outcomes reported. What is not widely discussed is the impact on assessment outcomes when these variables collide. In particular, standardized tests of language and reading are presented in mainstream American English to children whose primary dialect may differ from this assessment standard. The cognitive load imposed by this mismatch between the language of the test and the child likely influence performance in ways that are not acknowledged. In these cases, what are we learning about children’s knowledge of the assessed constructs and concepts? It is more likely that their responses reflect their ability to perform on the instrument, than reflecting their true knowledge of the language or reading skills assessed, resulting in underestimation of their abilities. The outcomes of a longitudinal project focused on the growth of language and literacy skills in a large sample (N =896) of 1st through fifth grade, low income African American boys and girls are presented. Findings from this investigation have highlighted the difficulty in validly discriminating, dialect, language, and poverty in our assessments, and support the presence of an important relationship between dialect and language and dialect and reading, and a challenge for assessment. Outcomes are discussed relative to the variation that exists within this group of students and implications for assessment and identification of disabilities and, by implication, for educational placement.


Upon conclusion of this course, learners will be able to:

  • List cultural dialect forms used by African American preschool and elementary school-aged children
  • Describe the impact of these differences on standardized assessment of language and reading skills
  • Discuss the role of oral code-switching and dialectal variation on identification of reading and language impairments in impoverished African American learners

Speaker Biography:

Dr. Julie A. Washington, PhD is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders in the College of Education and Human Development at Georgia State University (GSU) in Atlanta, GA (USA). She is also Co-Director of the Center for Research on the Challenges of Acquiring Language and Literacy, a unique Center focused on language and literacy research in high risk urban, and impaired populations. Currently, Dr. Washington’s research is focused on the intersection of literacy, language variation, and poverty. In particular, her work focuses on understanding the role of cultural dialect in the identification of reading disabilities in school-aged African American children and on disentangling the relationship between language production and comprehension on development of reading and early language skills for children growing up in poverty. Dr. Washington directs the Georgia Learning Disabilities Research Innovation Hub funded by the National Institutes of Health, Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute on Child Health and Human Development.