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IES Grant

Title: Morphological Awareness Computer Adaptive Testing Project
Center: NCER Year: 2015
Principal Investigator: Goodwin, Amanda Awardee: Vanderbilt University
Program: Literacy      [Program Details]
Award Period: 3 years (7/1/2015-6/30/2018) Award Amount: $1,598,877
Type: Measurement Award Number: R305A150199

Co-Principal Investigator: Petscher, Yaacov (Florida State University)

Purpose: In this project, researchers will develop and test a computer-based test of middle school students' ability to understand parts of words (e.g. roots, prefixes). The ability to use and understand how small parts of words (i.e., morphemes) combine to form words that express different meanings (i.e., morphological awareness) is important for students' ability to learn challenging words that are not used much in everyday language but are used more frequently in school settings. Based on whether a student provides a correct or incorrect response to a question on this assessment, the computer will automatically select an easier or a harder question for the student to answer next. Currently, tests of morphological awareness are either difficult to acquire or cannot be administered to groups of students at once and thus are difficult and expensive for schools and teachers to use. This computer-adaptive test will be easy to administer to groups of students at once, will be easily accessible and easy to use, and will provide teachers with detailed information about their students' strengths and weaknesses so that they may adjust their instruction to best meet the needs of their students.

Project Activities: This assessment will be developed and tested over the course of this three-year project. The computer technology and the questions for the assessment will be developed during the first year and tested to make sure they function as intended. Researchers will also develop reports for teachers that provide students' scores on the assessment and offer suggestions about lessons to address any student weaknesses. In the final year of the project, researchers will compare the new assessment to other assessments of related skills such as spelling and word reading, and to other measures of morphological awareness.

Products: The products of this project will be a fully developed and validated assessment for morphological awareness skills for middle school students, and peer-reviewed publications.

Structured Abstract

Setting: This project will take place in urban schools in Tennessee.

Sample: A total of approximately 1,750 eighth grade students will participate in this project. In Year 1, approximately 250 students will participate in a small pilot study. In Year 2, approximately 1,200 students will participate in the experimental linking phase of the project. In Year 3, the validation study will include approximately 300 eighth grade students.

Assessment: The assessment to be created is a computer adaptive test (CAT) of morphological awareness designed for middle school students. The assessment will include various task types: sentence completion; morphological judgment; analogy; definition; spelling; and word reading. The CAT will provide score reports for teachers that include scores for general morphological awareness skills and subscale scores for the aforementioned task types.

Research Design and Methods: This project has five major phases: (1) development of items that assess the multidimensional nature of morphological awareness; (2) development of the CAT system; (3) examination of the dimensionality of morphological awareness to make sure items that reflect the multidimensionality are included in the final measure; (4) validation of the measure; and (5) creation of teacher reports. The study will take place over three years. Year 1 will include the development of items, the initial development of the CAT technology, and a small pilot study to examine the psychometric characteristics of the items. Teacher reports will also be piloted in Year 1. In Year 2, researchers will revise items and develop more items for the assessment, including conducting cognitive interviews with students and meeting with content experts. A full-scale linking study with 1,200 students will be conducted in Year 2. In Year 3, researchers will conduct a validation study in which the morphological awareness CAT will be validated against standardized tests of word reading, spelling, vocabulary, reading comprehension, and other measures of morphological awareness. Teacher focus groups will provide feedback on the teacher reports during Year 3.

Control Condition: Due to the nature of the research design, there is no control condition.

Key Measures: Researchers will use various standardized measures to validate the developed assessment. These measures include subscales from the Gates-McGinitie Standardized Reading Test and the Wide Range Achievement Test.

Data Analytic Strategy: Researchers will use analyze data from Years 1 and 2 using item response test theory, nonparametric confirmatory factor analyses, and parametric exploratory factor analysis. This will allow the research team s to examine the dimensionality of the assessment. Based on the results of these analyses, researchers will estimate item and person parameters and/or fit a multiple-factor model. Researchers will use correlational analyses for test validation.

Project website:


Journal article, monograph, or newsletter

Kieffer, M.J., Petscher, Y., Proctor, C.P., and Silverman, R.D. (2016). Is the Whole Greater Than the Sum of its Parts? Modeling the Contributions of Language Comprehension Skills to Reading Comprehension in the Upper Elementary Grades. Scientific Studies of Reading, 20, 436–454.