Core subjects at the end of primary school : identifying and explaining relative strengths of children with specific language impairment (SLI)

Durkin, Kevin and Mok, Pearl L. H. and Conti-Ramsden, Gina (2015) Core subjects at the end of primary school : identifying and explaining relative strengths of children with specific language impairment (SLI). International Journal of Language and Communication Disorders, 50 (2). pp. 226-240. ISSN 1368-2822

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    Abstract

    Background In general, children with specific language impairment (SLI) tend to fall behind their typically developing (TD) peers in educational attainment. Less is known about how children with SLI fare in particular areas of the curriculum and what predicts their levels of performance. Aims To compare the distributions of performance of children with SLI in three core school subjects (English, Mathematics and Science); to test the possibility that performance would vary across the core subjects; and to examine the extent to which language impairment predicts performance. Methods & Procedures This study was conducted in England and reports historical data on educational attainments. Teacher assessment and test scores of 176 eleven-year-old children with SLI were examined in the three core subjects and compared with known national norms. Possible predictors of performance were measured, including language ability at ages 7 and 11, educational placement type, and performance IQ. Outcomes & Results Children with SLI, compared with national norms, were found to be at a disadvantage in core school subjects. Nevertheless, some children attained the levels expected of TD peers. Performance was poorest in English; relative strengths were indicated in Science and, to a lesser extent, in Mathematics. Language skills were significant predictors of performance in all three core subjects. PIQ was the strongest predictor for Mathematics. For Science, both early language skills at 7 years and PIQ made significant contributions. Conclusions & Implications Language impacts on the school performance of children with SLI, but differentially across subjects. English for these children is the most challenging of the core subjects, reflecting the high levels of language demand it incurs. Science is an area of relative strength and mathematics appears to be intermediate, arguably because some tasks in these subjects can be performed with less reliance on verbal processing. Many children with SLI do have the potential to reach or exceed educational targets that are set at national levels for TD children.