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USF’s Rightpath Research & Innovation Center Receives $1.3 million Grant

Trina D. Spencer, PhD, of the Rightpath Research & Innovation Center at USF has been awarded a 4 year $1,323,166 research grant from the U.S. Department of Education's Institute of Education Sciences to build a large database of academic language of K-3 students. The overarching aim of this work is to help reduce the language-based achievement gap in primary grades.

Trina D. Spencer, PhD

Spencer, an education researcher, will collaborate with Randi Reppen and Douglas Biber, corpus linguists from Northern Arizona University, to collect 8000 academic language samples and examine the vocabulary and grammatical features that may be pivotal instructional targets for young disadvantaged students. Through a researcher-community partnership, language samples will be collected in Hillsborough County Public Schools during after school activities as to not disrupt precious instructional time.

“Our goal is to understand the vocabulary and grammatical features that students with above average oral language abilities use that students with below average oral language abilities do not,” Spencer said. “A close inspection of these differences will reveal vocabulary and grammatical features that primary grade teachers should target during academic language instruction.”

At the end of the study, data will be made publicly available for other researchers to use.

"It is my hope that the findings from this project will directly inform the development of a variety of curricula, interventions, assessments and training materials for educators so that academic failure of vulnerable students can be avoided," Spencer said.

Established in August 2017 at USF, the Rightpath Center employs cutting edge research methods to develop, evaluate and disseminate tools, strategies and programs that elevate achievement of vulnerable children. The Center, with a focus on prevention, works to improve language, literacy and mathematics development in young children who are at risk of poor outcomes due to limited English language proficiency, low socioeconomic and ethnic minority backgrounds, or those who have communication, learning, behavioral or intellectual disabilities.

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