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Rightpath Research & Innovation Center at USF Receives $1.3 Million Research Grant from U.S. Department of Education

Trina D. Spencer, Ph.D., BCBA-DDr. Trina D. Spencer 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.

Dr. 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 afterschool 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.,” said Dr. Spencer.  “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. Dr. Spencer said, "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."

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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