Evaluating socioeconomic gaps in preschoolers’ vocabulary, syntax and language process skills with the Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS)

Dani Levine, Amy Pace, Rufan Luo, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Jill de Villiers, Aquiles Iglesias, Mary Sweig Wilson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

5 Scopus citations


Early language competence is a reliable and powerful predictor of children's success in school, and word gaps linked to socioeconomic status disparities have cascading effects on academic outcomes. While early research – such as the work of Hart and Risley (1995) – focused on gaps in vocabulary, growing evidence reveals wide gaps in syntax as well. Language is an interdependent developing system of vocabulary, syntax, and language processes, yet existing research has not evaluated how SES gaps compare for these language components or how these components are linked for children from lower- and higher-SES families. Such a profile is sorely needed to understand the course of language development in all children. A new language measure, the Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS), expands on other measures by evaluating preschoolers’ vocabulary and syntax knowledge, along with their language-learning process skills. This screener was administered to a large, diverse sample of English-speaking children ages 3 through 5. Results indicated that the effect of SES was significant and comparable for all three language components, at all ages tested. Additionally, correlations among syntax, vocabulary and process were robust for low- and mid-SES children. These findings highlight the importance of looking beyond vocabulary to language syntax and process to better understand the SES gap in language.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)114-128
Number of pages15
JournalEarly Childhood Research Quarterly
StatePublished - Jan 1 2020


All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Developmental and Educational Psychology
  • Sociology and Political Science


  • Assessment
  • Language development
  • Preschoolers
  • Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS)
  • Socioeconomic status (SES)

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