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Test of Written Spelling

Fourth Edition

Authors: Stephen C. Larsen, Donald D. Hammill and
Louisa C. Moats

Publisher: pro-ed

Cost of test: $101.00
examiners manual $62.00
response forms (50) $48.00

History of the TWS-4

TWS (1976)
2 subtests (Predictable and Unpredictable words)
Test was originally called the Larsen- Hammell Test of Written Spelling
Up and down reviews with the first edition (overall great reliability and validity
but unhappy with absence of standard scores)

TWS- 2 (1986)
Increased the number of words for both subtests
Age range was changed
Standard scores and percentiles were added
Supplied test/retest data
Reviews of the new version suggested a need to improve normative data by
providing more evidence supporting the demographic representation of the
sample as well as concerns with its criterion-related validity

History of the TWS-4 (cont.)
TWS- 3 (1994)
Added material to the manual that spelled out clearly the uses and limitations of the test
Added criterion related validity evidence and showed relation to other spelling tests
Added studies to show absence of racial and gender bias
Added 855 new cases to the normative sample
Added a detailed description of how the subjects in the normative sample were selected
Keyed the normative sample to the 1990 census
Reluctantly added spelling age and grade equivalent (due to state requirements)
Reviews of updated version questioned the validity of providing subtests for predictable and
unpredictable words

TWS- 4 (1999)
Invited Dr. Louisa Moats, a well respected authority on spelling to be a co-author to help update
the test to the current version
Considerable advances have been made in the understanding of the structure of the English
language and how kids learn since this test was originally created- changes have reflected
current research and understanding
The predictable and unpredictable word lists were combined to create one list, as well as two
alternate and equivalent forms of the test (test-teach-test)
Standardization data was conformed to current norms
The tests validity, measurement accuracy and clinical utility have been strengthened
To demonstrate that the words are still instructionally relevant in todays schools, their presence
on six current spelling series was investigated

Purpose of the Test

Why give spelling special attention?
Spelling and word decoding are the most common problems for
students with diagnosed learning disabilities.
Poor spelling often persists into adulthood
For many students with LD, their reading skills improve, but they still
have a hard time with writing and spelling
Difficulties with spelling often lead to frustrations with writing
(formulation of ideas, word choice, etc)

Used to assess children having difficulties with spelling to
help determine the types and patterns of a students
spelling errors as well as the degree of the problem.
Purpose (cont.)
Authors identified three specific purposes of the test

1. To identify students whose spelling ability is deficient enough to call
for direct instruction designed to improve their spelling
2. To document overall improvement in spelling when it occurs as a
consequence of intervention
3. To serve as a measure in research designed to measure spelling
achievement in individuals with different types of learning

Features of the TWS-4
What are the main features of the TWS-4?
It is a norm-referenced test of students spelling ability
ages 6-0 to 18-11, grade 1-12
There are 2 forms
The test is administered using a dictated word form (aka weekly spelling test style)
Test results are reported as standard scores, percentiles, spelling ages and grade equivalents
This test can be administered individually in a one-on-one format or in a group setting (ie

How long does it take to administer?
Individual administration- 15 minutes
Slightly longer when the test is administered in a group setting

Basals, Ceilings and Scoring
When testing an individual, there is an appropriate entry level (based on grade)
The ceiling is 5 consecutive errors
The basal is 5 consecutive correct items
When testing groups, the examinee can administer enough items for the students to all reach
basals and ceilings. If during scoring, they find that some children didnt achieve these levels,
they can take them aside and administer the remaining items until the proper basals and ceilings
are reached

Interpretation of TWS-4 Scores
5 types of scores

1. Raw scores

1. Standard scores

1. Percentiles

1. Spelling ages

1. Grade equivalents

Supplementary Assessment of Spelling and
Related Skills

The authors suggest 7 steps of informal assessment procedures to help
meaningfully examine a students spelling

1. Examine the students written compositions
2. Measure phoneme awareness, including phonetic spelling ability
3. Survey alphabetic knowledge
4. Survey developmental level of spelling knowledge
5. Use a criterion-referenced test to survey knowledge of specific phonic
patterns and spelling rules
6. Survey knowledge of highest frequency, unpredictable words in writing
7. Linguistic analysis of spelling errors- considers the degree to which spelling
matches the spoken features of an entire word
Test Reliability

High degree of reliability across
1. content sampling
2. time sampling
3. intescorer differences

Minimum standard of test reliability should be .90

Test users can have confidence in the results
Test Validity

Criterion-related validity- demonstrated coefficients significant beyond the
.01 level

Content validity-
1. Test items (spelling words) were found to be instructionally relevant to core
vocabularies in reading, math, science, and social studies.
2. Item discrimination index was found to be higher than .35
3. Item difficulty was widely dispersed and averaged .50

Construct validity- Test does appear to measure the construct of written

Strengths and Limitations of
the TWS-4
+ Quick and easy to administer

+ Children and teachers are familiar with the format

+ Two forms allow for testing during the school year to measure progress
without worrying about practice effect

+ Can be administered by classroom teacher or educational assistant

+ Most other commercial spelling tests measure editing ability instead of written
spelling ability

- Laminated cards with the test items and prompting (basals, ceilings) would be
convenient when administering

- Adding a space for the student to record their own name may provide further
information for the examiner

The Word on the Streetreviews,
practitioner views, feedback etc
great for IEP goals (pre-test, creating a goal and then

students are very relaxed (Spelling tests are a well
established weekly routine in many classes)

reasonable cost for Independent schools

helpful for differentiating instruction

C. A. Jenks & D. G. Hicks (2005). Test of Written Spelling. Journal of
Psychological Assessment, 23 (2), 189-195,

McLoughlin, J.A. & Lewis (2008). Assessing students with special needs
(7th Edition). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.