2. Language Disorders
3. College Students
4. Diagnostic Accuracy
5 . Language Assessment

In an important advancement in the domain of language pathology, a recent study has revealed a significant improvement in the accuracy of diagnosing language disorders among college students. Published in the “American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology,” the investigation focused on the effectiveness of a specific diagnostic tool, the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy Skills (TILLS) (doi: 10.1044/2023_AJSLP-23-00331).

The Study: Aiming for Diagnostic Precision

Conducted by leading experts in the field, including Alexander A. Choi-Tucci from the School of Education at the University of California, Irvine, and Melissa M. White and Elena E. Plante from the Department of Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences at The University of Arizona, the study enlisted 59 college students, aged 18 to 23 years, to undergo comprehensive testing. The battery of tests included those validated by Fidler et al. (2011) for diagnosing language disorders and the Identification Core (ID Core) subtests of the TILLS, previously validated for individuals aged 12-18 years.

Key Findings and Implications

Critically, the research team discovered that the standard cut-score recommended for the younger age group was not sufficiently identifying language disorders in the college student sample. It became clear that an adjusted cut-score was necessary to improve sensitivity and specificity, which are crucial components of an accurate diagnostic test. By increasing the cut-score from 42 to 51, researchers managed to reach acceptable levels of diagnostic accuracy.

Moreover, discriminant function analysis further confirmed that enhanced sensitivity and specificity, each exceeding 80%, could be achieved using empirically derived discriminant scores. Such findings hold the potential to significantly transform the assessment and identification of language disorders in older adolescents and adults.

A Boost to Educational and Clinical Practices

For clinicians, educators, and speech-language pathologists, this study offers an invaluable tool for better identifying and supporting college students grappling with language disorders, a population that has historically been challenging to assess accurately. Consequently, this research may lead to more tailored educational strategies and interventions that align with the specific needs of this age group.

Furthermore, the findings can have far-reaching implications beyond individual diagnostics. Considering the inclusive trends in education and the workplace, it’s essential to reliably identify developmental language disorders or persisting language difficulties among young adults entering higher education and the workforce. This ensures equitable opportunities and support measures that cater to the nuances of individual language abilities.

The Social and Academic Impact

Language disorders can hinder academic progress, but they also impede social integration and emotional well-being. The improved diagnostic accuracy that the TILLS offers means that college students who struggle quietly, sometimes misconstrued as unmotivated or academically inadequate, can be correctly identified and aided. The ripple effect extends to reduced stigma and enhanced mental health support for those affected.

The study’s authors, Choi-Tucci, White, and Plante, highlight that this adjusted approach using the TILLS for college students represents an expansive step towards inclusive and precise language disorder diagnostics. They advocate for continuous research to refine the assessment tools for various population demographics.

Looking Forward: Next Steps and Continued Research

While this study marks a leap forward, ongoing research is essential to adapt and validate diagnostic tools like the TILLS for broader age ranges and diverse linguistic backgrounds. As universities and colleges become increasingly diverse, assessment instruments need to evolve correspondingly to ensure they diagnose accurately across the spectrum of sociolinguistic contexts.

Concluding Thoughts

The American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology has released a pivotal piece of research that carries profound implications for the future of language disorder diagnostics among college students. As the findings from Choi-Tucci, White, and Plante’s study begin to influence practice, the field of speech-language pathology stands at the cusp of an era where precise, sensitive, and specific diagnostic tools like the TILLS will become standard in unlocking the full potential of young adults entering the most formative years of their personal and professional lives.


1. Nelson, N. W., Plante, E., Helm-Estabrooks, N., & Hotz, G. (2016). Test of Integrated Language and Literacy Skills.
2. Fidler, et al. (2011). Use of standardised tests for assessing speech of young children with cleft palate. [Reference to original research validating diagnostic tools for language disorders].
3. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology (2023). Determining the Diagnostic Accuracy of the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy Skills for College Students. doi: 10.1044/2023_AJSLP-23-00331
4. Choi-Tucci, A. A., White, M. M., & Plante, E. E. (2023). Diagnostic Accuracy Improvement of Language Disorder Tests.
5. Speech, Language, and Hearing Sciences Research Update (2023). New Insights on Language Assessment for College Students.

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Last Update: January 23, 2024