Speech-language pathology professor awarded federal grant

Anthony Koutsoftas

SOUTH ORANGE, NJ — Anthony Koutsoftas, associate professor in the Department of Speech-Language Pathology at Seton Hall University’s School of Health and Medical Sciences, received $1.4 million in grant funding from the U.S. Department of Education, Institute of Education Science’s National Center for Special Education Research program to develop and test an intervention for improving writing in fourth- and fifth-grade students with a language-based learning disability. The program, “Writing in Students with Language-based Learning Disabilities,” also known as “Project WILLD,” will allow researchers to create and field-test an intervention through an iterative process that allows for feedback from educators and schoolchildren who participate.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association defines a language-based learning disability as problems with reading, spelling or writing in the face of intact hearing, cognition and neurological functioning. Though many researchers and institutions have focused on supporting students with LLD to improve reading skills, the Department of Speech-Language Pathology at Seton Hall University, along with partners from various universities, will spend the next four years building an intervention to improve writing skills in these students.

The purpose of Project WILLD is to create an intervention that targets word-, sentence- and discourse-level writing skills in students with LLD. It will be administered as part of individualized education plan special education or speech-language pathology services. The intervention created through Project WILLD can be implemented by speech-language pathologists and/or special educators working with elementary-aged students. The intervention will go through four iterations of development over the four years of the project.

“Children with LLD are those who have difficulty with reading and writing with related oral-language deficits,” Koutsoftas said. “It could be that early childhood oral-language deficits are the cause of reading and writing difficulties or that oral language deficits emerged later in school when language demands of the curriculum have surpassed a child’s written language ability. Either way, writing ability is an essential component of modern life for academic and social purposes and Project WILLD will work to find ways for educators and speech-language pathologists to improve writing skills for elementary students with LLD.”

Currently, fourth- and fifth-grade students with LLD receive oral language supports from a speech-language pathologist and written language supports from special educators. The goal of Project WILLD is to combine oral and written language intervention strategies into one program. One of the goals of this work is to reduce the amount of time that students with special education needs are pulled from the general education classroom, while improving their writing skills.

“Being awarded this grant from the U.S. Department of Education is a testament to the dedication of our expert faculty who diligently seek to transform theory into clinical practice. Dr. Koutsoftas’ research agenda and those of many other SHMS faculty continue to advance practice, research and education through their groundbreaking innovations,” said Brian Shulman, dean of the School of Health and Medical Sciences at Seton Hall University.