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South Tyneside Assessment of Syntactic Structures (STASS 2012)

  • STASS is a widely used rapid assessment which is used to highlight possible areas of difficulty within a child's expressive language. It comes in a laminated booklet form with 32 coloured pictures which are presented to the child with one, or occasionally two, questions. Each question is designed to elicit one or more grammatical structures.
  • Child's responses produce a corpus of 37 utterances to be analysed.
  • Designed to elicit structures at clause, phrase and word levels plus a range of auxiliary verbs, pronouns and prepositions.
  • The chart is very useful for both plotting progress over time and for setting targets for the next grammatical structures to be used.

Age range

3–7 years

Who can use this?

Teachers and professionals who are familiar with the grammatical features of English (subject, verb, objective, complement, adverbial).

How is it used?

  • The child and adult share the picture book. The adult reads the prompts (written on the page opposite the picture) while showing the child the corresponding picture, and then records the child’s response.
  • You should record the child’s answers exactly, allowing for deviations in pronunciation. You should take care to listen very carefully – don’t add in small grammatical words or endings that weren’t there. It’s often necessary to video or make an audio recording of deaf children’s responses as this helps to get a very accurate transcription. If the child produces some words de-voiced or uses a sign rather than a word, it’s useful to record this information as well. For example, underline de-voiced words and put signed words in brackets.
  • The Scottish Sensory Centre’s publication Using the South Tyneside Assessment of Synthetic Structures (2020) is a helpful guide to the assessment’s use (available at: ssc.education.ed.ac.uk/library/publications/stass.pdf)

What can it tell us?

  • The linguistic level of a child in terms of the sentence structures they’re using. The manual doesn’t give exact age-equivalent scores, standard scores or percentile ranks.
  • Where there are gaps in a child’s expressive language.
  • Which sentence structures should appear, or be targeted next, if following a developmental pattern.
  • Progress from one assessment to the next can be plotted on the chart.
  • Assessment forms are free and available to download online.

Pros

  • Gaining the language sample is quick and easy.
  • Easy to score, with photocopiable assessment forms provided.
  • Children of the appropriate age for this assessment are usually interested in the pictures.
  • A very good resource to aid target setting.
  • Progress can be plotted on the chart.
  • The assessment has been normed on over 200 children, so it’s possible to report results, for example by saying the child has achieved better than 75% of five-year-olds.

Cons

  • Accurate transcription can take time and needs a good level of listening skill.
  • Analysis of the grammar used can take time and requires a very high level of knowledge about syntax analysis.
  • It’s not possible to derive a standard score, percentile rank or age-equivalent score.
  • The analysis that’s performed on the language sample and the developmental chart are all aimed at analysing English grammar. If a child is using BSL, then the correct structure for this language is very different from that of English and the developmental chart isn’t appropriate.
  • Children in a free play situation are likely to produce more complex language than that elicited by the pictures. So the results may underestimate the child’s true levels.

Is there a cost? 

Yes.

Where can I access it?

You can access the assessment on the STASS website or at Winslow Resources.

This book can also help users with their syntax analysis skills:

Crystal, D. Rediscover Grammar, Second Edition. 2004. Longman.