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The Dorset Assessment of Syntactic Structures (DASS)

  • The DASS is an assessment of expressive language for older children and adults that is based on the STASS (South Tyneside Assessment of Syntactic Structures).
  • The DASS was successfully trialled with adolescents and adults with learning difficulties.
  • The assessment consists of an A4 full-colour picture book, instructions for use and assessment forms that can be photocopied.

Age range

7 years–adult

Who can use it?

Teachers and speech and language therapists.

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.
  • Record the child’s answers exactly, allowing for deviations in pronunciation. Take care to listen very carefully – don’t add in small grammatical words or endings that aren’t there. It’s often necessary to video or make an audio recording of deaf children’s responses – this really 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.

What can it tell us?

  • Which linguistic level the child expressive language is currently at in terms of the clause, phrase and word levels, up to stage four of the Language Assessment, Remediation and Screening Procedure (Crystal LARSP).
  • Where there are gaps in a child’s expressive language.


  • This assessment is very useful in helping to determine which grammatical structures a child should acquire next because it’s designed developmentally.
  • Gaining the language sample is quick and easy.
  • A very good resource to aid target setting.
  • Progress can be plotted over time on the profile chart.


  • This assessment doesn’t provide age-equivalent scores, standard scores or percentile ranks.
  • 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 of syntax analysis.
  • 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 is not appropriate.

Is there a cost? 

Yes. You can buy this in a joint package with the STASS assessment at a reduced rate.

Where can I access it?

You can access the assessment on the STASS website.

This book can help users with their syntax analysis skills: Crystal, D. Rediscover Grammar, Second Edition. 2004., Longman.