Elizabeth Peña holds the rank of Professor. She has two lines of inquiry that address the goal of differentiating language impairment from language difference: dynamic assessment and development of assessment protocols for bilinguals. Dynamic assessment tests ability to learn new language skills. In contrast, standardized tests asses what children already know. The advantage of focusing on learning is that it greatly reduces bias by not assuming lack of knowledge is lack of ability. She further focuses on language impairment in children from diverse linguistic backgrounds. Specifically, she is interested in how children from diverse linguistic backgrounds learn new language skills and how they lexicalize their conceptual knowledge across two languages. Through careful qualitative and description of bilingual children’s performance, she is currently focusing on potential similarities among typical monolingual and bilingual children as well as differences between typical and impaired bilingual or monolingual children. Her work on test development for bilinguals has focused on assessment of semantic skills using a battery of related tasks. Because typical vocabulary tests rely on knowledge of specific vocabulary items children from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds often perform below age expectations, possibly leading to misdiagnosis. The bilingual semantics test tasks are designed to allow responses that reflect cultural knowledge and allow children to respond in Spanish, English, or both.
Currently, she is working on two NIH funded projects. The first (in collaboration with Lisa Bedore and Ronald Gillam) is Diagnostic Markers of Language Impairment in Bilingual Children. The second project (in collaboration with Lisa Bedore) Phenotype Assessment Tools for Bilingual Children is to develop an upward extension of the Bilingual English Spanish Assessment (BESA).
Office: CMA 4.114B