Measuring lexical quality: The role of spelling ability

03 August 2020

The construct of ‘lexical quality’ (Perfetti, 2007) is widely invoked in literature on word recognition and reading to refer to a systematic dimension of individual differences that predicts performance in a range of word identification and reading tasks in both developing readers and skilled adult populations. Many different approaches have been used to assess lexical quality, but few have captured the orthographic precision that is central to the construct. This paper describes, evaluates and disseminates spelling dictation and spelling recognition tests that were developed to provide sensitive measures of the precision component of lexical quality in skilled college student readers – the population that has provided most of the benchmark data for models of word recognition and reading. Analyses are reported for 785 students who completed the spelling tests in conjunction with standardized measures of reading comprehension, vocabulary and reading speed, of whom 107 also completed author recognition and phonemic decoding tests. Internal consistency analyses showed that both spelling tests were relatively unidimensional and displayed good internal consistency, although the recognition test contained too many easy items. Item-level analyses are included to provide the basis for further refinement of these instruments. The spelling tests were moderately correlated with the other measures of written language proficiency but factor analyses revealed that they consistently defined a separate component, demonstrating that they tap a dimension of variability that is partially independent of variance in reading comprehension, speed and vocabulary. These components appear to align with the precision and coherence dimensions of lexical quality.