School-Based Assessment Practices with ELL

School-based speech-language pathologists are faced with the challenge of conducting appropriate assessment of children and adolescents who are culturally and linguistically diverse.1-12 Given the increasingly numerous languages used in the United States, even bilingual speech-language pathologists often are faced with assessing individuals who speak a language unfamiliar to the assessment team.10 Adding to the challenge is a lack of valid and reliable assessment instruments appropriate for this population, as well as inadequate training.10,13,14

A recent study set out to learn about the practices of school-based speech-language pathologists when assessing the language and communication skills of students who are nonnative speakers of English. Those who agreed to participate were administered a 25-item questionnaire. Participants were asked to respond to questions about the tools, techniques and nontraditional techniques used to identify students with diverse linguistic backgrounds for speech-language pathology services, training and professional learning experiences in this area, and perceived barriers to assessing the communication skills of these students.

Download the questionnaire. (Note: you will need to enter your email address to download the PDF file.)

The study involved 70 speech-language pathologists in a Georgia school district that had a large representation of students whose native language is a language other than English. Out of 50 speech-language pathologists who attended a meeting, 28 submitted a questionnaire. After eliminating questionnaires that were not fully completed or indicated respondents who had not participated in the assessment of nonnative English speakers, the eventual response of 14 usable surveys represented a 28 percent response rate.

Quantitative analysis included calculating the frequency and percentage of responses to questions related to demographic information and assessment practices. Qualitative data analysis included determining themes obtained from participants' verbatim responses. These analyses contributed to answering the researcher's questions about tools and techniques used by these professionals, as well as perceived barriers.

All 14 respondents reported using standardized assessments to identify students with diverse linguistic backgrounds for speech-language pathology services. The majority of respondents indicated using observations (11/14) and checklists (10/14) during the assessment process as well. Remarkably, only one respondent reported collaborating with the ESL/ESOL teacher.

In terms of preparedness, more than half did not receive coursework during their graduate preparation (9/14) or participate in professional learning experiences (11/14) post-graduation in the area of differential assessment to identify students with diverse linguistic backgrounds for speech-language pathology services. Results for training focused on working with families were similar. The majority of respondents did not receive coursework (11/14) or participate in professional learning experiences (13/14) post-graduation.

Regarding training on how to utilize interpreters, the majority of respondents did not receive coursework (12/14) during their graduate preparation or participate in professional learning experiences (11/14) post-graduation. Finally, the barriers most frequently reported by survey respondents were a lack of available bilingual speech-language pathologists and a lack of developmental norms and standardized assessment tools in languages other than English.

A large number of respondents reported using alternative assessment practices, such as completing observations and checklists, with standardized testing. However, results revealed a significant need for these professionals to incorporate collaboration with ESOL teachers into the assessment process.

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA) has provided guidelines on working with students who are English language learners (ELLs) at various stages of the assessment process. According to ASHA, speech-language pathologists should use professional knowledge and skills to facilitate the collaborative process with instructors who teach English as a second language (ESL).15

Collaborations should begin prior to assessment and continue throughout the assessment process. Professionals should focus on issues such as language development and code-switching in students who are developing proficiency in English and be characteristic of providing and gathering data in order to make an informed decision. Should this comprehensive process result in identification for speech-language pathology intervention services, the collaborative process becomes a "think tank" of developing an appropriate intervention plan. Professionals are engaged in adapting curricula, determining appropriate materials and instructional strategies, and involving families in the process.

Based on the participant responses in this study, graduate coursework and professional learning experiences should be mandatory in this area. Additionally, ongoing collaborations among professionals should be encouraged and supported by district administrators (e.g., schedules and professional learning experiences). Training should emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration among professionals, alternative assessment practices such as ethnographic interviewing, and working with families.

Federal legislation requires school districts to provide students with language support services as appropriate (e.g., ESL programs, native language support and speech-language services). It is possible for a student to need the support of both services (ESL and speech-language therapy) simultaneously, further warranting the need for these professionals to collaborate.

Information received in this study was based on self-report. Missing from the data is the opportunity to observe participants' actual assessment practices. Another limitation was the significantly low sample size.

Additionally, participants were limited to speech-language pathologists employed by one school district. Inferences from this study are restricted to one select district within the state of Georgia.

Future research may focus on obtaining a larger sample size more representative of the population and replicating the study. Additional research may focus on fidelity of implementation and observing the actual practices of school-based speech-language pathologists.

The rapidly changing U.S. demographics and lack of available valid assessment tools for individuals who are culturally and linguistically diverse justifies the need for research on the assessment practices of school-based speech-language pathologists when assessing students whose language they do not speak or understand.

  1. Adler, S. (1993). Multicultural communication skills in the classroom. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.
  2. Battle, D.E. (1998). Communication Disorders in Multicultural Populations. Stoneham, MA: Andover Medical.
  3. Battle, D.E. (2002). Communication Disorders in Multicultural Populations (3rd ed.). Boston: Butterworth Heinemann.
  4. Brice, A. (2001). Children with communication disorders: Update 2001. ERIC EC Digest, E617.
  5. Caesar, LG., Williams, D.R. (2002). Socioculture and the delivery of healthcare: Who gets what and why? ASHA Leader, 7 (6): 6-9.
  6. Cheng, L.L. (1996). Beyond bilingualism: A quest for communicative competence. Topics in Language Disorders, 16: 9-21.
  7. Cole, L. (1989). E plurius pluribus: Multicultural imperatives for the 1990s and beyond. Asha, 31 (9): 65-70.
  8. Kayser, H. (1995). Assessment of speech and language impairments. In H. Kayser (ed.), Bilingual Speech-Language Pathology (pp. 243-65). San Diego: Singular.
  9. Kohnert, K., Kennedy, M.R., Glaze, L., et al. (2003). Breadth and depth of diversity in Minnesota: Challenges to clinical competency. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 12: 259-72.
  10. Kritikos, E.P. (2003). Speech-language pathologists' beliefs about language assessment of bilingual/bicultural individuals. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 12: 73-91.
  11. Langdon, H.W., Cheng, L.L. (2002). Collaborating with Interpreters and Translators. Eau Claire, WI: Thinking Publications.
  12. Robinson, T.L., Crowe, T.A. (1998). Culture-based considerations in programming for stuttering intervention with African American clients and their families. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 29: 172-79.
  13. Laing, S., Kamhi, A. (2003). Alternative assessment of language and literacy in culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 34: 44-55.
  14. Hammer, C.S., Detweiler, J.S., Detweiler, J., et al. (2004). Speech-language pathologists' training and confidence in serving Spanish-English bilingual children. Journal of Communication Disorders, 37: 91-108.
  15. ASHA. (1998). Provision of instruction in English as a second language by speech-language pathologists in school settings. Available from www.asha.org/policy.
Karen Harris, PhD, is assistant professor of speech-language pathology at the University of West Georgia. She is regional liaison to the Georgia Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) and was a steering committee member for ASHA Special Interest Group, Division 14, Communication Sciences and Disorders in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations. She can be contacted at kharris@westga.edu.

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