Resolving Whether or Not to Conduct a Full/Complete Assessment on an ELL Student

  • September 10, 2007
  • Henriette Langdon

By the time you have a chance to read this month’s column, you will most likely have started a new academic year. Best wishes for a productive year! With a new year come many referrals for assessment.

One of the most complex and frequent dilemmas faced by SLPs is whether to conduct a full assessment on an ELL student or take a “wait and see” approach when the student is not progressing at par with peers with similar experiences as well as exposure to the second language and to schooling.

To make a decision whether to conduct a more thorough assessment, it is suggested that an interview with the student’s parents/family takes place first to determine if they have noted any problems in the student’s acquisition of the first language (L1). Two scenarios are possible:

  1. If the student has been slow in acquiring L1, it is suggested that a full assessment be conducted in both L1 and L2.  However, caution needs to taken because a lower performance in L1 may be due to language loss. This is common in bilingual individuals who do not have an opportunity to use their L1 as frequently. Language loss was addressed in greater detail in the ¿Qué tal? column from August 2007. If an assessment needs to be conducted in the student’s L1, and there is no bilingual SLP available who can assess in the student’s language, collaboration with a trained interpreter/translator will be necessary.
  2. If the family expresses no concerns about L1 development, it is recommended to verify teachers’ comments and to refer to the health and developmental history of the student. Observations of the student in the classroom and around the school are also recommended. The school team may offer some suggestions to assist the student in the classroom setting to be carried out for a defined period. But the family should also be involved to understand the process and collaborate by following some suggestions at home. The language of interaction in the home does not need to be in English, but in the language in which the parent(s) feels most comfortable in communicating with his/her child.  This is a good time for the SLP to implement specific strategies in a small group to assess the student’s progress (Responsiveness to Intervention [RtI]). This model enables the team members to follow specific strategies.  It’s possible that improvement may be noted during the specific period planned by the team. If insufficient improvement is noted, a more in-depth assessment will be needed. If there is progress, continue to watch and review periodically.

Working with ELL students requires additional time because it is necessary to analyze the student’s language history in L1 and L2, type of school-based programs attended by the student, and testing in two languages (most often). The process may be even longer if there is no SLP who can provide clinical services in the student’s language and, therefore, recruiting adequately trained interpreters and translators is paramount.

P.S. After writing this column I found out that I may not have been as explicit as I should have been. When I mean a “complete, full” assessment I was referring to a bilingual speech-language assessment. However, in several cases, assessments from other disciplines may be indicated. Therefore, the input from assessments of other professionals such as Psychologists, Special Educators, Adaptive Physical Educators, Occupational and Physical Therapists as well as Counselors and other may also be necessary.

We need to keep in mind that our goal is to address the needs of our students and that it often takes more than one person to meet those needs.

Deciding Whether to Conduct a Complete Assessment
Figure reproduced with permission from the Publisher:
Langdon, H.W. (2008). Assessment and intervention for communication disorders in culturally and linguistically diverse populations. Clifton Park, N.Y: Thomson-Delmar Learning.

As always, I do welcome your comments.

Henriette W. Langdon, Ed.D., F-CCC-SLP
Communicative Disorders & Sciences
College of Education
San José State University
San José, CA 95192-0079
408-924-4019 voice
408-924-3641 fax

Gracias – Thank you.

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