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Reminders When Assessing ELL Students - featured August 13, 2010

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Reminders When Assessing ELL Students

Reprinted with the express permission of Catherine Trapskin as originally posted on her blog

By: Catherine Trapskin, M.S. CCC-SLP

1) We must not report standardized scores in written reports for ELL students.

This is important for the following reasons:

a) Most tests are not standardized on students with varying linguistic backgrounds.

b) Most clinicians are not bilingual; therefore we must utilize an interpreter for our testing. Use of an interpreter invalidates the standardized test norms and procedures.

c) We must remember that many standardized test items are likely to be considered culturally biased for our students and therefore are not an accurate reflection of a student’s true speech and language abilities. Most, if not all states, require us to use unbiased evaluation tools to rule out the presence of cultural, linguistic, and socioeconomic factors when evaluating students from diverse ethnic or cultural backgrounds for eligibility. This is why a thorough evaluation including parent interviews, observations, language samples, and authentic and alternative assessment are important to complete.

2) ONLY clinicians who are considered bilingual as defined by ASHA can administer a test in the child’s native without the support of an interpreter.

ASHA’s definition of a bilingual speech-language pathologist is as follows:

“Speech-language pathologists or audiologists who present themselves as bilingual for the purposes of providing clinical services must be able to speak their primary language and to speak (or sign) at least one other language with native or near-native proficiency in lexicon (vocabulary), semantics (meaning), phonology (pronunciation), morphology/syntax (grammar), and pragmatics (uses) during clinical management.

To provide bilingual assessment and remediation services in the client’s language, the bilingual speech-language pathologist or audiologist should possess:

1. ability to describe the process of normal speech and language acquisition for both bilingual and monolingual individuals and how those processes are manifested in oral (or manually coded) and written language;
2. ability to administer and interpret formal and informal assessment procedures to distinguish between communication differences and communication disorders in oral (or manually coded) and written language;
3. ability to apply intervention strategies for treatment of communication disorders in the client’s language; and
4. ability to recognize cultural factors which affect the delivery of speech-language pathology and audiology services to the client’s language community.”

Therefore Spanish editions of tests, for example, are designed to be administered only by a licensed speech-language pathologist who is proficient in Spanish as defined above or by monolingual English-speaking clinicians working with an interpreter.

3) We do NOT need to provide standardized scores to determine eligibility for service.

State eligibility guidelines allow us the flexibility to use our professional judgment when determining eligibility. This is true in all states. Standardized test scores are NOT required for eligibility. You may decide to check with your own state’s department of education for clarification if someone on your team insists on using standardized test scores on ELL students.

An example of wording to use in a report when writing an eligibility statement may include: “Because there were no technically adequate norm-referenced language tests for [Student’s] cultural peer group, two measurement procedures were used to demonstrate significant differences from what was expected for his chronological and developmental level. These measurement procedures included [i.e., additional language samples, clinician-designed language tasks, parent reports, etc]. [Student] performed significantly below his chronological and cultural peers on language tasks both receptively and expressively. Language samples in both [Spanish] and English were significantly discrepant for [Student's] age as judged by the SLP and [a native [Spanish] speaker, the parent, the teacher].

We understand that by not reporting standardized scores to qualify a student, the report may seem more subjective, however, conducting a thorough, well-rounded evaluation results in a more accurate picture of a student’s true strengths and weaknesses.

A possible statement to use when writing up individual test results is below:

The [Name of Test] norm sample is limited to individuals who were proficient in English and were not standardized on members of [Student’s] cultural peer group. Therefore, computed scores cannot be reported and the normative data cannot be used to interpret results of students who are not native speakers of English. On this test, [this is where you will describe the student’s performance (i.e., Student was able to ___. Student had difficulty with _____]. This information may be helpful in determining the student’s skill level and intervention planning.

This Month's Featured Blogger : Catherine Trapskin:

We thank Catherine Trapskin for allowing us to reprint her blog entry.

About Catherine: Catherine Trapskin is a bilingual (Spanish) SLP working for the Minneapolis Public Schools, a district which represents over 80 different languages. She currently has a caseload and also works at the district level in her special education/ELL department. This part of her job entails training other special ed staff on how to assess, use best practices to teach special ed/ELL students, work with interpreters, etc.

She came up with the idea for this blog/website because it seemed that although almost every SLP has at least one, if not several more individuals on their caseload who are English Language Learners. As she has conducted trainings around the district and state, Catherine has found that people's knowledge and skill in this area is so varied and people are always desperate for information and ideas. She is currently working on creating a site that will allow for questions, forums, materials exchange, etc, which she hopes will be up and running sometime this fall.

To read more of Catherine's blog, please visit

Tags: Bilingualism Newsletter Article SLP 13 August 2010