Posted on

Why “good grades” do not automatically rule out “adverse educational impact”

Image result for good grades?As a speech-language pathologist (SLP) working with school-age children, I frequently assess students whose language and literacy abilities adversely impact their academic functioning.   For the parents of school-aged children with suspected language and literacy deficits as well as for the SLPs tasked with screening and evaluating them, the concept of ‘academic impact’ comes up on daily basis. In fact, not a day goes by when I do not see a variation of the following question: “Is there evidence of academic impact?”, being discussed in a variety of Facebook groups dedicated to speech pathology issues.

At first glance, the issue of academic impact appears to be rather straightforward. For example, many SLPs will readily assert that if a child is receiving good grades (A’s and B’s) in the school setting and is not exhibiting any “significant” maladaptive and challenging behaviors, then there is no evidence of adverse academic impact, and screening/evaluation/intervention services are unnecessary.

Unfortunately, things are not as “crystal clear” as they appear. That is because of the relative subjectivity pertaining to the grading practices of the students’ work in the school setting. Now, before you accuse me of inventing a problem where there is none, please hear me out.

In this post, I would like to illustrate how the subjectivity of grading practices can obfuscate the issue of academic impact to such an extent that students with significant language and learning needs may not be identified as being in need of help until it’s far too late – if identified at all.

Related imageLet’s begin with reading, an incredibly complex and deeply misunderstood process, especially in settings which do not utilize scientifically informed practices (e.g., synthetic phonics) when teaching young children to read.  When it comes to the teaching and assessment of reading, it is an absolute Wild West out there! And no one is more familiar with it, than parents of reading impaired children.

One of the first things these parents notice about their children in the early grades is that their reading abilities are highly inconsistent and are not commensurate with those of their peers.  These parents will notice that it takes their kids an extraordinary amount of time to master the alphabetic principle (remember the letters of the alphabet, match letters to sounds, etc.). They will notice that their children have an extraordinarily difficult time blending simple three letter words involving initial and final consonants with a medial vowel (e.g., “nob”). They will complain that their children display inconsistent knowledge of “sight words” from day to day, as well as misread and skip words when reading.

Here is the problem though, unless objective measures are used to test their children’s phonemic awareness and phonics abilities, there is a very strong possibility that these issues will persist well into upper elementary years, completely unnoticed in the school system, given the subjectivity involved in assessing reading mastery.

Indeed, numerous studies highlight the lack of efficacy of build-in assessments in programs such as Fountas and Pinnell, Reading Recovery, as well as the utility of utilizing Running Records, for reading assessment purposes.  My clinical observations of struggling readers in a variety of school settings, as part of the independent evaluation process, certainly support and corroborate available research on the subject. Namely, in many educational disputes, there’s a significant mismatch between teacher claims “S/he is reading at grade level as per (insert subjective method here)”  and observed student’s abilities (child is functionally illiterate) during reading tasks in the classroom. 

Related imageNow, let’s move on to discuss the subjectivity of the weekly spelling test. A number of scientific studies on this subject have shown that spelling instruction needs to be direct, explicit and systematic in order to be effective for struggling learners. When teaching spelling, best instruction practices involve consistently addressing and grouping words according to specific spelling patterns rather than teaching random “grade level” or topically related words. However, in the vast majority of instances, the weekly spelling test continues to consist of random words which are expected to be memorized by students. As a result of these memorization practices, numerous students will attain high marks on spelling tests but will be absolutely unable to correctly spell these words in a variety of writing assignments even a week later.

Image result for children taking a testThe practice of teaching to the test is certainly not restricted to spelling.  I have also seen similar practices pertaining to the subjects of science and social studies, whereas children are provided with specific handouts pertaining to a particular topic to memorize for the test. While this allows these children to perform well on such tests, unfortunately, their topic knowledge remains minimal to nonexistent given the fact that the memorized information will be long forgotten in a period of just a few weeks, if not sooner.

Similarly, science projects and social studies book reports may not even be necessarily completed by the children themselves. Many parents of struggling learners will readily acknowledge the mammoth work they had contributed to such projects just so their children could attain good marks which were worth a significant percentage of the overall class grade.

Many parents of struggling learners will also readily admit their significant involvement in the homework process and how stressful and frustrating it is on the students. They report spending numerous hours each day explaining information, their children’s tears of frustration and rage, significant tantrum behavior, and in some extreme cases even visits to a hospital, subsequent to accidental injuries stemming from challenging behaviors.

Finally, the subjectivity of grading written assignments is another important factor that needs to be explicitly acknowledged. Many parents and professionals tasked with the evaluation of the students’ spontaneous written work will readily confirm that oftentimes the grades some struggling learners receive on written assignments appear to be almost ridiculously overinflated.  Despite seemingly clear rubrics provided to the students explaining the breakdown of points for a particular written composition, many students end up receiving much higher marks than they deserve.  I myself have observed this phenomenon firsthand by reviewing the written work of my clients in private practice following parental complaints of grade inflation.

Related imageWe’re talking essays, blatantly lacking in coherence and cohesion, peppered with run-on and fragmented sentences, lacking subject-verb agreement, and full of grammatical errors, given A- and B+ grades, when the grading rubrics which came with the assignment, clearly indicate that the work is at the best deserving of a C- or a D+ grade.

These are just some of the many reasons why students of all ages with very noticeable language and learning needs, may end up being denied much-needed language and literacy assessments to determine the extent of their difficulties in order to receive targeted assistance.

Further complicating this issue is the fact that even when these students are finally tested in the school setting, due to the relative “mildness”  of their deficits,  coupled with the use of general (vs. targeted), often psychometrically weak tests, a lack of or under-identification of their deficit areas often occurs.

So what can parents and professionals do with this information? For starters, all are encouraged to examine the available information through a critical lens, albeit in different ways. Parents are encouraged to collect the samples of the child’s work (independent writing and spelling, audio samples of their reading, etc.) highlighting the discrepancies between the grades they receive and their actual abilities. They should absolutely request child study team assessments and if they are unsatisfied with the results of those tests they can seek out independent evaluations pertaining to the child’s areas of concern.

Image result for high sensitivity high specificitySimilarly, SLPs are encouraged to review their testing practices to ensure that they accurately reflect the students’ deficit areas. They are also strongly encouraged to review the psychometric properties of the tests they are using to better understand the sensitivity and specificity of these instruments with respect to the appropriate identification of language disorders. Finally, SLPs are strongly encouraged to familiarize themselves with the language and literacy expectations of older students and utilize clinical assessment procedures which reflect more sensitive assessment practices.

Image result for falling dominoesSo the next time someone has concerns regarding the language and literacy abilities of students with seemingly good grades, do not be so hasty in dismissing their worries due to a “lack of academic impact”. Depending on the setting and testing in question,  that impact may be far greater than we know!

Helpful Related Posts: 

  1. Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know
  2. What Makes an Independent Speech-Language-Literacy Evaluation a GOOD Evaluation?
  3. What Research Shows About the Functional Relevance of Standardized Language Tests
  4. Part II: Components of Comprehensive Dyslexia Testing – Phonological Awareness and Word Fluency Assessment
  5. On the Limitations of Using Vocabulary Tests with School-Aged Students
  6. It’s All Due to …Language: How Subtle Symptoms Can Cause Serious Academic Deficits
  7. Dear Reading Specialist, May I Ask You a Few Questions?
  8. Help, My Student has a Huge Score Discrepancy Between Tests and I Don’t Know Why?
  9.  The Reign of the Problematic PLS-5 and the Rise of the Hyperintelligent Potato
  10. Components of Qualitative Writing Assessments: What Exactly are We Trying to Measure?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted on

Updated: How Early can “Dyslexia” be Diagnosed in Children?

Image result for dyslexiaIn recent years there has been a substantial rise in awareness pertaining to reading disorders in young school-aged children. Consequently, more and more parents and professionals are asking questions regarding how early can “dyslexia” be diagnosed in children.

In order to adequately answer this question it is important to understand the trajectory of development of literacy disorders in children.

Image result for ida dyslexiaAccording to the definition set forth by the International Dyslexia Association“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.”

Thus, despite the significant controversy over the use of the label “dyslexia”, as being ‘unscientific and conceptually problematic’, the above definition affirms the fact that it is undisputedly a linguistically based disability.   While it is true that merely using the term “dyslexia” does not automatically evoke our understanding of what type of specific reading-related deficits the child is experiencing, which prevents him/her from reading effectively, it does alert us right away to the fact that a reading disability exists.

In this post, rather than utilizing the term “dyslexia”, I will use a more broad term “literacy deficits” to refer to children who develop trouble reading, writing, and spelling.

Image result for genetic inheritanceSo who exactly are those children? Well, with respect to genetic inheritance, children with immediate and/or extended family members who have in the past received diagnoses such as “dyslexia”, “reading disability”, “learning disability” or who had experienced special education placements during school years are significantly more at risk of developing literacy based deficits than children with no history of above problems in the family.

Unfortunately, the situation is further complicated by the fact that some children with no recognizable family history of learning disabilities, may be at risk for future literacy deficits if they display a pattern of linguistic difficulties during early development (e.g., delayed developmental milestones).

Below is the approximate hierarchy of language development in young children:

  • Exploration of the environment (early socio-emotional development)
  • Play (continuation of socio-emotional development)
  • Receptive Language
    • Comprehension of  words, phrases, sentences, stories
  • Expressive Language
    • Speaking single words, phrases, sentences, engaging in conversations, producing stories
  • Social Emotional Development (Pragmatics) continues to be refined and becomes more sophisticated
  • Reading
    • Words, sentences, short stories, chapter books, etc.
    • General topics
    • Domain specific topics (science, social studies, etc)
  • Spelling
  •  Writing
    • Words, sentences, short stories, essays

The fact is that if the child experiences any deficits in the foundational language areas such as listening and speaking, s/he will most certainly experience difficulties in more complex areas of language: reading, writing, and spelling.

So now that we know that children with a history of language delay/disorder are at a significant risk of having the disorder turn into a learning disability when they’re older, let’s talk about how early can these children be assessed in order to better plan their future literacy based interventions for optimal functional outcomes.

The first scenario is a more obvious one.  If a child has a documented history of language impairments and is receiving services from a very early age (e.g., early intervention, preschool, etc.) then given what we know about the connection between language disorders and learning disabilities, professionals can begin administering phonological awareness/emergent reading interventions during the early preschool years in order to optimally facilitate the child’s literacy outcomes.

Image result for detective clipartNow our second scenario is not so clear-cut. In our second scenario, the child may have never been identified as having language difficulties during toddlerhood or even early preschool years. However, as the child grows older (e.g., 4-5 years of age) his/her parents may be noticing some subtle difficulties such as difficulty remembering nursery rhymes and songs, trouble remembering the letters of the alphabet, trouble recognizing simple rhyming words, etc.  A such, even without a pertinent family history of literacy disabilities it may be important for a child to undergo an early literacy assessment in order to determine whether intervention is warranted.

Now let’s talk about various assessment options available for preschool children with suspected literacy deficits.  Firstly, if the child has never received a language assessment it is paramount that the child’s language abilities in the areas of listening comprehension, verbal expression, problem-solving and social communication be assessed prior to assessment of literacy  to ensure that the child does not present with any unrecognized/previously undetected deficits in any of the above areas.  This is done in order to ensure optimal intervention outcomes as failure to address gaps/deficits in foundational language areas may significantly impede any potential literacy gains even when the child is provided with optimal literacy based interventions (click HERE to view my post discussing select speech-language tests for preschool children 2-6 years of age).

Now that we’ve covered some basics let us move on to discuss how early can select literacy tests be administered.  Luckily, there are a number of tests pertaining to literacy which can be administered to children as young as 3:6 years of age.

Image result for asa pearsonTo illustrate: The Auditory Skills Assessment (ASA) can be administered to children 3:6—6:11 years of age. Present controversy over CAPD notwithstanding, it does assess important areas related to early phonological awareness development including nonsense word repetition, phonemic blending, as well as rhyming.

Image result for ctoppThe Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing-2 —(CTOPP-2), starts at 4 years of age and assesses such areas as:

  • Phonological Segmentation
  • Blending Words
  • Sound Matching
  • Initial, Medial and Final Phoneme Isolation
  • Blending Nonwords*
  • Segmenting Nonwords*
  • Memory for Digits
  • Nonword Repetition*
  • Rapid Digit Naming 
  • Rapid Letter Naming 
  • Rapid Color Naming 
  • Rapid Object Naming 

(—Assesses the ability to manipulate real and *nonsense words)

(—Assesses word fluency skills via a host of rapid naming tasks)

Image result for Emerging Literacy & Language Assessment®For children 4:6 years of age and older the  Emerging Literacy & Language Assessment (ELLA) deserves a mention. It assesses the following literacy related abilities:

  • Section 1 – Phonological Awareness and Flexibility assesses rhyming (awareness and production), initial sound identification, blending and segmenting sounds, words, and syllables, and deleting and substituting sounds in the initial and final positions of words.
  • Section 2 – Sign and Symbol Recognition and Interpretation assesses environmental symbol identification, letter-symbol identification, word reference association, and reading comprehension for one to three sentences.
  • Section 3 – Memory, Retrieval, and Automaticity assesses rapid naming, word associations (name items that start with the “S” sound), and story retell (includes three story levels based on the child’s age).

For children between 5:0-9:11 years of age, —The Phonological Awareness Test-: NU (PAT 2: NU assesses the following areas:

  • —Rhyming:  Discrimination and Production—identify rhyming pairs and provide a rhyming word
  • —Segmentation:  Sentences, Syllables, and Phonemes—dividing by words, syllables and phonemes
  • —Isolation:  Initial, Final, Medial—identify sound position in words
  • —Deletion:  Compound Words, Syllables, and Phonemes—manipulate root words, syllables, and phonemes in words
  • —Substitution With Manipulatives—isolate a phoneme in a word, then change it to another phoneme to form a new word
  • —Blending:  Syllables and Phonemes—blend units of sound together to form words
  • —Graphemes—assess knowledge of sound/symbol correspondence for consonants, vowels, consonant blends, consonant digraphs, r-controlled vowels, vowel digraphs, and diphthongs
  • —Decoding—assess  general knowledge of sound/symbol correspondence to blend sounds into nonsense words
  • —Invented Spelling (optional)—write words to dictation to show encoding ability

The new Test of Auditory Processing Skills-4 (TAPS-4) begins at 5 years of age and covers several areas pertaining to phonological awareness including word discrimination of words, phonological deletion and blending segmentation, as well as supplemental syllabic blending abilities.

Furthermore, starting from 5 years of age the —Rapid Automatized Naming and Rapid Alternating Stimulus Test RAN/RAS  tests can be administered in order to assess the child’s word fluency skills.  Decreased word fluency is a significant indicator of reading deficits, which is why this ability is very important to test.

—In addition to the above assessments, there are several tests of early reading and writing abilities which are available for younger children with suspected literacy deficitsThe  Test of Early Reading Ability–Fourth Edition (TERA-4assesses  the emergent reading abilities of children starting from 4-0 years of age. Similarly, the Test of Early Written Language, Third Edition (TEWL-3) assesses  the emergent writing abilities of children also starting from 4:0 years of age.

So there you have it! Now you know that if needed children as young 3:6 years of age can undergo early literacy assessments in order to determine their potential risk of developing literacy deficits when older.

Of course, due to the precociously young age of the children, it is important for examiners to exercise significant caution when it comes to interpretation of standardized testing results. It is a well-documented fact that standardized tests present with numerous limitations when it comes to identification of children with language and literacy disorders.

As such, due to the children’s young age there will be a number of instances when testing may reveal “false negative results” (show that there are no deficits when deficits still exist).  Consequently, in such cases, it is important to carefully monitor the child’s school performance in order to perform a literacy reassessment (if needed) when the child is older and his/her difficulties may be more apparent (click HERE to view my 4-part post discussing Components of Comprehensive Dyslexia Testing for further details).

Finally, it is very important to reiterate that children presenting with language and literacy deficits will not outgrow these deficits on their own. While there may be periods of “illusory recovery” when it looks like children with early language disorders have caught up with their peers, such “spurts” are typically followed by a “post-spurt plateau” (Sun & Wallach, 2014). This is because due to the ongoing challenges and an increase in academic demands “many children with early language disorders fail to “outgrow” these difficulties or catch up with their typically developing peers” (Sun & Wallach, 2014).  That is why it is crucial that we identify language and literacy deficits in children at a very early age in order to ensure their optimal educational outcomes.

Related Posts:

Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources Pertaining to Preschoolers: 

Posted on

Editable Report Template and Tutorial for the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy

Today I am introducing my newest report template for the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy.

This 16-page fully editable report template discusses the testing results and includes the following components:

  • Table of testing results
  • Recommendations for using severity ratings of percentile ranks
  • Recommendations of which information to include in the background history section of the report
  • Teacher Interview Samples for Adolescent and Elementary Aged Students
  • Classroom Observations Sample
  • Adaptive behavior section sample
  • Assessment findings
    • All subtests descriptions
    • Extensive descriptions of how to analyze error patterns on all subtests
    • Descriptions of how to analyze scenarios when a student obtains average performance but it contradicts academic functioning.
    • Elaborations regarding specific subtests, weaknesses on which are not as apparent or straightforward (e.g., Nonword Repetition, Following Directions, etc.)
    • Recommendations for supplemental testing when the performance on select subtests (e.g., Social Communication) is within the average range despite glaring weaknesses
    • Extensive error descriptions that can be found on the Reading Fluency subtest
    • Extensive footnotes with clarifying information
    • Links to a variety of TILLS FREE tutorials created by the authors
    • Impressions section formulation
    • Possible ICD-10 diagnoses that can result based on TILLS assessment
    • Accommodations Section
    • Adaptive Recommendations Section
    • Maintaining Factors Section
    • Suggested Therapy Long and Short Term Goals Sampler for
      • Listening Comprehension
      • Oral Communication
      • Social Communication
      • Phonological Awareness
      • Phonics
      • Reading Fluency
      • Reading Comprehension
      • Spelling
      • Writing Conventions
      • Writing Composition
      • Reward System and Rationale
      • Expected duration of treatment
      • Prognosis
      • Therapy Discharge Recommendations

You can access it HERE in my online store.  My review of the TILLS is available HERE 

Posted on

What Makes an Independent Speech-Language-Literacy Evaluation a GOOD Evaluation?

Image result for Independent Educational EvaluationThree years ago I wrote a blog post entitled: “Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know“. In it, I used  4 very different scenarios to illustrate the importance of comprehensive language evaluations for children with subtle language and learning needs.  Today I would like to expound more on that post in order to explain, what actually constitutes a good independent comprehensive assessment.

Independent evaluations, whether educational, psychological, speech and language, etc., are typically performed with a particular purpose in mind. That purpose is not to simply document the student’s strengths and needs but also to explicitly advise on solid goals and objectives or a strong treatment plan so the child could improve abilities in the affected areas of functioning.

Image result for all children can learnFor example, psychological evaluations do not simply determine the child’s full-scale IQ. Depending on the breakdown of the child’s scores, they help educators with planning for the child’s educational needs. To illustrate, let’s say that an IQ testing determined that the child is functioning in the below average range with significantly lower scores in the areas of working memory and processing speed.  Given this information professionals working with the child in the classroom and in the therapy room can plan accordingly in terms of designing an appropriate intervention which takes into the consideration the child’s cognitive challenges.

Image result for functionalSimilarly, let’s say an educational/learning testing had determined that the child exhibits difficulties in the areas of phonics, word reading, reading fluency, etc.   Such information is hugely helpful in assisting the child to receive additional reading intervention services with a focus on improving the affected areas of difficulty.

In other words, it is not nearly enough to state in the body of the report, what is wrong with the child, rather it is important to make functional recommendations on what can be done with a child in order to make the child better.

Now here it is very important to understand that accommodations and modifications, while extremely helpful for all children with learning needs, are simply not going to be as functional as actual targeted intervention goals in the affected areas, be it reading, writing, listening comprehension, etc.

Independent evaluations need to make concrete recommendation suggestions regarding best remediation practices for the child. They need to contain goals that other professionals can follow. Without this component, independent evaluations have highly limited value. Here is an example which illustrates a limited value of one such report.

Several years ago I was asked to do a comprehensive language and literacy evaluation on a fifth-grade student who was functionally illiterate. The student had already underway and a comprehensive neuropsychological evaluation, which surprisingly enough did not draw any conclusion regarding the student’s abilities.

The neuropsychologist found that the student had an average IQ and learning difficulties across the board in numerous tested areas. Because of these findings, the neuropsychologist chose to ‘blame’ the student’s deficits on ADHD and stated that he is unable to diagnose a student with a learning disability because there were no score discrepancies on educational testing (not a scientifically backed argument).

Image result for valueNow, what is the value of such an assessment? This child’s parents have spent thousands of dollars on this assessment but in the end, they had absolutely nothing to show for it! The assessment had literally found nothing useful because the submission of such an assessment to the school setting would not have resulted in an altered and beneficial program placement for this child.

So what are the components of a good comprehensive independent evaluation? For the purpose of this particular question, I’ll stick to the subject of language and literacy evaluations, which are in my purview.

Here are the sections I include in a typical independent comprehensive language and literacy report for school-age clients. Make sure to click on the multicolored/highlighted words to learn more details via relevant past posts pertaining to this topic.

Formal Testing Results

  • This section includes the tables of all the standardized testing administered to the child

Background Information

  • This section comprehensively discusses the child’s history to date. It summarizes in meticulous detail prenatal perinatal and postnatal histories, developmental milestones acquisition, relevant medical and psychiatric histories, as well as a compilation of information regarding all previous assessments and interventions to date. This is particularly important for cases involving a change in school placement. After all, if the child had received extensive interventions in a particular school setting which were found to be ineffective to date, it is a strong indication that a different school placement may be warranted.

School Visit

  • This section is hugely important for the determination of the child’s functioning in school setting. It documents an observation one hour in length, preformed to determine whether the child is receiving free and appropriate education in school setting (whether the child is appropriately receiving relevant therapies/schooling).
    • School Visit Impressions
      • All school visits need to include a report section which discusses the observers impressions of the program, as well as their suitability to the child’s educational needs.

Adaptive Behavior

  • This section documents the child’s social communication abilities as displayed throughout testing. Was the child calm or distractible, but did the child display any socially awkward behaviors, did the child display any refusal behaviors, was there any odd conversational exchanges, did it take the child too long to answer questions, with the child displaying any word finding difficulties when speaking? All of these observations are documented in that section as a precursor to both formal as well as clinical social communication testing (see below)

Peripheral Oral Motor Exam

  • Here any orofacial anomalies get documented if needed

Voice, Fluency, Resonance and Prosody

  • This section discusses any deviations in the above, and/or documents the presence of typical functioning as commensurate with age.

Articulation and Phonology

  • Here I document the presence of typical or atypical speech patterns

Auditory Function

  • This is a section which discusses previous audiological findings, history of hearing deficits (if present), as well as overall impressions of child’s hearing throughout the assessment.

Methods of Assessment

Testing Protocols 

  • A list of all the formal tests used during the assessment

Language Processing and Listening Comprehension:

  • Detailed findings of both formal and clinical testing pertaining to the child’s ability to process and comprehend language

Expressive Language and Metalinguistic Abilities:

  • Detailed findings of both formal and clinical testing pertaining to the child’s ability to verbally express self via the effective/ineffective ability to manipulate words and sentences

Discourse Analysis

  • Detailed findings of clinical testing pertaining to the child’s ability to produce age level narratives

Problem Solving, Critical Thinking, and Verbal Reasoning:

  • This section documents formal testing results of problem-solving testing

Social Communication Abilities

Reading Assessment

  • This extensive section includes the details of both formal as well as clinical reading testing including information on the child’s phonemic awareness abilities, decoding abilities, reading fluency and reading comprehension, summarization of read information, etc.

Written Assessment

  • This section contains results of formal and clinical writing assessments including spelling as well as writing composition

IMPRESSIONS

  • At this juncture I am ready to summarize the results of my assessment findings in detail. Here I discuss the severity of the impairment as well as list the areas in which deficits have been noted.

ICD-10 Diagnoses

  • Here I list relevant to the assessment diagnoses which were revealed by the conclusion of testing

CLASSROOM PLACEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS:

  • If necessary, this section discusses recommendations for alternative classroom placement. Here I include information regarding the class size, what additional therapies the child may need to receive, the need for additional classification/services, etc.

Instructional Accommodations to Improve Information Processing

  • Here I discuss my observations pertaining to accommodations which may be beneficial to the child in the school setting

ACCOMMODATIONS VS. REMEDIATION:

  • Here, I discuss the importance of providing direct remediation services versus mere accommodations and modifications alone

Knowledge Retention Recommendations:

  • This section may also be merited at times especially with severely impaired children who may not be able to process information presented to them in longer sentences

Adaptive Recommendations:

  • This section requires what adaptive modifications with respect to the child’s physical space, session materials, etc. may be needed in order for the child to succeed

Maintaining Factors (factors contributing to the maintenance of linguistic deficits)Image result for worse

  • Cognitive
  • Sensorimotor
  • Psychosocial
  • Linguistic

SUGGESTED THERAPY GOALS

  • As mentioned before this is a hugely important section which details the students long term as well as short-term goals which were derived based on the presence of deficit areas as documented throughout the assessment report

Reward system and rationale:

  • This may be a particularly important section for students with the greater degree of impairment as here we may be able to document what type of reward/reinforcements (intrinsic/extrinsic) work to for the student to motivate him/her to complete the assessment
  • If possible, an internal and social system of reward for targeted skill achievement (fostering, intrinsic motivation to take pride in own accomplishments) is strongly recommended

Goal Termination

  • Here I discuss the expectations for goal termination. I typically recommend a contingency of 90% or above accuracy marker over a period of 3 consecutive sessions

Expected duration of treatment

  • While it is often impossible to predict the duration of treatment, certain educated guesses may be taken to determine therapy length. This is frequently determined based on how rapidly the student progresses in therapy, the extent of parental involvement as evidenced or homework as well as carryover activities and exercises at home, any additional private therapy services as well as any additional school therapy services and support (e.g., reading instruction)

Image result for prognosisPrognosis

  • Here, once again depending on the extent of severity of the students deficits, a statement of prognosis may be made (e.g., “Good but cautious due to the above maintaining factors”)

Therapy Discharge:

  • Contingent on a successful reassessment of target deficit areas.

Appendices

  • This is a section where I provide any pertinent to the assessment documents such as the results of the prescriptive spelling test (e.g., SPELL-2) or a synopsis of a particular narrative (e.g., Dr. De Soto by William Steig) so that assessment readers could compare the student’s narrative production with expected production

So now that you know, what sections I include in my independent comprehensive language and literacy evaluations, I’d love to know if there are other sections/areas that you including yours? Post your thoughts and suggestions in the comments section below

Related Posts:

  1. Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know
  2. On the Limitations of Using Vocabulary Tests with School-Aged Students
  3. Updated: What Does “Their Social Skills Are Just Fine” Really Means When it Comes to Children with Language Impairment
  4. Why Developmental History Matters: On the Importance of Background Information in Speech-Language Assessments
  5. The Importance of Narrative Assessments in Speech-Language Pathology (Revised)
  6. Analyzing Discourse Abilities of Adolescents via Peer Conflict Resolution (PCR) tasks
  7. What do Auditory Memory Deficits Indicate in the Presence of Average General Language Scores?
  8. Analyzing Narratives of School-Aged Children
  9. Adolescent Assessments in Action: Informal Reading Evaluation
  10. Dear Reading Specialist, May I Ask You a Few Questions? 
  11. Test Review of CELF-5 Metalinguistics: What SLPs Need to Know
  12. Do Our Therapy Goals Make Sense or How to Create Functional Language Intervention Targets
  13. Social Communication and Describing Skills: What is the Connection? 
  14. Recommendations for Assessing Language Abilities of Verbal Children with Down Syndrome (DS)
Posted on

New Product Giveaway: Comprehensive Literacy Checklist For School-Aged Children

I wanted to start the new year right by giving away a few copies of a new checklist I recently created entitled: “Comprehensive Literacy Checklist For School-Aged Children“.

It was created to assist Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) in the decision-making process of how to identify deficit areas and select assessment instruments to prioritize a literacy assessment for school aged children.

The goal is to eliminate administration of unnecessary or irrelevant tests and focus on the administration of instruments directly targeting the specific areas of difficulty that the student presents with.

*For the purpose of this product, the term “literacy checklist” rather than “dyslexia checklist” is used throughout this document to refer to any deficits in the areas of reading, writing, and spelling that the child may present with in order to identify any possible difficulties the child may present with, in the areas of literacy as well as language.

This checklist can be used for multiple purposes.

1. To identify areas of deficits the child presents with for targeted assessment purposes

2. To highlight areas of strengths (rather than deficits only) the child presents with pre or post intervention

3. To highlight residual deficits for intervention purpose in children already receiving therapy services without further reassessment

Checklist Contents:

  • Page 1 Title
  • Page 2 Directions
  • Pages 3-9 Checklist
  • Page 10 Select Tests of Reading, Spelling, and Writing for School-Aged Children
  • Pages 11-12 Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Materials

Checklist Areas:

  1. AT RISK FAMILY HISTORY
  2. AT RISK DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY
  3. BEHAVIORAL MANIFESTATIONS 
  4. LEARNING DEFICITS   
    1. Memory for Sequences
    2. Vocabulary Knowledge
    3. Narrative Production
    4. Phonological Awareness
    5. Phonics
    6. Morphological Awareness
    7. Reading Fluency
    8. Reading Comprehension
    9. Spelling
    10. Writing Conventions
    11. Writing Composition 
    12. Handwriting

You can find this product in my online store HERE.

Would you like to check it out in action? I’ll be giving away two copies of the checklist in a Rafflecopter Giveaway to two winners.  So enter today to win your own copy!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Posted on

Review of the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS)

The Test of Integrated Language & Literacy Skills (TILLS) is an assessment of oral and written language abilities in students 6–18 years of age. Published in the Fall 2015, it is  unique in the way that it is aimed to thoroughly assess skills  such as reading fluency, reading comprehension, phonological awareness,  spelling, as well as writing  in school age children.   As I have been using this test since the time it was published,  I wanted to take an opportunity today to share just a few of my impressions of this assessment.

               

First, a little background on why I chose to purchase this test  so shortly after I had purchased the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals – 5 (CELF-5).   Soon after I started using the CELF-5  I noticed that  it tended to considerably overinflate my students’ scores  on a variety of its subtests.  In fact,  I noticed that unless a student had a fairly severe degree of impairment,  the majority of his/her scores  came out either low/slightly below average (click for more info on why this was happening HERE, HEREor HERE). Consequently,  I was excited to hear regarding TILLS development, almost simultaneously through ASHA as well as SPELL-Links ListServe.   I was particularly happy  because I knew some of this test’s developers (e.g., Dr. Elena Plante, Dr. Nickola Nelson) have published solid research in the areas of  psychometrics and literacy respectively.

According to the TILLS developers it has been standardized for 3 purposes:

  • to identify language and literacy disorders
  • to document patterns of relative strengths and weaknesses
  • to track changes in language and literacy skills over time

The testing subtests can be administered in isolation (with the exception of a few) or in its entirety.  The administration of all the 15 subtests may take approximately an hour and a half, while the administration of the core subtests typically takes ~45 mins).

Please note that there are 5 subtests that should not be administered to students 6;0-6;5 years of age because many typically developing students are still mastering the required skills.

  • Subtest 5 – Nonword Spelling
  • Subtest 7 – Reading Comprehension
  • Subtest 10 – Nonword Reading
  • Subtest 11 – Reading Fluency
  • Subtest 12 – Written Expression

However,  if needed, there are several tests of early reading and writing abilities which are available for assessment of children under 6:5 years of age with suspected literacy deficits (e.g., TERA-3: Test of Early Reading Ability–Third Edition; Test of Early Written Language, Third Edition-TEWL-3, etc.).

Let’s move on to take a deeper look at its subtests. Please note that for the purposes of this review all images came directly from and are the property of Brookes Publishing Co (clicking on each of the below images will take you directly to their source).

TILLS-subtest-1-vocabulary-awareness1. Vocabulary Awareness (VA) (description above) requires students to display considerable linguistic and cognitive flexibility in order to earn an average score.    It works great in teasing out students with weak vocabulary knowledge and use,   as well as students who are unable to  quickly and effectively analyze  words  for deeper meaning and come up with effective definitions of all possible word associations. Be mindful of the fact that  even though the words are presented to the students in written format in the stimulus book, the examiner is still expected to read  all the words to the students. Consequently,  students with good vocabulary knowledge  and strong oral language abilities  can still pass this subtest  despite the presence of significant reading weaknesses. Recommendation:  I suggest informally  checking the student’s  word reading abilities  by asking them to read of all the words, before reading all the word choices to them.   This way  you can informally document any word misreadings  made by the student even in the presence of an average subtest score.

TIILLS-subtest-2-phonemic-awareness

2. The Phonemic Awareness (PA) subtest (description above) requires students to  isolate and delete initial sounds in words of increasing complexity.  While this subtest does not require sound isolation and deletion in various word positions, similar to tests such as the CTOPP-2: Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing–Second Edition  or the The Phonological Awareness Test 2 (PAT 2)  it is still a highly useful and reliable measure of  phonemic awareness (as one of many precursors to reading fluency success).  This is especially because after the initial directions are given, the student is expected to remember to isolate the initial sounds in words without any prompting from the examiner.  Thus,  this task also  indirectly tests the students’ executive function abilities in addition to their phonemic awareness skills.

TILLS-subtest-3-story-retelling

3. The Story Retelling (SR) subtest (description above) requires students to do just that retell a story. Be mindful of the fact that the presented stories have reduced complexity. Thus, unless the students possess  significant retelling deficits, the above subtest  may not capture their true retelling abilities. Recommendation:  Consider supplementing this subtest  with informal narrative measures. For younger children (kindergarten and first grade) I recommend using wordless picture books to perform a dynamic assessment of their retelling abilities following a clinician’s narrative model (e.g., HERE).  For early elementary aged children (grades 2 and up), I recommend using picture books, which are first read to and then retold by the students with the benefit of pictorial but not written support. Finally, for upper elementary aged children (grades 4 and up), it may be helpful for the students to retell a book or a movie seen recently (or liked significantly) by them without the benefit of visual support all together (e.g., HERE).

TILLS-subtest-4-nonword-repetition

4. The Nonword Repetition (NR) subtest (description above) requires students to repeat nonsense words of increasing length and complexity. Weaknesses in the area of nonword repetition have consistently been associated with language impairments and learning disabilities due to the task’s heavy reliance on phonological segmentation as well as phonological and lexical knowledge (Leclercq, Maillart, Majerus, 2013). Thus, both monolingual and simultaneously bilingual children with language and literacy impairments will be observed to present with patterns of segment substitutions (subtle substitutions of sounds and syllables in presented nonsense words) as well as segment deletions of nonword sequences more than 2-3 or 3-4 syllables in length (depending on the child’s age).

TILLS-subtest-5-nonword-spelling

5. The Nonword Spelling (NS) subtest (description above) requires the students to spell nonwords from the Nonword Repetition (NR) subtest. Consequently, the Nonword Repetition (NR) subtest needs to be administered prior to the administration of this subtest in the same assessment session.  In contrast to the real-word spelling tasks,  students cannot memorize the spelling  of the presented words,  which are still bound by  orthographic and phonotactic constraints of the English language.   While this is a highly useful subtest,  is important to note that simultaneously bilingual children may present with decreased scores due to vowel errors.   Consequently,  it is important to analyze subtest results in order to determine whether dialectal differences rather than a presence of an actual disorder is responsible for the error patterns.

TILLS-subtest-6-listening-comprehension

6. The  Listening Comprehension (LC) subtest (description above) requires the students to listen to short stories  and then definitively answer story questions via available answer choices, which include: “Yes”, “No’, and “Maybe”. This subtest also indirectly measures the students’ metalinguistic awareness skills as they are needed to detect when the text does not provide sufficient information to answer a particular question definitively (e.g., “Maybe” response may be called for).  Be mindful of the fact that because the students are not expected to provide sentential responses  to questions it may be important to supplement subtest administration with another listening comprehension assessment. Tests such as the Listening Comprehension Test-2 (LCT-2), the Listening Comprehension Test-Adolescent (LCT-A),  or the Executive Function Test-Elementary (EFT-E)  may be useful  if  language processing and listening comprehension deficits are suspected or reported by parents or teachers. This is particularly important  to do with students who may be ‘good guessers’ but who are also reported to present with word-finding difficulties at sentence and discourse levels. 

TILLS-subtest-7-reading-comprehension

7. The Reading Comprehension (RC) subtest (description above) requires the students to  read short story and answer story questions in “Yes”, “No’, and “Maybe”  format.   This subtest is not stand alone and must be administered immediately following the administration the Listening Comprehension subtest. The student is asked to read the first story out loud in order to determine whether s/he can proceed with taking this subtest or discontinue due to being an emergent reader. The criterion for administration of the subtest is making 7 errors during the reading of the first story and its accompanying questions. Unfortunately,  in my clinical experience this subtest  is not always accurate at identifying children with reading-based deficits.

While I find it terrific for students with severe-profound reading deficits and/or below average IQ, a number of my students with average IQ and moderately impaired reading skills managed to pass it via a combination of guessing and luck despite being observed to misread aloud between 40-60% of the presented words. Be mindful of the fact that typically  such students may have up to 5-6  errors during the reading of the first story. Thus, according to administration guidelines these students will be allowed to proceed and take this subtest.  They will then continue to make text misreadings  during each story presentation (you will know that by asking them to read each story aloud vs. silently).   However,  because the response mode is in definitive (“Yes”, “No’, and “Maybe”) vs. open ended question format,  a number of these students  will earn average scores by being successful guessers. Recommendation:  I highly recommend supplementing the administration of this subtest with grade level (or below grade level) texts (see HERE and/or HERE),  to assess the student’s reading comprehension informally.

I present a full  one page text to the students and ask them to read it to me in its entirety.   I audio/video record  the student’s reading for further analysis (see Reading Fluency section below).   After the  completion of the story I ask  the student questions with a focus on main idea comprehension and vocabulary definitions.   I also ask questions pertaining to story details.   Depending on the student’s age  I may ask them  abstract/ factual text questions with and without text access.  Overall, I find that informal administration of grade level (or even below grade-level) texts coupled with the administration of standardized reading tests provides me with a significantly better understanding of the student’s reading comprehension abilities rather than administration of standardized reading tests alone.

TILLS-subtest-8-following-directions

8. The Following Directions (FD) subtest (description above) measures the student’s ability to execute directions of increasing length and complexity.  It measures the student’s short-term, immediate and working memory, as well as their language comprehension.  What is interesting about the administration of this subtest is that the graphic symbols (e.g., objects, shapes, letter and numbers etc.) the student is asked to modify remain covered as the instructions are given (to prevent visual rehearsal). After being presented with the oral instruction the students are expected to move the card covering the stimuli and then to executive the visual-spatial, directional, sequential, and logical if–then the instructions  by marking them on the response form.  The fact that the visual stimuli remains covered until the last moment increases the demands on the student’s memory and comprehension.  The subtest was created to simulate teacher’s use of procedural language (giving directions) in classroom setting (as per developers).

TILLS-subtest-9-delayed-story-retelling

9. The Delayed Story Retelling (DSR) subtest (description above) needs to be administered to the students during the same session as the Story Retelling (SR) subtest, approximately 20 minutes after the SR subtest administration.  Despite the relatively short passage of time between both subtests, it is considered to be a measure of long-term memory as related to narrative retelling of reduced complexity. Here, the examiner can compare student’s performance to determine whether the student did better or worse on either of these measures (e.g., recalled more information after a period of time passed vs. immediately after being read the story).  However, as mentioned previously, some students may recall this previously presented story fairly accurately and as a result may obtain an average score despite a history of teacher/parent reported  long-term memory limitations.  Consequently, it may be important for the examiner to supplement the administration of this subtest with a recall of a movie/book recently seen/read by the student (a few days ago) in order to compare both performances and note any weaknesses/limitations.

TILLS-subtest-10-nonword-reading

10. The Nonword Reading (NR) subtest (description above) requires students to decode nonsense words of increasing length and complexity. What I love about this subtest is that the students are unable to effectively guess words (as many tend to routinely do when presented with real words). Consequently, the presentation of this subtest will tease out which students have good letter/sound correspondence abilities as well as solid orthographic, morphological and phonological awareness skills and which ones only memorized sight words and are now having difficulty decoding unfamiliar words as a result.      TILLS-subtest-11-reading-fluency

11. The Reading Fluency (RF) subtest (description above) requires students to efficiently read facts which make up simple stories fluently and correctly.  Here are the key to attaining an average score is accuracy and automaticity.  In contrast to the previous subtest, the words are now presented in meaningful simple syntactic contexts.

It is important to note that the Reading Fluency subtest of the TILLS has a negatively skewed distribution. As per authors, “a large number of typically developing students do extremely well on this subtest and a much smaller number of students do quite poorly.”

Thus, “the mean is to the left of the mode” (see publisher’s image below). This is why a student could earn an average standard score (near the mean) and a low percentile rank when true percentiles are used rather than NCE percentiles (Normal Curve Equivalent). Tills Q&A – Negative Skew

Consequently under certain conditions (See HERE) the percentile rank (vs. the NCE percentile) will be a more accurate representation of the student’s ability on this subtest.

Indeed, due to the reduced complexity of the presented words some students (especially younger elementary aged) may obtain average scores and still present with serious reading fluency deficits.  

I frequently see that in students with average IQ and go to long-term memory, who by second and third grades have managed to memorize an admirable number of sight words due to which their deficits in the areas of reading appeared to be minimized.  Recommendation: If you suspect that your student belongs to the above category I highly recommend supplementing this subtest with an informal measure of reading fluency.  This can be done by presenting to the student a grade level text (I find science and social studies texts particularly useful for this purpose) and asking them to read several paragraphs from it (see HERE and/or HERE).

As the students are reading  I calculate their reading fluency by counting the number of words they read per minute.  I find it very useful as it allows me to better understand their reading profile (e.g, fast/inaccurate reader, slow/inaccurate reader, slow accurate reader, fast/accurate reader).   As the student is reading I note their pauses, misreadings, word-attack skills and the like. Then, I write a summary comparing the students reading fluency on both standardized and informal assessment measures in order to document students strengths and limitations.

TILLS-subtest-12-written-expression

12. The Written Expression (WE) subtest (description above) needs to be administered to the students immediately after the administration of the Reading Fluency (RF) subtest because the student is expected to integrate a series of facts presented in the RF subtest into their writing sample. There are 4 stories in total for the 4 different age groups.

The examiner needs to show the student a different story which integrates simple facts into a coherent narrative. After the examiner reads that simple story to the students s/he is expected to tell the students that the story is  okay, but “sounds kind of “choppy.” They then need to show the student an example of how they could put the facts together in a way that sounds more interesting and less choppy  by combining sentences (see below). Finally, the examiner will ask the students to rewrite the story presented to them in a similar manner (e.g, “less choppy and more interesting.”)

tills

After the student finishes his/her story, the examiner will analyze it and generate the following scores: a discourse score, a sentence score, and a word score. Detailed instructions as well as the Examiner’s Practice Workbook are provided to assist with scoring as it takes a bit of training as well as trial and error to complete it, especially if the examiners are not familiar with certain procedures (e.g., calculating T-units).

Full disclosure: Because the above subtest is still essentially sentence combining, I have only used this subtest a handful of times with my students. Typically when I’ve used it in the past, most of my students fell in two categories: those who failed it completely by either copying text word  for word, failing to generate any written output etc. or those who passed it with flying colors but still presented with notable written output deficits. Consequently, I’ve replaced Written Expression subtest administration with the administration of written standardized tests, which I supplement with an informal grade level expository, persuasive, or narrative writing samples.

Having said that many clinicians may not have the access to other standardized written assessments, or lack the time to administer entire standardized written measures (which may frequently take between 60 to 90 minutes of administration time). Consequently, in the absence of other standardized writing assessments, this subtest can be effectively used to gauge the student’s basic writing abilities, and if needed effectively supplemented by informal writing measures (mentioned above).

TILLS-subtest-13-social-communication

13. The Social Communication (SC) subtest (description above) assesses the students’ ability to understand vocabulary associated with communicative intentions in social situations. It requires students to comprehend how people with certain characteristics might respond in social situations by formulating responses which fit the social contexts of those situations. Essentially students become actors who need to act out particular scenes while viewing select words presented to them.

Full disclosure: Similar to my infrequent administration of the Written Expression subtest, I have also administered this subtest very infrequently to students.  Here is why.

I am an SLP who works full-time in a psychiatric hospital with children diagnosed with significant psychiatric impairments and concomitant language and literacy deficits.  As a result, a significant portion of my job involves comprehensive social communication assessments to catalog my students’ significant deficits in this area. Yet, past administration of this subtest showed me that number of my students can pass this subtest quite easily despite presenting with notable and easily evidenced social communication deficits. Consequently, I prefer the administration of comprehensive social communication testing when working with children in my hospital based program or in my private practice, where I perform independent comprehensive evaluations of language and literacy (IEEs).

Again, as I’ve previously mentioned many clinicians may not have the access to other standardized social communication assessments, or lack the time to administer entire standardized written measures. Consequently, in the absence of other social communication assessments, this subtest can be used to get a baseline of the student’s basic social communication abilities, and then be supplemented with informal social communication measures such as the Informal Social Thinking Dynamic Assessment Protocol (ISTDAP) or observational social pragmatic checklists

TILLS-subtest-14-digit-span-forward

14.  The Digit Span Forward (DSF) subtest (description above) is a relatively isolated  measure  of short term and verbal working memory ( it minimizes demands on other aspects of language such as syntax or vocabulary).

TILLS-subtest-15-digit-span-backward

15.  The Digit Span Backward (DSB) subtest (description above) assesses the student’s working memory and requires the student to mentally manipulate the presented stimuli in reverse order. It allows examiner to observe the strategies (e.g. verbal rehearsal, visual imagery, etc.) the students are using to aid themselves in the process.  Please note that the Digit Span Forward subtest must be administered immediately before the administration of this subtest.

SLPs who have used tests such as the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals – 5 (CELF-5) or the Test of Auditory Processing Skills – Third Edition (TAPS-3) should be highly familiar with both subtests as they are fairly standard measures of certain aspects of memory across the board.

To continue, in addition to the presence of subtests which assess the students literacy abilities, the TILLS also possesses a number of interesting features.

For starters, the TILLS Easy Score, which allows the examiners to use their scoring online. It is incredibly easy and effective. After clicking on the link and filling out the preliminary demographic information, all the examiner needs to do is to plug in this subtest raw scores, the system does the rest. After the raw scores are plugged in, the system will generate a PDF document with all the data which includes (but is not limited to) standard scores, percentile ranks, as well as a variety of composite and core scores. The examiner can then save the PDF on their device (laptop, PC, tablet etc.) for further analysis.

The there is the quadrant model. According to the TILLS sampler (HERE)  “it allows the examiners to assess and compare students’ language-literacy skills at the sound/word level and the sentence/ discourse level across the four oral and written modalities—listening, speaking, reading, and writing” and then create “meaningful profiles of oral and written language skills that will help you understand the strengths and needs of individual students and communicate about them in a meaningful way with teachers, parents, and students. (pg. 21)”

tills quadrant model

Then there is the Student Language Scale (SLS) which is a one page checklist parents,  teachers (and even students) can fill out to informally identify language and literacy based strengths and weaknesses. It  allows for meaningful input from multiple sources regarding the students performance (as per IDEA 2004) and can be used not just with TILLS but with other tests or in even isolation (as per developers).

Furthermore according to the developers, because the normative sample included several special needs populations, the TILLS can be used with students diagnosed with ASD,  deaf or hard of hearing (see caveat), as well as intellectual disabilities (as long as they are functioning age 6 and above developmentally).

According to the developers the TILLS is aligned with Common Core Standards and can be administered as frequently as two times a year for progress monitoring (min of 6 mos post 1st administration).

With respect to bilingualism examiners can use it with caution with simultaneous English learners but not with sequential English learners (see further explanations HERE).   Translations of TILLS are definitely not allowed as they will undermine test validity and reliability.

So there you have it these are just some of my very few impressions regarding this test.  Now to some of you may notice that I spend a significant amount of time pointing out some of the tests limitations. However, it is very important to note that we have research that indicates that there is no such thing as a “perfect standardized test” (see HERE for more information).   All standardized tests have their limitations

Having said that, I think that TILLS is a PHENOMENAL addition to the standardized testing market, as it TRULY appears to assess not just language but also literacy abilities of the students on our caseloads.

That’s all from me; however, before signing off I’d like to provide you with more resources and information, which can be reviewed in reference to TILLS.  For starters, take a look at Brookes Publishing TILLS resources.  These include (but are not limited to) TILLS FAQ, TILLS Easy-Score, TILLS Correction Document, as well as 3 FREE TILLS Webinars.   There’s also a Facebook Page dedicated exclusively to TILLS updates (HERE).

But that’s not all. Dr. Nelson and her colleagues have been tirelessly lecturing about the TILLS for a number of years, and many of their past lectures and presentations are available on the ASHA website as well as on the web (e.g., HERE, HERE, HERE, etc). Take a look at them as they contain far more in-depth information regarding the development and implementation of this groundbreaking assessment.

To access TILLS fully-editable template, click HERE

Disclaimer:  I did not receive a complimentary copy of this assessment for review nor have I received any encouragement or compensation from either Brookes Publishing  or any of the TILLS developers to write it.  All images of this test are direct property of Brookes Publishing (when clicked on all the images direct the user to the Brookes Publishing website) and were used in this post for illustrative purposes only.

References: 

Leclercq A, Maillart C, Majerus S. (2013) Nonword repetition problems in children with SLI: A deficit in accessing long-term linguistic representations? Topics in Language Disorders. 33 (3) 238-254.

Related Posts:

Posted on

Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know

Image result for evaluationSeveral years after I started my private speech pathology practice, I began performing comprehensive independent speech and language evaluations (IEEs).

For those of you who may be hearing the term IEE for the first time, an Independent Educational Evaluation is “an evaluation conducted by a qualified examiner who is not employed by the public agency responsible for the education of the child in question.” 34 C.F.R. 300.503. IEE’s can evaluate a broad range of functioning outside of cognitive or academic performance and may include neurological, occupational, speech language, or any other type of evaluations  as long as they bear direct impact on the child’s educational performance.

Independent evaluations can be performed for a wide variety of reasons, including but not limited to:

  • To determine the student’s present level of functioning
  • To determine whether the student presents with hidden, previously undiscovered deficits (e.g., executive function, social communication, etc.)
  • To determine whether the student’s educational classification requires a change
  • To determine if the student requires additional, previously not provided, related services (e.g., language therapy, etc.) or an increase in related services
  • To determine whether a student might benefit from an application of a particular therapy technique or program (e.g, Orton-Gillingham)
  • To determine whether a student with a severe impairment (e.g., severe emotional and behavioral disturbances, genetic syndrome, significant intellectual disability, etc.) is a good candidate for an out of district specialized school

Why can’t similar assessments be performed in school settings?

There are several reasons for that.

Why are IEE’s Needed?

The answer to that is simple:  “To strengthen the role of parents in the educational decision-making process.” According to one Disability Rights site: “Many disagreements between parents and school staff concerning IEP services and placement involve, at some stage, the interpretation of evaluation findings and recommendations. When disagreements occur, the Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) is one option lawmakers make available to parents, to help answer questions about appropriate special education services and placement“.

Indeed, many of the clients who retain my services also retain the services of educational advocates as well as special education lawyers.  Many of them work on determining appropriate level of services as well as an out of district placement for the children with a variety of special education needs. However, one interesting reoccurring phenomenon I’ve noted over the years is that only a small percentage of special education lawyers, educational advocates, and even parents believed that children with autism spectrum disorders, genetic syndromes, social pragmatic deficits, emotional disturbances, or reading disabilities required a comprehensive language evaluation/reevaluation prior to determining an appropriate out of district placement or an in-district change of service provision.

So today I would like to make a case, in favor of comprehensive independent language evaluations being a routine component of every special education dispute involving a child with impaired academic performance. I will do so through the illustration of past case scenarios that clearly show that comprehensive independent language evaluations do matter, even when it doesn’t look like they may be needed.

Case A: “He is just a weak student”.

Several years ago I was contacted by a parent of a 12 year old boy, who was concerned with his son’s continuously failing academic performance. The child had not qualified for an IEP but was receiving 504 plan in school setting and was reported to significantly struggle due to continuous increase of academic demands with each passing school year.  An in-district language evaluation had been preformed several years prior. It showed that the student’s general language abilities were in the low average range of functioning due to which he did not qualify for speech language services in school setting. However, based on the review of available records it very quickly became apparent that many of the academic areas in which the student struggled (e.g., reading comprehension, social pragmatic ability, critical thinking skills, etc)  were simply not assessed by the general language testing. I had suggested to the parent a comprehensive language evaluation and explained to him on what grounds I was recommending this course of action.  That comprehensive 4 hour assessment broken into several testing sessions revealed that the student presented with severe receptive, expressive, problem solving and social pragmatic language deficits, as well as moderate executive function deficits, which required therapeutic intervention.

Prior to that assessment the parent, reinforced by the feedback from his child’s educational staff believed his son to be an unmotivated student who failed to apply himself in school setting.  However, after the completion of that assessment, the parent clearly understood that it wasn’t his child’s lack of motivation which was impeding his academic performance but rather a true learning disability was making it very difficult for his son to learn without the necessary related services and support. Several months after the appropriate related services were made available to the child in school setting on the basis of the performed IEE, the parent reported significant progress in his child academic performance.

Case B: “She’s just not learning because of her behavior, so there’s nothing we can do”.  

This case involved a six year old girl who presented with a severe speech – language disorder and behavioral deficits in school setting secondary to an intellectual disability of an unspecified origin.

In contrast to Case A scenario, this child had received a variety of assessments and therapies since a very early age; however, her parents were becoming significantly concerned regarding her regression of academic functioning in school setting and felt that a more specialized out of district program with a focus on multiple disabilities would be better suitable to her needs. Unfortunately the school disagreed with them and believed that she could be successfully educated in an in-district setting (despite evidence to the contrary).  Interestingly, an in-depth comprehensive speech language assessment had never been performed on this child because her functioning was considered to be “too low” for such an assessment.

Comprehensive assessment of this little girl’s abilities revealed that via an application of a variety of behavioral management techniques (of non-ABA origin), and highly structured language input, she was indeed capable of significantly better performance then she had exhibited in school setting.  It stood to reason that if she were placed in a specialized school setting composed of educational professionals who were trained in dealing with her complex behavioral and communication needs, her performance would continue to steadily improve.  Indeed, six months following a transfer in schools her parents reported a “drastic” change pertaining to a significant reduction in challenging behavioral manifestations as well as significant increase in her linguistic output.

Case C: “Your child can only learn so much because of his genetic syndrome”.  

This case scenario does not technically involve just one child but rather three different male students between 9 and 11 years of age with several ‘common’ genetic syndromes: Down, Fragile X, and Klinefelter.  All three were different ages, came from completely different school districts, and were seen by me in different calendar years.

However, all three boys had one thing in common, because of their genetic syndromes, which were marked by varying degrees of intellectual disability as well as speech language weaknesses, their parents were collectively told that there could be very little done for them with regards to expanding their expressive language as well as literacy development.

Similarly to the above scenarios, none of the children had undergone comprehensive language testing to determine their strengths, weaknesses, and learning styles. Comprehensive assessment of each student revealed that each had the potential to improve their expressive abilities to speak in compound and complex sentences. Dynamic assessment of literacy also revealed that it was possible to teach each of them how to read.

Following the respective assessments, some of these students had became my private clients, while others’s parents have periodically written to me, detailing their children’s successes over the years.  Each parent had conveyed to me how “life-changing”a comprehensive IEE was to their child.

Case D: “Their behavior is just out of control”

The final case scenario I would like to discuss today involves several students with an educational classification of “Emotionally Disturbed” (pg 71).  Those of you who are familiar with my blog and my work know that my main area of specialty is working with school age students with psychiatric impairments and emotional behavioral disturbances.  There are a number of reasons why I work with this challenging pediatric population. One very important reason is that these students continue to be grossly underserved in school setting. Over the years I have written a variety of articles and blog posts citing a number of research studies, which found that a significant number of students with psychiatric impairments and emotional behavioral disturbances present with undiagnosed linguistic impairments (especially in the area of social communication), which adversely impact their school-based performance.

Here, we are not talking about two or three students rather we’re talking about the numbers in the double digits of students with psychiatric impairments and emotional disturbances, who did not receive appropriate therapies in their respective school settings.

The majority of these students were divided into two distinct categories. In the first category, students began to manifest moderate-to-severe speech language deficits from a very early age. They were classified in preschool and began receiving speech language therapy. However by early elementary age their general language abilities were found to be within the average range of functioning and their language therapies were discontinued.   Unfortunately since general language testing does not assess all categories of linguistic functioning such as critical thinking, executive functions, social communication etc., these students continued to present with hidden linguistic impairments, which continued to adversely impact their behavior.

Students in the second category also began displaying emotional and behavioral challenges from a very early age. However, in contrast to the students in the first category the initial language testing found their general language abilities to be within the average range of functioning. As a result these students never received any language-based therapies and similar to the students in the first category, their hidden linguistic impairments continued to adversely impact their behavior.

Students in both categories ended up following a very similar pattern of behavior. Their behavioral challenges in the school continued to escalate. These were followed by a series of suspensions, out of district placements, myriad of psychiatric and neuropsychological evaluations, until many were placed on home instruction. The one vital element missing from all of these students’ case records were comprehensive language evaluations with an emphasis on assessing their critical thinking, executive functions and social communication abilities. Their worsening patterns of functioning were viewed as “severe misbehaving” without anyone suspecting that their hidden language deficits were a huge contributing factor to their maladaptive behaviors in school setting.

Conclusion:

So there you have it!  As promised, I’ve used four vastly different scenarios that show you the importance of comprehensive language evaluations in situations where it was not so readily apparent that they were needed.  I hope that parents and professionals alike will find this post helpful in reconsidering the need for comprehensive independent evaluations for students presenting with impaired academic performance.