Three 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. Continue reading What Makes an Independent Speech-Language-Literacy Evaluation a GOOD Evaluation?
Those of you who read my blog on a semi-regular basis, know that I spend a considerable amount of time in both of my work settings (an outpatient school located in a psychiatric hospital as well as private practice), conducting language and literacy evaluations of preschool and school-aged children 3-18 years of age. During that process, I spend a significant amount of time reviewing outside speech and language evaluations. Interestingly, what I have been seeing is that no matter what the child’s age is (7 or 17), invariably some form of receptive and/or expressive vocabulary testing is always mentioned in their language report. Continue reading On the Limitations of Using Vocabulary Tests with School-Aged Students
In my last post, I described how I use obscurely worded newspaper headlines to improve my students’ interpretation of ambiguous and figurative language. Today, I wanted to further delve into this topic by describing the utility of interpreting music lyrics for language therapy purposes. I really like using music lyrics for language treatment purposes. Not only do my students and I get to listen to really cool music, but we also get an opportunity to define a variety of literary devices (e.g., hyperboles, similes, metaphors, etc.) as well as identify them and interpret their meaning in music lyrics. Continue reading What are They Trying To Say? Interpreting Music Lyrics for Figurative Language Acquisition Purposes
Many of my students with Developmental Language Disorders (DLD) lack insight and have poorly developed metalinguistic (the ability to think about and discuss language) and metacognitive (think about and reflect upon own thinking) skills. This, of course, creates a significant challenge for them in both social and academic settings. Not only do they have a poorly developed inner dialogue for critical thinking purposes but they also because they present with significant self-monitoring and self-correcting challenges during speaking and reading tasks. Continue reading Have I Got This Right? Developing Self-Questioning to Improve Metacognitive and Metalinguistic Skills
Because the children I assess, often require supplementary reading instruction services, many parents frequently ask me how they can best determine if a reading specialist has the right experience to help their child learn how to read. So today’s blog post describes what type of knowledge reading specialists ought to possess and what type of questions parents (and other professionals) can ask them in order to determine their approaches to treating literacy-related difficulties of struggling learners. Continue reading Dear Reading Specialist, May I Ask You a Few Questions?
SLPs are constantly on the lookout for good quality affordable materials in the area of literacy. However, what many clinicians may not realize is that there are massive amounts of FREE evidence-based literacy-related resources available online for their use. These materials can be easily adapted or implemented as is, by parents, teachers, speech-language pathologists, as well as other literacy-focused professionals (e.g., tutors, etc.).
Below, I have compiled a rather modest list of my preferred resources (including a few articles) for children aged Pre-K-12 grade pertaining to the following literacy-related areas: Continue reading Free Literacy Resources for Parents and Professionals
Picture books are absolutely wonderful for both assessment and treatment purposes! They are terrific as narrative elicitation aids for children of various ages, ranging from pre-K through fourth grade. They are amazing treatment aids for addressing a variety of speech, language, and literacy goals that extend far beyond narrative production. Continue reading Speech, Language, and Literacy Fun with Helen Lester’s Picture Books
The end of the school year is almost near. Soon many of our clients with language and literacy difficulties will be going on summer vacation and enjoying their time outside of school. However, summer is not all fun and games. For children with learning needs, this is also a time of “learning loss”, or the loss of academic skills and knowledge over the course of the summer break. Students diagnosed with language and learning disabilities are at a particularly significant risk of greater learning loss than typically developing students. Continue reading Tips on Reducing ‘Summer Learning Loss’ in Children with Language/Literacy Disorders
Despite significant advances in the fields of education and speech pathology, many harmful myths pertaining to multilingualism continue to persist. One particularly infuriating and patently incorrect recommendation to parents is the advice to stop speaking the birth language with their bilingual children with language disorders. Continue reading On the Disadvantages of Parents Ceasing to Speak the Birth Language with Bilingual Language Impaired Children
Here’s a familiar scenario to many SLPs. You’ve administered several standardized language tests to your student (e.g., CELF-5 & TILLS). You expected to see roughly similar scores across tests. Much to your surprise, you find that while your student attained somewhat average scores on one assessment, s/he had completely bombed the second assessment, and you have no idea why that happened.
So you go on social media and start crowdsourcing for information from a variety of SLPs located in a variety of states and countries in order to figure out what has happened and what you should do about this. Of course, the problem in such situations is that while some responses will be spot on, many will be utterly inappropriate. Luckily, the answer lies much closer than you think, in the actual technical manual of the administered tests.
So what is responsible for such as drastic discrepancy? A few things actually. For starters, unless both tests were co-normed (used the same sample of test takers) be prepared to see disparate scores due to the ability levels of children in the normative groups of each test. Another important factor involved in the score discrepancy is how accurately does the test differentiate disordered children from typical functioning ones.
Let’s compare two actual language tests to learn more. For the purpose of this exercise let us select The Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals-5 (CELF-5) and the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS). The former is a very familiar entity to numerous SLPs, while the latter is just coming into its own, having been released in the market only several years ago.
Both tests share a number of similarities. Both were created to assess the language abilities of children and adolescents with suspected language disorders. Both assess aspects of language and literacy (albeit not to the same degree nor with the same level of thoroughness). Both can be used for language disorder classification purposes, or can they?
Actually, my last statement is rather debatable. A careful perusal of the CELF – 5 reveals that its normative sample of 3000 children included a whopping 23% of children with language-related disabilities. In fact, the folks from the Leaders Project did such an excellent and thorough job reviewing its psychometric properties rather than repeating that information, the readers can simply click here to review the limitations of the CELF – 5 straight on the Leaders Project website. Furthermore, even the CELF – 5 developers themselves have stated that: “Based on CELF-5 sensitivity and specificity values, the optimal cut score to achieve the best balance is -1.33 (standard score of 80). Using a standard score of 80 as a cut score yields sensitivity and specificity values of .97. “
In other words, obtaining a standard score of 80 on the CELF – 5 indicates that a child presents with a language disorder. Of course, as many SLPs already know, the eligibility criteria in the schools requires language scores far below that in order for the student to qualify to receive language therapy services.
In fact, the test’s authors are fully aware of that and acknowledge that in the same document. “Keep in mind that students who have language deficits may not obtain scores that qualify him or her for placement based on the program’s criteria for eligibility. You’ll need to plan how to address the student’s needs within the framework established by your program.”
But here is another issue – the CELF-5 sensitivity group included only a very small number of: “67 children ranging from 5;0 to 15;11”, whose only requirement was to score 1.5SDs < mean “on any standardized language test”. As the Leaders Project reviewers point out: “This means that the 67 children in the sensitivity group could all have had severe disabilities. They might have multiple disabilities in addition to severe language disorders including severe intellectual disabilities or Autism Spectrum Disorder making it easy for a language disorder test to identify this group as having language disorders with extremely high accuracy. ” (pgs. 7-8)
Of course, this begs the question, why would anyone continue to administer any test to students, if its administration A. Does not guarantee disorder identification B. Will not make the student eligible for language therapy despite demonstrated need?
The problem is that even though SLPs are mandated to use a variety of quantitative clinical observations and procedures in order to reliably qualify students for services, standardized tests still carry more value then they should. Consequently, it is important for SLPs to select the right test to make their job easier.
The TILLS is a far less known assessment than the CELF-5 yet in the few years it has been out on the market it really made its presence felt by being a solid assessment tool due to its valid and reliable psychometric properties. Again, the venerable Dr. Carol Westby had already done such an excellent job reviewing its psychometric properties that I will refer the readers to her review here, rather than repeating this information as it will not add anything new on this topic. The upshot of her review as follows: “The TILLS does not include children and adolescents with language/literacy impairments (LLIs) in the norming sample. Since the 1990s, nearly all language assessments have included children with LLIs in the norming sample. Doing so lowers overall scores, making it more difficult to use the assessment to identify students with LLIs. (pg. 11)”
Now, here many proponents of inclusion of children with language disorders in the normative sample will make a variation of the following claim: “You CANNOT diagnose a language impairment if children with language impairment were not included in the normative sample of that assessment!” Here’s a major problem with such assertion. When a child is referred for a language assessment, we really have no way of knowing if this child has a language impairment until we actually finish testing them. We are in fact attempting to confirm or refute this fact, hopefully via the use of reliable and valid testing. However, if the normative sample includes many children with language and learning difficulties, this significantly affects the accuracy of our identification, since we are interested in comparing this child’s results to typically developing children and not the disordered ones, in order to learn if the child has a disorder in the first place. As per Peña, Spaulding and Plante (2006), “the inclusion of children with disabilities may be at odds with the goal of classification, typically the primary function of the speech pathologist’s assessment. In fact, by including such children in the normative sample, we may be “shooting ourselves in the foot” in terms of testing for the purpose of identifying disorders.”(p. 248)
Then there’s a variation of this assertion, which I have seen in several Facebook groups: “Children with language disorders score at the low end of normal distribution“. Once again such assertion is incorrect since Spaulding, Plante & Farinella (2006) have actually shown that on average, these kids will score at least 1.28 SDs below the mean, which is not the low average range of normal distribution by any means. As per authors: “Specific data supporting the application of “low score” criteria for the identification of language impairment is not supported by the majority of current commercially available tests. However, alternate sources of data (sensitivity and specificity rates) that support accurate identification are available for a subset of the available tests.” (p. 61)
Now, let us get back to your child in question, who performed so differently on both of the administered tests. Given his clinically observed difficulties, you fully expected your testing to confirm it. But you are now more confused than before. Don’t be! Search the technical manual for information on the particular test’s sensitivity and specificity to look up the numbers. Vance and Plante (1994) put forth the following criteria for accurate identification of a disorder (discriminant accuracy): “90% should be considered good discriminant accuracy; 80% to 89% should be considered fair. Below 80%, misidentifications occur at unacceptably high rates” and leading to “serious social consequences” of misidentified children. (p. 21)
Review the sensitivity and specificity of your test/s, take a look at the normative samples, see if anything unusual jumps out at you, which leads you to believe that the administered test may have some issues with assessing what it purports to assess. Then, after supplementing your standardized testing results with good quality clinical data (e.g., narrative samples, dynamic assessment tasks, etc.), consider creating a solidly referenced purchasing pitch to your administration to invest in more valid and reliable standardized tests.
Hope you find this information helpful in your quest to better serve the clients on your caseload. If you are interested in learning more regarding evidence-based assessment practices as well as psychometric properties of various standardized speech-language tests visit the SLPs for Evidence-Based Practice group on Facebook learn more.
- Peña ED, Spaulding TJ, and Plante E. ( 2006) The composition of normative groups and diagnostic decision-making: Shooting ourselves in the foot. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology 15: 247–54.
- Spaulding, T. J., Plante, E., & Farinella, K. A. (2006). Eligibility criteria for language impairment: Is the low end of normal always appropriate? Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 37, 61-72.
- Vance, R., & Plante, E. (1994). Selection of preschool language tests: A data-based approach. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 25, 15-24.