September is quickly approaching and school-based speech language pathologists (SLPs) are preparing to go back to work. Many of them are looking to update their arsenal of speech and language materials for the upcoming academic school year.
With that in mind, I wanted to update my readers regarding all the new products I have recently created with a focus on assessment and treatment in speech language pathology.
My most recent product Assessment of Adolescents with Language and Literacy Impairments in Speech Language Pathology is a 130-slide pdf download which discusses how to effectively select assessment materials in order to conduct comprehensive evaluations of adolescents with suspected language and literacy disorders. It contains embedded links to ALL the books and research articles used in the development of this product.
Effective Reading Instruction Strategies for Intellectually Impaired Students is a 50-slide downloadable presentation in pdf format which describes how speech-language pathologists (SLPs) trained in assessment and intervention of literacy disorders (reading, spelling, and writing) can teach phonological awareness, phonics, as well as reading fluency skills to children with mild-moderate intellectual disabilities. It reviews the research on reading interventions conducted with children with intellectual disabilities, lists components of effective reading instruction as well as explains how to incorporate components of reading instruction into language therapy sessions.
Dysgraphia Checklist for School-Aged Children helps to identify the students’ specific written language deficits who may require further assessment and treatment services to improve their written abilities.
Processing Disorders: Controversial Aspects of Diagnosis and Treatment is a 28-slide downloadable pdf presentation which provides an introduction to processing disorders. It describes the diversity of ‘APD’ symptoms as well as explains the current controversies pertaining to the validity of the ‘APD’ diagnosis. It also discusses how the label “processing difficulties” often masks true language and learning deficits in students which require appropriate language and literacy assessment and targeted intervention services.
Checklist for Identification of Speech Language Disorders in Bilingual and Multicultural Children was created to assist Speech Language Pathologists (SLPs) and Teachers in the decision-making process of how to appropriately identify bilingual and multicultural children who present with speech-language delay/deficits (vs. a language difference), for the purpose of initiating a formal speech-language-literacy evaluation. The goal is to ensure that educational professionals are appropriately identifying bilingual children for assessment and service provision due to legitimate speech language deficits/concerns, and are not over-identifying students because they speak multiple languages or because they come from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
Comprehensive Assessment and Treatment of Literacy Disorders in Speech-Language Pathology is a 125 slide presentation which describes how speech-language pathologists can effectively assess and treat children with literacy disorders, (reading, spelling, and writing deficits including dyslexia) from preschool through adolescence. It explains the impact of language disorders on literacy development, lists formal and informal assessment instruments and procedures, as well as describes the importance of assessing higher order language skills for literacy purposes. It reviews components of effective reading instruction including phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, vocabulary awareness, morphological awareness, as well as reading fluency and comprehension. Finally, it provides recommendations on how components of effective reading instruction can be cohesively integrated into speech-language therapy sessions in order to improve literacy abilities of children with language disorders and learning disabilities.
Improving Critical Thinking Skills via Picture Books in Children with Language Disorders is a partial 30-slide presentation which discusses effective instructional strategies for teaching language disordered children critical thinking skills via the use of picture books utilizing both the Original (1956) and Revised (2001) Bloom’s Taxonomy: Cognitive Domain which encompasses the (R) categories of remembering, understanding, applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating.
From Wordless Picture Books to Reading Instruction: Effective Strategies for SLPs Working with Intellectually Impaired Students is a full 92 slide presentation which discusses how to address the development of critical thinking skills through a variety of picture books utilizing the framework outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Cognitive Domain which encompasses the categories of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in children with intellectual impairments. It shares a number of similarities with the above product as it also reviews components of effective reading instruction for children with language and intellectual disabilities as well as provides recommendations on how to integrate reading instruction effectively into speech-language therapy sessions.
Best Practices in Bilingual Literacy Assessments and Interventions is a 105 slide presentation which focuses on how bilingual speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can effectively assess and intervene with simultaneously bilingual and multicultural children (with stronger academic English language skills) diagnosed with linguistically-based literacy impairments. Topics include components of effective literacy assessments for simultaneously bilingual children (with stronger English abilities), best instructional literacy practices, translanguaging support strategies, critical questions relevant to the provision of effective interventions, as well as use of accommodations, modifications and compensatory strategies for improvement of bilingual students’ performance in social and academic settings.
Comprehensive Literacy Checklist For School-Aged Children 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.
In the past several years, due to an influx of adolescent students with language and learning difficulties on my caseload, I have begun to research in depth aspects of adolescent language development, assessment, and intervention.
While a number of standardized assessments are available to test various components of adolescent language from syntax and semantics to problem-solving and social communication, etc., in my experience with this age group, frequently, clinical assessments (vs. the standardized tests), do a far better job of teasing out language difficulties in adolescents.
Today I wanted to write about the importance of performing a clinical reading assessment as part of select* adolescent language and literacy evaluations.
There are a number of standardized tests on the market, which presently assess reading. However, not all of them by far are as functional as many clinicians would like them to be. To illustrate, one popular reading assessment is the Gray Oral Reading Tests-5 (GORT-5). It assesses the student’s rate, accuracy, fluency, and comprehension abilities. While it’s a useful test to possess in one’s assessment toolbox, it is not without its limitations. In my experience assessing adolescent students with literacy deficits, many can pass this test with average scores, yet still present with pervasive reading comprehension difficulties in the school setting. As such, as part of the assessment process, I like to administer clinical reading assessments to students who pass the standardized reading tests (e.g., GORT-5), in order to ensure that the student does not possess any reading deficits at the grade text level.
So how do I clinically assess the reading abilities of struggling adolescent learners?
First, I select a one-page long grade level/below grade-level text (for very impaired readers). I ask the student to read the text, and I time the first minute of their reading in order to analyze their oral reading fluency or words correctly read per minute (wcpm).
For this purpose, I often use the books from the Continental Press series entitled: Content Reading for Geography, Social Studies, & Science. Texts for grades 5 – 7 of the series are perfect for assessment of struggling adolescent readers. In some cases using a below grade level text allows me to starkly illustrate the extent of the student’s reading difficulties. Below is an example of one of such a clinical reading assessments in action.
CLINICAL READING ASSESSMENT: 8th Grade Male
A clinical reading assessment was administered to TS, a 15-5-year-old male, on a supplementary basis in order to further analyze his reading abilities. Given the fact that TS was reported to present with grade-level reading difficulties, the examiner provided TS a 7th-grade text by Continental Press. TS was asked to read aloud the 7 paragraph long text, and then answer factual and inferential questions, summarize the presented information, define select context embedded vocabulary words as well as draw conclusions based on the presented text. (Please note that in order to protect the client’s privacy some portions of the below assessment questions and responses were changed to be deliberately vague).
Reading Fluency: TS’s reading fluency (automaticity, prosody, accuracy and speed, expression, intonation, and phrasing) during the reading task was marked by monotone vocal quality, awkward word stress, imprecise articulatory contacts, false-starts, self–revisions, awkward mid-sentential pauses, limited pausing for punctuation, as well as misreadings and word substitutions, all of which resulted in an impaired reading prosody.
With respect to specific errors, TS was observed to occasionally add word fillers to text (e.g., and, a, etc.), change morphological endings of select words (e.g., read /elasticity/ as /elastic/, etc.) as well as substitute similar looking words (e.g., from/for; those/these, etc.) during reading. He occasionally placed stress on the first vs. second syllable in disyllabic words, which resulted in distorted word productions (e.g., products, residual, upward, etc.), as well as inserted extra words into text (e.g., read: “until pressure inside the earth starts to build again” as “until pressure inside the earth starts to build up again”). He also began reading a number of his sentences with false starts (e.g., started reading the word “drinking” as ‘drunk’, etc.) and as a result was observed to make a number of self-corrections during reading.
During reading, TS demonstrated adequate tracking movements for text scanning as well as use of context to aid his decoding. For example, TS was observed to read the phonetic spelling of select unfamiliar words in parenthesis (e.g., equilibrium) and then read them correctly in subsequent sentences. However, he exhibited limited use of metalinguistic strategies and did not always self-correct misread words; dispute the fact that they did not always make sense in the context of the read sentences.
TS’s oral reading rate during today’s reading was judged to be reduced for his age/grade levels. An average 8th grader is expected to have an oral reading rate between 145 and 160 words per minute. In contrast, TS was only able to read 114 words per minute. However, it is important to note that recent research on reading fluency has indicated that as early as by 4th grade reading faster than 90 wcpm will not generate increases in comprehension for struggling readers. Consequently, TS’s current reading rate of off 114 words per minute was judged to be adequate for reading purposes. Furthermore, given the fact that TS’s reading comprehension is already compromised at this rate (see below for further details) rather than making a recommendation to increase his reading rate further, it is instead recommended that intervention focuses on slowing TS’s rate via relevant strategies as well as improving his reading comprehension abilities. Strategies should focus on increasing his opportunities to learn domain knowledge via use of informational texts; purposeful selection of texts to promote knowledge acquisition and gain of expertise in different domains; teaching morphemic as well as semantic feature analyses (to expand upon already robust vocabulary), increasing discourse and critical thinking with respect to informational text, as well as use of graphic organizers to teach text structure and conceptual frameworks.
Verbal Text Summary: TS’s text summary following his reading was very abbreviated, simplified, and confusing. When asked: “What was this text about?” Rather than stating the main idea, TS nonspecifically provided several vague details and was unable to elaborate further. When asked: “Do you think you can summarize this story for me from beginning to the end?” TS produced the two disjointed statements, which did not adequately address the presented question When asked: “What is the main idea of this text.” TS vaguely responded: “Science,” which was the broad topic rather than the main idea of the story.
Text Vocabulary Comprehension:
After that, TS was asked a number of questions regarding story vocabulary. The first word presented to him was “equilibrium”. When asked: “What does ‘equilibrium’ mean?” TS first incorrectly responded: “temperature”. Then when prompted: “Anything else?” TS correctly replied: “balance.” He was then asked to provide some examples of how nature leans towards equilibrium from the story. TS nonspecifically produced: “Ah, gravity.” When asked to explain how gravity contributes to the process of equilibrium TS again nonspecifically replied: “gravity is part of the planet”, and could not elaborate further. TS was then asked to define another word from the text provided to him in a sentence: “Scientists believe that this is residual heat remaining from the beginnings of the solar system.” What is the meaning of the word: “residual?” TS correctly identified: “remaining.” Then the examiner asked him to define the term found in the last paragraph of the text: “What is thermal equilibrium?” TS nonspecifically responded: “a balance of temperature”, and was unable to elaborate further.
Reading Comprehension (with/out text access):
TS was also asked to respond to a number of factual text questions without the benefit of visual support. However, he presented with significant difficulty recalling text details. TS was asked: When asked, “Why did this story mention ____? What did they have to do with ____?” TS responded nonspecifically, “______.” When prompted to tell more, TS produced a rambling response which did not adequately address the presented question. When asked: “Why did the text talk about bungee jumpers? How are they connected to it?” TS stated, “I am ah, not sure really.”
Finally, TS was provided with a brief worksheet which accompanied the text and asked to complete it given the benefit of written support. While TS’s performance on this task was better, he still achieved only 66% accuracy and was only able to answer 4 out of 6 questions correctly. On this task, TS presented with difficulty identifying the main idea of the third paragraph, even after being provided with multiple choice answers. He also presented with difficulty correctly responding to the question pertaining to the meaning of the last paragraph.
Impressions: Clinical below grade-level reading comprehension assessment reading revealed that TS presents with a number of reading related difficulties. TS’s reading fluency was marked by monotone vocal quality, awkward word stress, imprecise articulatory contacts, false-starts, self–revisions, awkward mid-sentential pauses, limited pausing for punctuation, as well as misreadings and word substitutions, all of which resulted in an impaired reading prosody. TS’s understanding as well as his verbal summary of the presented text was immature for his age and was characterized by impaired gestalt processing of information resulting in an ineffective and confusing summarization. While TS’s text-based vocabulary knowledge was deemed to be grossly adequate for his age, his reading comprehension abilities were judged to be impaired for his age. Therapeutic intervention is strongly recommended to improve TS’s reading abilities. (See Impressions and Recommendations sections for further details).
There you have it! This is just one of many different types of informal reading assessments, which I occasionally conduct with adolescents who attain average scores on reading fluency and reading comprehension tests such as the GORT-5 or the Test of Reading Comprehension -4 (TORC-4), but still present with pervasive reading difficulties working with grade level text.
You can find more information on the topic of adolescent assessments (including other comprehensive informal write-up examples) in this recently developed product entitled: Assessment of Adolescents with Language and Literacy Impairments in Speech Language Pathology currently available in my online store.
What about you? What type of informal tasks and materials are you using to assess your adolescent students’ reading abilities and why do you like using them?
Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Adolescent Assessment Resources:
- Assessment of Adolescents with Language and Literacy Impairments in Speech Language Pathology
- Comprehensive Literacy Checklist For School-Aged Children
- Speech Language Assessment Checklist for Adolescents
In recent months, I have been focusing more and more on speaking engagements as well as the development of products with an explicit focus on assessment and intervention of literacy in speech-language pathology. Today I’d like to introduce 4 of my recently developed products pertinent to assessment and treatment of literacy in speech-language pathology.
which describes how speech-language pathologists can effectively assess and treat children with literacy disorders, (reading, spelling, and writing deficits including dyslexia) from preschool through adolescence. It explains the impact of language disorders on literacy development, lists formal and informal assessment instruments and procedures, as well as describes the importance of assessing higher order language skills for literacy purposes. It reviews components of effective reading instruction including phonological awareness, orthographic knowledge, vocabulary awareness, morphological awareness, as well as reading fluency and comprehension. Finally, it provides recommendations on how components of effective reading instruction can be cohesively integrated into speech-language therapy sessions in order to improve literacy abilities of children with language disorders and learning disabilities.
Next up is a product entitled From Wordless Picture Books to Reading Instruction: Effective Strategies for SLPs Working with Intellectually Impaired Students. This product discusses how to address the development of critical thinking skills through a variety of picture books utilizing the framework outlined in Bloom’s Taxonomy: Cognitive Domain which encompasses the categories of knowledge, comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation in children with intellectual impairments. It shares a number of similarities with the above product as it also reviews components of effective reading instruction for children with language and intellectual disabilities as well as provides recommendations on how to integrate reading instruction effectively into speech-language therapy sessions.
The product Improving Critical Thinking Skills via Picture Books in Children with Language Disorders is also available for sale on its own with a focus on only teaching critical thinking skills via the use of picture books.
Finally, my last product Best Practices in Bilingual Literacy Assessments and Interventions focuses on how bilingual speech-language pathologists (SLPs) can effectively assess and intervene with simultaneously bilingual and multicultural children (with stronger academic English language skills) diagnosed with linguistically-based literacy impairments. Topics include components of effective literacy assessments for simultaneously bilingual children (with stronger English abilities), best instructional literacy practices, translanguaging support strategies, critical questions relevant to the provision of effective interventions, as well as use of accommodations, modifications and compensatory strategies for improvement of bilingual students’ performance in social and academic settings.
Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:
- Dynamic Assessment of Bilingual and Multicultural Learners in Speech-Language Pathology
- Differential Assessment and Treatment of Processing Disorders in Speech-Language Pathology
- Practical Strategies for Monolingual SLPs Assessing and Treating Bilingual Children
- The Checklists Bundle
- General Assessment and Treatment Start Up Bundle
- Multicultural Assessment Bundle
- Narrative Assessment and Treatment Bundle
- Social Pragmatic Assessment and Treatment Bundle
- Psychiatric Disorders Bundle
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
- 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
- AT RISK FAMILY HISTORY
- AT RISK DEVELOPMENTAL HISTORY
- BEHAVIORAL MANIFESTATIONS
- LEARNING DEFICITS
- Memory for Sequences
- Vocabulary Knowledge
- Narrative Production
- Phonological Awareness
- Morphological Awareness
- Reading Fluency
- Reading Comprehension
- Writing Conventions
- Writing Composition
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!
When many of us think of such labels as “language disorder” or “learning disability”, very infrequently do adolescents (students 13-18 years of age) come to mind. Even today, much of the research in the field of pediatric speech pathology involves preschool and school-aged children under 12 years of age.
The prevalence and incidence of language disorders in adolescents is very difficult to estimate due to which some authors even referred to them as a Neglected Group with Significant Problems having an “invisible disability“.
Far fewer speech language therapists work with middle-schoolers vs. preschoolers and elementary aged kids, while the numbers of SLPs working with high-school aged students is frequently in single digits in some districts while being completely absent in others. In fact, I am frequently told (and often see it firsthand) that some administrators try to cut costs by attempting to dictate a discontinuation of speech-language services on the grounds that adolescents “are far too old for services” or can “no longer benefit from services”.
But of course the above is blatantly false. Undetected language deficits don’t resolve with age! They simply exacerbate and turn into learning disabilities. Similarly, lack of necessary and appropriate service provision to children with diagnosed language impairments at the middle-school and high-school levels will strongly affect their academic functioning and hinder their future vocational outcomes.
A cursory look at the Speech Pathology Related Facebook Groups as well as ASHA forums reveals numerous SLPs in a continual search for best methods of assessment and treatment of older students (~12-18 years of age).
Consequently, today I wanted to dedicate this post to a review of standardized assessments options available for students 12-18 years of age with suspected language and literacy deficits.
Most comprehensive standardized assessments, “typically focus on semantics, syntax, morphology, and phonology, as these are the performance areas in which specific skill development can be most objectively measured” (Hill & Coufal, 2005, p 35). Very few of them actually incorporate aspects of literacy into its subtests in a meaningful way. Yet by the time students reach adolescence literacy begins to play an incredibly critical role not just in all the aspects of academics but also social communication.
So when it comes to comprehensive general language testing I highly recommended that SLPs select standardized measures with a focus on not language but also literacy. Presently of all the comprehensive assessment tools I highly prefer the Test of Integrated Language and Literacy (TILLS) for students up to 18 years of age, (see a comprehensive review HERE), which covers such literacy areas as phonological awareness, reading fluency, reading comprehension, writing and spelling in addition to traditional language areas as as vocabulary awareness, following directions, story recall, etc. However, while comprehensive tests have numerous uses, their sole administration will not constitute an adequate assessment.
So what areas should be assessed during language and literacy testing? Below are a few suggestions of standardized testing measures (and informal procedures) aimed at exploring the student abilities in particular areas pertaining to language and literacy.
TESTS OF LANGUAGE
- Listening Comprehension (for stories not just sentences)
- Comprehension of Ambiguous and Figurative Language (e.g., idioms, ambiguous expressions, etc.)
- Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals -5 Metalinguistics (up to 22 years of age)
- Semantic Flexibility (e.g., generation of definitions, synonyms, antonyms, multiple meaning words, etc.)
- WORD Test 2 Adolescent (up to 18 years of age)
- Can be supplemented with informal narrative assessment to determine if the student coherently and cohesively summarize expository or narrative texts
- WORD Test 2 Adolescent (up to 18 years of age)
- Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
- TOPS-2 Adolescent Test of Problem Solving-2 (up to 18 years of age)
- Social Communication
- Social Language Development Test Adolescent (up to 18 years of age)
- Clinical Assessment of Pragmatics (CAPs)
- Can be supplemented with informal assessment of social communication Informal Social Thinking Dynamic Assessment Protocol®)
- Executive Function
- Informal use of Situational Awareness STOP Observation Tool (Ward & Jacobsen, 2014)
- Phonological Awareness
- Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing-2 (CTOPP-2) (up to 25 years of age)
- Word Fluency
- Rapid Automatized Naming/Rapid Alternating Stimulus RAN/RAS (up to 18 years of age)
- Reading Fluency
- Reading Comprehension
- TOWL-4: Test of Written Language–Fourth Edition (up to 18 years of age)
- Can be informally supplemented with the use of Grade Rubrics addressing Persuasive/Expository Texts
- TOWL-4: Test of Written Language–Fourth Edition (up to 18 years of age)
It is understandable how given the sheer amount of assessment choices some clinicians may feel overwhelmed and be unsure regarding the starting point of an adolescent evaluation. Consequently, the use the checklist prior to the initiation of assessment may be highly useful in order to identify potential language weaknesses/deficits the students might experience. It will also allow clinicians to prioritize the hierarchy of testing instruments to use during the assessment.
While clinicians are encouraged to develop such checklists for their personal use, those who lack time and opportunity can locate a number of already available checklists on the market.
For example, the comprehensive 6-page Speech Language Assessment Checklist for Adolescents (below) can be given to caregivers, classroom teachers, and even older students in order to check off the most pressing difficulties the student is experiencing in an academic setting.
It is important for several individuals to fill out this checklist to ensure consistency of deficits, prior to determining whether an assessment is warranted in the first place and if so, which assessment areas need to be targeted.
- Receptive Language
- Memory, Attention and Cognition
- Expressive Language
- Problem Solving
- Pragmatic Language Skills
- Social Emotional Development
- Executive Functioning
Based on the checklist administration SLPs can reliably pinpoint the student’s areas of deficits without needless administration of unrelated/unnecessary testing instruments. For example, if a student presents with deficits in the areas of problem solving and social pragmatic functioning the administration of a general language test such as the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals® – Fifth Edition (CELF-5) would NOT be functional (especially if the previous administration of educational testing did not reveal any red flags). In contrast, the administration of such tests as Test Of Problem Solving 2 Adolescent and Social Language Development Test Adolescent would be better reflective of the student’s deficits in the above areas. (Checklist HERE; checklist sample HERE).
It is very important to understand that students presenting with language and literacy deficits will not outgrow these deficits on their own. While there may be “a time period when the students with early language disorders seem to catch up with their typically developing peers” (e.g., illusory recovery) by undergoing a “spurt” in language learning”(Sun & Wallach, 2014). These spurts are typically followed by a “post-spurt plateau”. 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). As such many adolescents “may not show academic or language-related learning difficulties until linguistic and cognitive demands of the task increase and exceed their limited abilities” (Sun & Wallach, 2014). Consequently, SLPs must consider the “underlying deficits that may be masked by early oral language development” and “evaluate a child’s language abilities in all modalities, including pre-literacy, literacy, and metalinguistic skills” (Sun & Wallach, 2014).
- Hill, J. W., & Coufal, K. L. (2005). Emotional/behavioral disorders: A retrospective examination of social skills, linguistics, and student outcomes. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 27(1), 33–46.
- Sun, L & Wallach G (2014) Language Disorders Are Learning Disabilities: Challenges on the Divergent and Diverse Paths to Language Learning Disability. Topics in Language Disorders, Vol. 34; (1), pp 25–38.
Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources
- Assessment of Adolescents with Language and Literacy Impairments in Speech Language Pathology
- Assessment and Treatment Bundles
- Social Communication Materials
- Multicultural Materials
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, HERE, or 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).
1. 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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.”)
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).
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.
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).
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)”
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.
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.
- Components of Comprehensive Dyslexia Testing: Part I- Introduction and Language Testing
- Part II: Components of Comprehensive Dyslexia Testing – Phonological Awareness and Word Fluency Assessment
- Part III: Components of Comprehensive Dyslexia Testing – Reading Fluency and Reading Comprehension
- Part IV: Components of Comprehensive Dyslexia Testing – Writing and Spelling
- Special Education Disputes and Comprehensive Language Testing: What Parents, Attorneys, and Advocates Need to Know
- Why (C) APD Diagnosis is NOT Valid!
- What Are Speech Pathologists To Do If the (C)APD Diagnosis is NOT Valid?
- What do Auditory Memory Deficits Indicate in the Presence of Average General Language Scores?
- Why Are My Child’s Test Scores Dropping?
- Comprehensive Assessment of Adolescents with Suspected Language and Literacy Disorders
In my therapy sessions I spend a significant amount of time improving literacy skills (reading, spelling, and writing) of language impaired students. In my work with these students I emphasize goals with a focus on phonics, phonological awareness, encoding (spelling) etc. However, what I have frequently observed in my sessions are significant gaps in the students’ foundational knowledge pertaining to the basics of sound production and letter recognition. Basic examples of these foundational deficiencies involve students not being able to fluently name the letters of the alphabet, understand the difference between vowels and consonants, or fluently engage in sound/letter correspondence tasks (e.g., name a letter and then quickly and accurately identify which sound it makes). Consequently, a significant portion of my sessions involves explicit instruction of the above concepts.
This got me thinking regarding my students’ vocabulary knowledge in general. We, SLPs, spend a significant amount of time on explicit and systematic vocabulary instruction with our students because as compared to typically developing peers, they have immature and limited vocabulary knowledge. But do we teach our students the abstract vocabulary necessary for reading success? Do we explicitly teach them definitions of a letter, a word, a sentence? etc.
A number of my colleagues are skeptical. “Our students already have poor comprehension”, they tell me, “Why should we tax their memory with abstract words of little meaning to them?” And I agree with them of course, but up to a point.
I agree that our students have working memory and processing speed deficits as a result of which they have a much harder time learning and recalling new words.
However, I believe that not teaching them meanings of select words pertaining to language is a huge disservice to them. Here is why. To be a successful communicator, speaker, reader, and writer, individuals need to possess adequate metalinguistic skills.
In simple terms “metalinguistics” refers to the individual’s ability to actively think about, talk about, and manipulate language. Reading, writing, and spelling require active level awareness and thought about language. Students with poor metalinguistic skills have difficulty learning to read, write, and spell. They lack awareness that spoken words are made up of individual units of sound, which can be manipulated. They lack awareness that letters form words, words form phrases and sentences, and sentences form paragraphs. They may not understand that letters make sounds or that a word may consist of more letters than sounds (e.g., /ship/). The bottom line is that students with decreased metalinguistic skills cannot effectively use language to talk about concepts like sounds, letters, or words unless they are explicitly taught those abilities.
So I do! Furthermore, I can tell you that explicit instruction of metalinguistic vocabulary does significantly improve my students understanding of the tasks involved in obtaining literacy competence. Even my students with mild to moderate intellectual disabilities significantly benefit from understanding the meanings of: letters, words, sentences, etc.
I even created a basic abstract vocabulary handout to facilitate my students comprehension of these words (FREE HERE). While by no means exhaustive, it is a decent starting point for teaching my students the vocabulary needed to improve their metalinguistic skills.
For older elementary aged students with average IQ, I only provide the words I want them to define, and then ask them to look up their meanings online via the usage of PC or an iPad. This turns of vocabulary activity into a critical thinking and an executive functions task.
Students need to figure out the appropriate search string needed to in order to locate the answer as well as which definition comes the closest to clearly and effectively defining the presented word. One of the things I really like about Google online dictionary, is that it provides multiple definitions of the same words along with word origins. As a result, it teaches students to carefully review and reflect upon their selected definition in order to determine its appropriateness.
A word of caution as though regarding using Kiddle, Google-powered search engine for children. While it’s great for locating child friendly images, it is not appropriate for locating abstract definition of words. To illustrate, when you type in the string search into Google, “what is the definition of a letter?” You will get several responses which will appropriately match some meanings of your query. However the same string search in Kiddle, will merely yield helpful tips on writing a letter as well as images of envelopes with stamps affixed to them.
In contrast to the above, I use a more structured vocabulary defining activities for younger elementary age students as well as students with intellectual impairments. I provide simple definitions of abstract words, attach images and examples to each definition as well as create cloze activities and several choices of answers in order to ensure my students’ comprehension of these words.
I find that this and other metalinguistic activities significantly improve my students comprehension of abstract words such as ‘communication’, ‘language’, as well as ‘literacy’. They cease being mere buzzwords, frequently heard yet consistently not understood. To my students these words begin to come to life, brim with meaning, and inspire numerous ‘aha’ moments.
Now that you’ve had a glimpse of my therapy sessions I’d love to have a glimpse of yours. What metalinguistic goals related to literacy are you targeting with your students? Comment below to let me know.
Several 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.
- “The school district may lack the personnel or expertise to conduct a particular type of evaluation” (Source: Wrightslaw)
- Due to a variety of job-related constraints the school-based personnel may lack adequate time needed to perform the assessment or lack of access to appropriate testing materials needed to assess a particular student.
- Finally, “a school district may seek an IEE to assuage parental concerns about the fairness or accuracy of an evaluation”. (Source: Wrightslaw)
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.
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.
In the past a number of my SLP colleague bloggers (Communication Station, Twin Sisters SLPs, Practical AAC, etc.) wrote posts regarding the use of thematic texts for language intervention purposes. They discussed implementation of fictional texts such as the use of children’s books and fairy tales to target linguistic goals such as vocabulary knowledge in use, sentence formulation, answering WH questions, as well as story recall and production.
Today I would like to supplement those posts with information regarding the implementation of intervention based on thematic nonfiction texts to further improve language abilities of children with language difficulties.
First, here’s why the use of nonfiction texts in language intervention is important. While narrative texts have high familiarity for children due to preexisting, background knowledge, familiar vocabulary, repetitive themes, etc. nonfiction texts are far more difficult to comprehend. It typically contains unknown concepts and vocabulary, which is then used in the text multiple times. Therefore lack of knowledge of these concepts and related vocabulary will result in lack of text comprehension. According to Duke (2013) half of all the primary read-alouds should be informational text. It will allow students to build up knowledge and the necessary academic vocabulary to effectively participate and partake from the curriculum.
So what type of nonfiction materials can be used for language intervention purposes. While there is a rich variety of sources available, I have had great success using Let’s Read and Find Out Stage 1 and 2 Science Series with clients with varying degrees of language impairment.
Here’s are just a few reasons why I like to use this series.
- They can be implemented by parents and professionals alike for different purposes with equal effectiveness.
- They can be implemented with children fairly early beginning with preschool on-wards
- The can be used with the following pediatric populations:
- Language Disordered Children
- Children with learning disabilities and low IQ
- Children with developmental disorders and genetic syndromes (Fragile X, Down Syndrome, Autism, etc.)
- Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders
- Internationally adopted children with language impairment
- Bilingual children with language impairment
- Children with dyslexia and reading disabilities
- Children with psychiatric Impairments
- The books are readily available online (Barnes & Noble, Amazon, etc.) and in stores.
- They are relatively inexpensive (individual books cost about $5-6).
- Parents or professionals who want to continuously use them seasonally can purchase them in bulk at a significantly cheaper price from select distributors (Source: rainbowresource.com)
- They are highly thematic, contain terrific visual support, and are surprisingly versatile, with information on topics ranging from animal habitats and life cycles to natural disasters and space.
- They contain subject-relevant vocabulary words that the students are likely to use in the future over and over again (Stahl & Fairbanks, 1986).
- The words are already pre-grouped in semantic clusters which create schemes (mental representations) for the students (Marzano & Marzano, 1988).
For example, the above books on weather and seasons contain information on:
1. Front Formations
2. Water Cycle
3. High & Low Pressure Systems
Let’s look at the vocabulary words from Flash, Crash, Rumble, and Roll (see detailed lesson plan HERE). (Source: ReadWorks):
Word: water vapor
Context: Steam from a hot soup is water vapor.
Context: The hot air expands and pops the balloon.
Context: The atmosphere is the air that covers the Earth.
Context: The forecast had a lot to tell us about the storm.
Context: steam in the air condenses to form water drops.
These books are not just great for increasing academic vocabulary knowledge and use. They are great for teaching sequencing skills (e.g., life cycles), critical thinking skills (e.g., What do animals need to do in the winter to survive?), compare and contrast skills (e.g., what is the difference between hatching and molting?) and much, much, more!
So why is use of nonfiction texts important for strengthening vocabulary knowledge and words in language impaired children?
As I noted in my previous post on effective vocabulary instruction (HERE): “teachers with many struggling children often significantly reduce the quality of their own vocabulary unconsciously to ensure understanding” (Excerpts from Anita Archer’s Interview with Advance for SLPs).
The same goes for SLPs and parents. Many of them are under misperception that if they teach complex subject-related words like “metamorphosis” or “vaporization” to children with significant language impairments or developmental disabilities that these students will not understand them and will not benefit from learning them.
However, that is not the case! These students will still significantly benefit from learning these words, it will simply take them longer periods of practice to retain them!
By simplifying our explanations, minimizing verbiage and emphasizing the visuals, the books can be successfully adapted for use with children with severe language impairments. I have had parents observe my intervention sessions using these books and then successfully use them in the home with their children by reviewing the information and reinforcing newly learned vocabulary knowledge.
Here are just a few examples of prompts I use in treatment with more severely affected language-impaired children:
- What do you see in this picture?
- This is a _____ Can you say _____
- What do you know about _____?
- What do you think is happening? Why?
- What do you think they are doing? Why?
- Let’s make up a sentence with __________ (this word)
- You can say ____ or you can say ______ (teaching synonyms)
- What would be the opposite of _______? (teaching antonyms)
- Do you know that _____(this word) has 2 meanings
- 1st meaning
- 2nd meaning
- How do ____ and _____ go together?
Here are the questions related to Sequencing of Processes (Life Cycle, Water Cycle, etc.)
- What happened first?
- What happened second?
- What happened next?
- What happened after that?
- What happened last?
As the child advances his/her skills I attempt to engage them in more complex book interactions
- Compare and contrast items
- (e.g. objects/people/animals)
- Make predictions and inferences about will happen next?
- Why is this book important?
“Picture walks” (flipping through the pages) of these books are also surprisingly effective for activation of the student’s background knowledge (what a student already knows about a subject). This is an important prerequisite skill needed for continued acquisition of new knowledge. It is important because “students who lack sufficient background knowledge or are unable to activate it may struggle to access, participate, and progress through the general curriculum” (Stangman, Hall & Meyer, 2004).
These book allow for :
1.Learning vocabulary words in context embedded texts with high interest visuals
2.Teaching specific content related vocabulary words directly to comprehend classroom-specific work
3.Providing multiple and repetitive exposures of vocabulary words in texts
4. Maximizing multisensory intervention when learning vocabulary to maximize gains (visual, auditory, tactile via related projects, etc.)
To summarize, children with significant language impairment often suffer from the Matthew Effect (“rich get richer, poor get poorer”), or interactions with the environment exaggerate individual differences over time
Children with good vocabulary knowledge learn more words and gain further knowledge by building of these words
Children with poor vocabulary knowledge learn less words and widen the gap between self and peers over time due to their inability to effectively meet the ever increasing academic effects of the classroom. The vocabulary problems of students who enter school with poorer limited vocabularies only worsen over time (White, Graves & Slater, 1990). We need to provide these children with all the feasible opportunities to narrow this gap and partake from the curriculum in a more similar fashion as typically developing peers.
Helpful Smart Speech Therapy Resources:
- Vocabulary Intervention: Working With Disadvantaged Populations
- Creating A Learning-Rich Environment for Language Delayed Preschoolers
- Strategies of Language Facilitation with Picture Books For Parents and Professionals
- The Checklists Bundle
- Narrative Assessment and Treatment Bundle
- Social Pragmatic Assessment and Treatment Bundle
- Assessment Checklist for Preschool Children
- Assessment Checklist for School Children
- Assessment Checklist for Adolescents
- Auditory Processing Deficits Checklist for School Aged Children
- Multicultural Assessment and Treatment Bundle
- Comprehensive Assessment of Monolingual and Bilingual Children with Down Syndrome
- Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Bundle
Duke, N. K. (2013). Starting out: Practices to Use in K-3. Educational Leadership, 71, 40-44.
Marzano, R. J., & Marzano, J. (1988). Toward a cognitive theory of commitment and its implications for therapy. Psychotherapy in Private Practice 6(4), 69–81.
Stahl, S. A. & Fairbanks, M. M. “The Effects of Vocabulary Instruction: A Model-based Metaanalysis.” Review of Educational Research 56 (1986): 72-110.
Strangman, N., Hall, T., & Meyer, A. (2004). Background knowledge with UDL. Wakefield, MA: National Center on Accessing the General Curriculum.
White, T. G., Graves, M. F., & Slater W. H. (1990). Growth of reading vocabulary in diverse elementary schools: Decoding and word meaning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 82, 281–290.