Guest Post:Tips for Assessing Speech Language Abilities of African American Students

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African American female with laptop.JPGToday, Felice Clark also known as ‘the dabbling speechie’ will be offering the readers some helpful tips on best practices for assessing African American students. Please note that even though she is a California based SLP, her advice and recommendations  are certainly applicable for SLPs located in other states due to the fact that it is based on current EBP practices in the field of speech pathology. So here’s is Felice with tips on assessing African American students.

To preface this discussion, let me first review California’s background with testing and servicing this population.  Back in the late 1970’s, a case that was filed against the state of California by African American  parents (Larry P. v. Riles) who argued that the administration of culturally biased standardized intelligence tests resulted in the disproportionate identification of African American children as mentally retarded and inappropriate placement in special education classes for the Educable Mentally Retarded (EMR).  Basically, the students being assessed were getting low scores on psychological and language testing because many of the test items were not culturally relevant and the students were never exposed to the vocabulary or experiences, thus, they didn’t know the answers.  Furthermore, the percentage of African American students being placed in special education was too high indicating that some of those students were being misdiagnosed as having a learning disability.  Needless to say, assessing African American students is a big deal in California both for legal and ethical reasons.  I work for a school district in Sacramento, California that has a very culturally diverse population and I often find myself having to use alternative assessments and resources for assessing these students as many standardized tests have not been normed on the population sample I am working with.

It is always best practice to look at a student’s strengths and weaknesses in many different settings and across many activities and assessments.  This helps us as clinicians see the “whole picture” of the student.  One of the great aspects about working in the schools is that you have a great team of resources at your fingertips (i.e student learning coach, RSP teacher, psychologist, nurse, teacher, etc.); however, the downfall to the school setting is TIME.  I never have enough time to do provide therapy, complete paperwork, screen kids, and assess kids!  So, I understand everyone’s dilemma with having a limited amount of time for completing assessments and doing more than just standardized measures to qualify a student.  That in mind, we as speechies need to do more than just the standardized measurements with African American students because it makes our testing valid, reliable and is legally sound.  The good news is that I have found some ways to do more than just standardized assessments that can be met within our time constraints.

My first tip is to utilize and be a part your general education’s intervention team.  For my school district, we call it the Student Assistant Plan (SAP) for the early stages of intervention and a Student Study Team (SST) when the student is in Tier 3 or 4 for RTI intervention.  You don’t have to attend all the meetings, but make sure that your team knows to include you for the students that have speech or language development concerns, so that you can attend those meetings.  As a team, you begin to gather information and document on an SST form about the student such as developmental milestones, educational background, exposure to language in the home, and health history.  This process is also very legally defensible as you are able to document ALL the strategies and interventions the general education team has put in place for the student.  When the interventions are not working, this is a sign that a learning disability or language disorder may exist.  By participating in this process you can weed out the students who are not looking like they have a speech or language disorder as well as collecting background information you can later use in your report if the student does need testing!

Secondly, using your intervention team to help build a work portfolio of the student’s abilities over time.  This helps the team evaluate if the student is making progress or if he/she continues to have academic difficulties despite classroom interventions.  You can also use these work samples as evaluative measures in your report.  Some examples of what you can collect are the student’s hand writing, reading fluency scores, oral narration scores from a story rubric, district assessment scores, writing samples, etc.  This process should be happening over time and once the team decides to assess this student, you should have a lot of information going forward, thus eliminating time spent calling parent for information, and conversing with the teacher.

Now that you have all the background information, the SST decided to assess the student!  Here are some things you need to determine: does the student use African American English (AAE) or standard American English?, what subcultural populations did the standardized measure use to obtain normative data?, are the test stimuli and pictures culturally relevant and not culturally biased to this student’s background?, does the test’s validity correlate with IQ tests?, and does the standardized measure results reported in the form of IQ or mental age?

Once you have determined if the standardized measures are appropriate for your student, proceed with testing.  Here are some helpful ideas to use when giving standardized tests to African American students:  do extra practice items before administering the test to make sure they understand what is asked of them, go beyond the ceiling to see if they can answer more questions, do not count dialectal differences as errors, reword test instructions, use alternative scoring such as percentages right, or explanation of abilities, and remove any culturally biased test stimuli from the assessment battery.  For more information regarding AAE dialectal differences, check out this article from ASHA.  So, if you don’t have time to do alternative assessments such as a language sample, you can still use standardized measures, but you have to explain in your report about the modifications you made and the way you report your results are slightly different such as providing a description of skills or percentages correct.

Here are some assessments that I use when testing African American students that have been helpful for me.  I really like the Test of Narrative Language (TNL) because it has three stories, one without pictures, one with sequenced pictures, and one picture scene.  The first story is very culturally relevant because it talks about kids who go to McDonalds, which almost every kid I know has gone to McDonald’s!  It also provides visual supports for 2 of the stories, so that a nice feature for students who are more visual learners.  You can also report the scores as percentages correct on the comprehension questions instead of standard scores.  You can also use the oral narration responses as a language sample, so that you don’t have to collect two if you are out of time.  I often video tape or record the student’s responses and the go back to write out and analyze.  You can use descriptive information to talk about what the student has in their language based on these responses if you don’t use the standard scores such as key story elements, grammar, and vocabulary.  The other cool thing about this test is that you can use the SALT software as they have normative data with this specific test.

The SALT software is Systematic Analysis of Language Transcripts (SALT) is Windows® software that manages the process of eliciting, transcribing, and analyzing language samples. The software includes a transcription editor, standard reports, and reference databases for age-matched comparisons.  The cool thing about this software is that it gives you normative data about the student’s speech and language.  The cons about this resource is that it is time consuming and there is a learning curve for learning how to use the software (I am still learning!)

The Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation (DELV) is another great test to use with  children who are speakers of dialects other than Mainstream American English.  The DELV is a Norm Referenced assessment that is represented by all ethnic groups based on 2000 U.S. Census.  The only downfall to this test is that it only normed on 5-9 year olds.  I also like using the SPELT because it gives you examples for each test stimuli of an African American English dialectal difference, so that if the child is exhibiting a dialectal response, you can still count the test item as correct.

Lastly, I also use the Communication Severity Scales (CSS) when I have a tricky case that is very complex.  Several of my colleagues went to this training and brought back the resources for all the SLP’s to use at their sites.  It helps me to see the student’s strengths and weaknesses and evaluate the severity of their delays if present.  It also gives recommendations of how much service the student should receive depending on the severity of their scores.  As a team it may also be a good idea to map out a matrix of the students strengths and weaknesses.  See this presentation for more information about using a Student Matrixes to help with determining if a student is presenting with a learning disability or language disorder.

I hope that this post was informative and gave you a few more resources or tips to help with conducting assessments of African American students.  Check out my guest post on ideas and resources for servicing dual language learners.  You can also check out my blog thedabblingspeechie for more speech and language ideas and resources.  I will be doing a lot of posts in March about working with multicultural students, so stay tuned!

avery and IBio:  Felice Clark is an ASHA certified school based clinician that currently works Sacramento, CA.  Felice received her master’s degree at California State University Sacramento and has been a licensed Speech Pathology since January 2007.  She has experiencing working with birth-3 year, elementary, junior high and high school students, but currently works with K-8th grade students.  Felice has a passion for working with students on the autism spectrum and doing language therapy.  She is the author of a speech and language blog called The dabbling speechie and you can also check her out on facebook.

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