The Preassessment Process for English Learners With Potential Language Impairment: Best Practices for Public School Professionals

The Preassessment Process for English Learners With Potential Language Impairment: Best Practices for Public School Professionals

Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 18
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2261-5.ch001
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This chapter presents the case of Tanveer, a first-grade boy from an Urdu-speaking immigrant family from Pakistan. He is in the public schools and has been struggling academically since kindergarten. This chapter discusses the preassessment process and interventions that took place before Tanveer underwent a full special education evaluation, including testing by a speech-language pathologist for the possible presence of an underlying language impairment. (Note: this author personally worked with this child, and this is a true story with some details changed for confidentiality.) This chapter shows how even before formal special education testing commenced, conducting an extensive preassessment process helped to greatly increase the accuracy of the formal evaluation, eventual diagnosis, and intervention provided for Tanveer.
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Introductory Key Points

ASHA (2019b) reminds us that best practices with clients are evidence-based. These practices must incorporate three major components: client perspectives, clinical experience, and external scientific evidence. Accordingly, the following four tasks are put forth as preassessment best practices for differentiating a language impairment from a language difference in an EL student: (Karanth, Roseberry-McKibbin, & James, 2017; Paradis, Schneider, & Duncan, 2013; Pua, Lee, & Liow, 2017; Roseberry-McKibbin, 2018):

  • 1.

    Determine a child’s proficiency in both the first language (L1) and English

  • 2.

    Gather a case history of the child’s speech and language development in L1 from the child’s parents or other primary caregivers (e.g., a grandparent)

  • 3.

    Interview individuals who have observed the child’s linguistic performance in multiple settings (e.g., classroom teacher, interpreter/bilingual associate)

  • 4.

    Conduct dynamic assessment of a child’s ability to learn through using a response-to-intervention (RtI) model

These tasks are consistent with ASHA’s (2019a; 2019b) mandates to provide culturally competent services that reflect principles of evidence-based practice.



The United States has more immigrants than any other country in the world. Today, more than 40 million people living in the U.S. were born in another country. The population of immigrants is very diverse, representing almost every country in the world (Pew Research Center, 2019). At this time, there are more than 350 languages spoken in the U.S. Speakers of Russian have increased by 391%; speakers of Korean and Arabic have quadrupled (Accredited Language Services, 2019). Consequently, the number of English Learner (EL) students in the public schools is increasing dramatically. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (2019), in fall of 2016, the percentage of U.S. public school students who were English Learners (ELs) ranged from 0.9% in West Virginia to 20.2% in California.

When EL students struggle in the classroom, teachers often refer them to speech-language pathologists (SLPs) and other special education personnel for assessment for suspected language impairment and other special education diagnoses (e.g., autism spectrum disorder, reading disability). Many SLPs, having heavy caseloads and very little time, assess these EL students through a “business-as-usual” approach. Specifically, the SLPs conduct a brief screener and, if the child fails it, obtain signed permission from parents for a full evaluation. For this full evaluation, the SLPs frequently bring the child into their speech-language room and carry out formal standardized testing in English, even if the child is not fluent in English (Arias & Friberg, 2017). In approximately 1-1.5 hours, the SLP obtains formal scores (e.g., percentile ranks and standard scores) and then makes a diagnosis of “language impairment” or “no language impairment” based upon the findings from this static testing process, which measures the child’s given knowledge at one point in time. The SLP then writes a report. If the child is diagnosed with a language impairment, the SLP holds an IEP meeting, obtains parent signatures, and places the student onto the speech-language caseload for intervention.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Response to Intervention: RtI incorporates a dynamic assessment model whose purpose is to evaluate a student’s ability to learn over time when provided with instruction. RtI emphasizes a process that attempts to provide additional, increasingly intensified support to students over time before labeling them as having disabilities.

Parent Report: Information provided by parents about their children’s development, communication skills, and progress in multiple areas such as academic, linguistic, social, and others.

Informal Testing: Testing of language learning ability that does not involve the use of standardized tests that are norm-referenced. Informal testing can involve use of strategies such as gathering and analyzing language samples, dynamic assessment of a child’s ability to learn when provided with instruction, and others.

Culturally Diverse: Cultural diversity refers to diverse or different cultures, as opposed to monoculture (a situation where everyone holds and practices the same cultural values). The term cultural diversity also refers to having different cultures respect each other's differences.

English Learner: Person who learns English as another language. This person speaks a first or primary language other than English and learns English sequentially (after they learn their first or primary language). The English learner may speak more than two languages: their primary language, English, and others.

Language Impairment: Also known as Developmental Language Disorder (DLD), is a label used by professionals to explain difficulties with language development that are not due to physical abnormality, hearing loss, acquired brain damage, or lack of language experience. These difficulties are not part of a general developmental delay that affects other skills.

Prereferral: Period before a child is formally referred for special education testing, including that provided by the speech-language pathologist, psychologist, and resource specialist.

Teacher Report: Information provided by teachers about children’s development, communication skills, and progress in multiple areas such as academic, linguistic, social, and others.

Linguistically Diverse: This term refers to the situation where persons from different backgrounds speak languages that differ from the mainstream language of the geographic region. For example, in the U.S., English is the mainstream language. Linguistically diverse individuals speak languages such as Spanish, Dari, Mandarin, Arabic, and others.

Nonbiased Assessment: Assessment of the language-learning ability of a child whose first language is one other than English. The purpose is to differentiate language difference from language impairment. Nonbiased assessment involves using materials and methods of testing that are not linguistically or culturally biased against the child.

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