As many students enter our schools speaking a different language at home, it is often difficult to differentiate students who are English Language Learners (ELL) from students who are specifically language impaired (SLI). According to the definition of language impairment in public schools:
“a language impairment is present when a child has an unusual difficulty learning language and their language performance is deemed inadequate in a functional, academic context (IDEA, PL 108-446, 2004). This functional, academic approach to identifying children with language difficulty in schools can be extended to children who, for whatever reason, demonstrate language skills that are below expectations (i.e., not functioning as expected in an academic setting)." (Petersen, 2014)
Single day tests, even those that are bilingual, fail to capture the rate at which a child can learn. As a result:
“Children from bilingual backgrounds are sometimes over-identified with (specific)language impairment (SLI) because educators do not have appropriate developmental expectations. At other times, bilingual children are under-identified because educators wait to identify difficulties while children learn the second language(Bedore, 2008)."
American Speech Language Hearing Association bilingual assessment best practice guidelines state:
"response to intervention (RTI) and dynamic assessment (DA) are early intervening approaches that can be used to decrease unnecessary referral to special education by determining if speech and language patterns are the result of a normal phenomenon of dual language acquisition or are the result of a communication disorder."
The Kindergarten Language Benchmark Assessment (KLBA) was developed in part to help solve this problem. In fewer than 4 minutes per student, the KLBA assesses four key areas that correlate to future reading comprehension and academic success: auditory comprehension, following directions, categorization, and narrative language. The KLBA should be administered three times (fall, winter, spring) in order to objectively measure students' overall language skills and rate of improvement compared to their peers. An initial pilot study conducted in 2013-2014 by Dr. Angela Anthony at Eastern Illinois University shows that the KLBA is valid for showing language growth over time.
Does the Child Respond to Intervention (RTI)?
Fall: All students in the class are evaluated using the KLBA. Then, a distribution of scores is created. The students in the bottom 25% should receive additional consideration. For non-ELL students falling in the bottom quartile, Tier 2 intervention is warranted immediately because the students are at-risk for a specific language impairment. We recommend using Language for Learning, a scripted direct instruction intervention, to help these students.
For ELL students falling in the bottom quartile, we need a second data point to determine growth in order to determine if the students are at risk for SLI. In winter, the KLBA can be re-administered to the entire class. Then, the mean rate of growth is calculated. Our research hypothesis is that typically developing ELL students will improve their KLBA scores at or above the mean rate of growth for the class. Students who make less growth are not closing the language gap with their peers, and therefore are at-risk for SLI.
This does not mean that we recommend waiting until winter to intervene with ELL students in the bottom quartile. Rather, we also recommend using Language for Learning with these students. At this point, this intervention can be posed to administrators as an additional ELL intervention.
In past years, we found that students in English Language Learning (ELL) classrooms who received Language for Learning services on top of traditional ELL services improved at a faster rate than those who did not receive this additional support.
In the winter and again in the spring, the KLBA is re-administered to ALL students in the class. It is critical to evaluate all the students, even those who performed in the higher ranges in the fall, in order to create classroom norms. Again, the data is re-evaluated in order to:
- Identify which students are now in the bottom 25%: In some cases, students who scored in the borderline bottom ranges in the fall fail to meet the average growth rate for the class. In the winter/spring, these students now fall into the bottom quartile.
- Determine the rate of growth for students previously in the bottom 25%: Using data from the previous benchmark period, individual student's growth rate can be compared to the growth rate of the class. Even if a student remains in the bottom quartile, if the student has higher than the mean rate of growth, interventions are working. If the gap is widening, then an instructional change is warranted.
Data Based Decisions to Ensure that All Children are Learning
Using the KLBA as a guide to RTI services will reduce the number of English Language Learning students referred for special education services. However, providing additional language services immediately also ensures that no instructional time is lost. If a student fails to make progress on the KLBA across two assessment periods, an instructional change is needed because the student is not making progress even with the Tier 2 supports already in place.
Bedore, Lisa; Pena, Elisabeth. Assessment of Bilingual Children for Identification of Language Impairment: Current Findings and Implications for Practice. International Journal of Bilingual Education and Bilingualism, v11 n1 p1-29 2008
Petersen, Douglas and Trina Spencer. Narrative Assessment and Intervention: A Clinical Tutorial on Extending Explicit Language Instruction and Progress Monitoring to All Students. SIG 14 Perspectives on Communication Disorders and Sciences in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) Populations, April 2014, Vol. 21, 5-21.