Many SLPs are starting to plan for next fall already. Most schools use a one-time kindergarten screening in order to identify students with potential language weaknesses. A major risk of this approach is that students with language differences are mis-identified.
“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).”
In an initial research and development study of the Kindergarten Language Benchmark Assessment (KLBA), a 4 minute language assessment tool used 3x per year to guide the language RTI process, Dr. Angela Anthony from Eastern Illinois University assessed 110 linguistically and socioeconomically diverse kindergarten students with the CELF-5 Screening tool. More than 40% of the children did not meet the pass criterion. This is not to say that the CELF-5 Screening tool is bad. Rather, caution should be taken when using data from a standardized test when making decisions with a diverse population.
If you're considering purchasing a new screening tool for your school, Smart Speech Therapy, LLC, has an excellent collection of information about risks and considerations when assessing students using common standardized language tests.
RTI Universal Benchmarking Option
A more effective way to identify children in need of in-depth language assessment is by following a Response to Intervention approach using universal language benchmarking 3x per year. By assessing language abilities of the entire class, local norms can be created & interventions can be provided immediately to children scoring in the bottom %s of the class. At the second testing period, the rate of individual growth can be compared to the overall class rate of growth.
ASHA states “RTI requires changes in terms of assessment approaches as well as models of intervention and instructional support. Regarding assessment, there are challenges to SLPs working in districts that undertake the shift from traditional standardized approaches to a more pragmatic, educationally relevant model focused on measuring changes in individual performance over time.”
The IDEA definition of a language learning disability is “when a child has an unusual difficulty learning language and their language performance is deemed inadequate in a functional, academic context.” Having data that assesses language performance across multiple dates helps determine if a child is failing to learn at a similar rate to their peers. When assessing bilingual children, ASHA also recommends that RTI “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.”
If the idea of language screening all kindergarten students 3x per year sounds too time-intensive, consider that a recent article by Beach & O’Connor concluded that
“Early text decoding measures often used in schools for reading RTI (e.g. DIBELS, AIMSWEB) do little to differentiate between students who will and will not become proficient comprehenders of text, especially for culturally and linguistically diverse students” and that “it also may be especially important to consider students’ oral language skills when screening linguistically diverse children for intervention; measures of text reading fluency or vocabulary used alone may obscure teachers’ understanding of these students’ comprehension needs.”
Doug Peterson and Trina Spencer’s research also states “From our clinical experience, it is clear that it is still not standard practice in schools to monitor language growth or provide explicit language instruction to students. The consequences of this gross oversight are clearly manifested in the poor performance on the high stakes reading assessments children are expected to take each year.”
If your school is looking for a Response to Intervention Assessment Screening Tool that can be used 3x per year to measure progress quickly, the Kindergarten Language Benchmark Assessment (KLBA) is your solution.
Beach, Kristin & O’Connor, Rollanda (2015). “Early Response to Intervention Measures and Criteria as Predictors of Reading Disability in the Beginning of Third Grade.” Journal of Learning Disabilities.
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(2014). “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.