Best practice ASHA guidelines suggest that SLPs conduct a bilingual evaluation in order to differentiate if a child has a Speech/Language Impairment (SLI) or if a child is an English Language Learner (ELL). In the real world, this is not always so easy.
In one linguistically diverse school in Skokie, IL, the kindergarten students speak over 60 different languages at home. Try finding a bilingual SLP who speaks Tagalog! If a bilingual SLP can be found, hiring one is costly for cash-strapped districts. Furthermore, the norms on all language tests are not valid for bilingual students. Is a one-time assessment even valid for differentiating ELL from SLI?
This leaves school based SLPs with a conundrum. Wait and see if students improve? Act on a hunch that a student is impaired?
At Speech Language Literacy Lab, we did not like either of these approaches, so we created a third option. We combed the research and created the Kindergarten Language Benchmark Assessment. In four minutes, the KLBA assesses four areas correlated to future reading comprehension success. Recent research confirms that the KLBA is also valid for measuring growth across three intervals (fall, winter, spring).
This is how we use the KLBA to differentiate SLI from ELL:
All kindergarten students are assessed with the KLBA. Then, the SLP determines which students score in the bottom 25 percent compared to their peers. These students receive Tier 2 Language Intervention immediately from a classroom teacher or aide. At this point, we can not differentiate who is just learning English from who is at risk for a language learning deficit. However, we know that these low scoring student are far below the average of their peers in crucial language skills necessary for reading comprehension. We want to support these students in learning language because we don't believe in a wait and see model.
All students are assessed again using the KLBA. The SLP now uses the data to measure student growth in addition to overall score compared to peers
There are several possible outcomes in the winter.
For students currently in Tier 1 Language (core literacy curriculum):
If a student scores in the top 75 percent compared to peers in the winter, then the student remains at Tier 1. The language instruction in the classroom is helping the student grow.
If a student does not make enough language progress to remain in the top 75 percent, then this student moves to a Tier 2 language group. The student's language is not growing at a pace commensurate with peers, so extra language support is warranted.
For students currently receiving Tier 2 language intervention, there are three options.
If the student now falls into the top 75 percent, then the child exits from Tier 2 intervention. Tier 2 instruction has helped close the language gap.
If the child is making adequate language growth on the KLBA, the child remains in Tier 2 intervention. Tier 2 support is helping to improve this child’s language skills.
If the child is making less than average growth with Tier 2 support, then the child receives Tier 3 support from the SLP.
The kindergarteners are assessed with the KLBA a third time. If a child continues making adequate progress at Tier 1 or 2, then services are continued in first grade, just like in the winter.
For children currently receiving Tier 3 intervention:
At this time, any student who either demonstrates lack of progress in Tier 3 or who needs to continue with more intensive services into first grade may require more formalized language testing.
As with any educational program decision, each student should be discussed with a team that includes parents. KLBA data is to be used as a guide in this decision process.
Using the KLBA as a best practice bilingual assessment alternative:
If the team decides that a full language evaluation is needed, it does not necessarily have to be bilingual. With the KLBA data, schools already know the student isn’t making progress with both ELL services and direct instruction. While a bilingual evaluation may provide information about a student’s home language, it will not tell teams what the student needs to learn in English. Furthermore, ASHA also suggests that schools use dynamic assessment to differentiate ELL from SLI. The KLBA meets best practice standards as it is a dynamic assessment that measures growth over time.
The biggest benefit of a language RTI approach for bilingual students is that SLPs ensure that all students are growing in their language skills. Special education becomes prevention focused, instead of taking a wait-to-fail disability approach to extra language services.
The KLBA as a bilingual evaluation alternative:
During the 2013-2014 school year, Dr. Angela Anthony, the head of the communication department at Eastern Illinois University, conducted research to validate the KLBA and to establish concurrent validity with the CELF-5 screener. During the 2014-2015 school year, we plan to expand our normative sample to 500+ students.