Assessing Bilingual Individuals

Two years into my position in a culturally diverse school system has taught me many things that I never would have learned in my previous position in a school system with much less diversity. I had hoped to be bilingual by now, but I’m not even close to that goal. However, I do have the training to conduct assessments with bilingual students. Thanks to Samuel Ortiz, Ph.D. for his workshops, research, and books that we use so much in our system. Thanks to the other Psychologists in my system for mentoring me and helping me learn this process. It has helped us to better identify which students have a disability and which students only look like they have a disability because of their performance on tests that are not standardized on children with different cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Learning a second language is not a disability. Just because a student is struggling academically, does not mean he should qualify for special education.

What everyone involved in school needs to know:
It takes many years for a person learning a language to develop academic use of language to the same level as monolingual individuals. It does not always seem that way when a person has excellent conversational skills in English. However, social use of language is not as sophisticated as academic use of language. Students can appear to be fluent, when in actuality the language and vocabulary is not on grade level. If a student’s comprehension and expression of language is below grade level, academics will naturally be below grade level as well. This is not the same as having a disabling condition.

A child with good social use of language, but developing academic use of language often looks to teachers like a student with a disability, when in reality the student may be a typically developing second language learner. Special education is not the answer for this student; the answer comes through hard work, patience, and instruction through a high quality English as a Second Language Program. In the past (and currently in many systems) this child would be misidentified as a student with a disability and inappropriately put into special education programs.

What Parents need to know:
Traditional assessments are not standardized for use with culturally and linguistically diverse students, so typical interpretation of scores on these assessments are inappropriate. When school systems try to use these assessments in the traditional way and then apply the unreliable scores into eligibility criteria, it’s frankly scary.

If you are a parent of an English Language learner, insist that a bilingual assessment be administered. I recognize that the irony of this statement is that many parents of bilingual students are not reading this blog as it is in English only. I don’t really have a good answer for that at this time.

What Teachers need to know:
If you are a teacher, recognize that academic language competency takes time and it requires additional assessment tools to tease out if the difficulties are primarily the result of language and cultural differences or if it is the result of a disability.

What School Psychologists need to know:
If you are a School Psychologist and not using the Cattell-Horn-Carroll Cross-Battery Assessment, I strongly encourage you to take a look. Here is an article from the National Association of School Psychologists Website by Samuel Ortiz, Ph.D. on resources for cultural competency. Advocate that all School Psychologists in your system be trained to administer bilingual assessments or at least have someone competent on hand for these assessments. You can’t hire a School Psychologist in every possible language you might need, so it only makes sense for all School Psychologists to be trained to assess all students. It takes more time to do the assessment, interpret data, and write a report and it requires the use of hiring an interpreter for portions of the assessment, but it is well worth the time and money to properly identify these students. If your school system does not see it this way, bring it up as a solution to disproportionality.

2 Responses to “Assessing Bilingual Individuals”

  1. Jorge Quiñónez says:

    I think CHC and the cross-battery approach have a lot going for it. But, I’d like to see independent scholars validate in research. As a school psychologist, I sometimes feel that the test publishers and test writers or researchers are a little too close for comfort. The test writers are sometimes the people that are the biggest proponents of CHC and the cross-battery approach. Its not unlike the way pharmaceutical companies and medical doctors relate to each other.

  2. colts115 says:

    Thanks for coming back to blog world! I like your posts. I am in a district where a new process called RtI (Response to Intervention) has virtually taken the place of actually testing students, and it seems like when we do find an ELL student who actually DOES need to be evaluated through a school psych for academic needs, it takes 1-2 years to get the go ahead due to the many language issues with ELL students. We recognize some of these differences, but when we really do need a student tested, it is hard to get the go ahead and the student suffers academically.