Are we reporting standardized scores appropriately?

Brenda K. Gorman, Contributing Author

For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
-Henry Louis Mencken

This quote reminds me very much of speech and language assessment practices for linguistically diverse children. SLPs may look for simple solutions to complex problems, such as relying primarily on standardized tests to evaluate the skills of English language learners. However, oversimplification of the process is likely to yield an inaccurate diagnosis.

In the 2004 Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, an important procedural safeguard indicates that testing and evaluation materials “will be selected and administered so as not to be racially or culturally discriminatory. Such materials or procedures shall be provided and administered in the child’s native language or mode of communication, unless it clearly is not feasible to do so. In 2006, regulations further specified that evaluation materials should be administered “in the form most likely to yield accurate information on what the child knows and can do academically, developmentally, and functionally.”

Despite these safeguards, we are still seeing an overreliance on standardized assessments in English, even when test norms are not adequately representative of children’s cultural and linguistic background. Years ago, I remember evaluating an English speaking child from the Virgin Islands. The only English measures to which I had access were normed predominately on English speakers from the U.S. According to the test manual, a miniscule number of children in the normative sample lived outside the U.S. Therefore, I could not consider the norms adequately representative of my student.

What I would like to see in all reports is a description of the assessment measure that the clinician used with a statement about the normative sample.

For example, if I have a bilingual student and choose to administer the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test-Spanish Bilingual version, I provide a statement indicating that the test was normed on children growing up in bilingual (Spanish/English) environments in the U.S.

Likewise, is an SLP is conducting an assessment of an English language learner and finds benefit to administering an English assessment that was normed predominately on monolingual English speakers, the SLP should be clear about this in their report. Such specification helps clinicians explain why it is not always appropriate to report the standardized scores. In the report for this English language learner, the evaluator could write “This test was normed primarily on monolingual English speakers; therefore, in accordance with IDEA’s policy on appropriate testing, results are discussed in descriptive format.

Again, I would like to see a description of the normative sample in all reports. Many clinicians are already doing this. I think this is a critical piece of our reporting practices.