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2 Bilingual Language Evaluation Case Studies Without Standardized Test Scores

Bilingual language evaluations may be complex but they don’t have to be scary. I think the biggest struggle that I have when I open the referral packet for my next bilingual eval is that I won’t be able to make the diagnostic call when I am through with testing. I love the topic of language development enough that I find it fun to do research on a second language, call an SLP-friend to discuss details, find an interpreter…

But what do we do during the evaluation to make sure we use our time well and arrive at the right diagnosis and create good goals? The truth is that there is a pretty concrete formula that only includes two-to-three parts:

Bilingual language evaluations require non-standardized forms of testing, such as narrative story-telling, alongside the use of standardized evaluations if they exist. Then, testing is followed by dynamic assessment of concepts that a child struggled with to rule out a lack of experience.

Easier said than done right? That’s why we wanted to show you what it looks like in this quick, concise essay with testing results and video examples of two case studies. The first one has standardized and non-standardized scores which still didn’t make us feel that great about making a diagnosis. So we jumped into dynamic assessment to get a better sense of how the student was doing in one specific area before qualifying her. The second case study is in Portuguese so there are no formal tests. To make matters worse (or more like our real life), the interpreter cancelled and I ran the evaluation with the parents interpreting.

We’re focusing on language here but we have done the same analysis with four cases studies of bilingual articulation evaluations if you are interested.

Bilingual Language Evaluation Process

Bilingual Language Evaluation Process

Let’s quickly review what we are trying to sort out by doing a bilingual evaluation. Whatever a bilingual child says that isn’t 100% correct can be described in three ways: 1) it is normal due to age–children their age are not yet expected to have acquired said skill, 2) it is due to influence from the home language, which is a normal pattern for a bilingual child, or 3) it can’t be explained by their age or influence and they will probably need some help.

Normal Developmental Patterns

Normal developmental patterns are productions that are typical for the child’s age. Note that we didn’t say “errors” here. We are trying as a field to move away from using that word to describe developmental milestones that we expect to occur.

Here are some examples from a young girl age 2:6:

  • Daddy goed bye-bye.
  • I want apple (reaching for peach).
  • That’s daddy car
  • He want to go.

None of these productions are anything to worry about. She says things like “daddy goed bye bye,” which is over-regularization of that past tense and says apple when reaching for a peach. She is in the right semantic category but chose the wrong noun. That doesn’t worry us for a child of her age.

Home-Language Influence

When a child pulls a pattern from their more-familiar language into English we see differences in the language they use. Typically, enough exposure to English will correct these influences on their own but some long-time bilingual speakers still produce these patterns (and that’s okay!). The point is that the pattern is 1) describable based on the home language, 2) seen in their language and similar in other speakers, 3) not a special education concern.

Here is an example from a young girl who speaks Spanish at home. We see verb tense and preposition errors that are typical of Spanish-English speakers.

Home-Language Influence

Atypical Errors

Then there are errors that age and home language can’t explain. Here is another example of a 6-year-old female so that you can compare the two. Note that there are Spanish-influence patterns that we are okay with. The errors in red are more concerning. We see an object pronoun used for a subject pronoun. She says “Him spilled what on the carpet” where we are missing an element. We’re also missing prepositions which would be required in both English and Spanish.

So to recap:

During a bilingual language evaluation we are trying to separate age and home language influence from real errors and then write good goals in those specific areas.  

The teachers who make the referral or the parents who are concerned can’t tell the difference between developmental norms, home-language influence, and true issues. They just hear errors. It’s our job to sort these out and explain why we are or are not going to provide services. Are you ready? Here are two case studies to show you what it looks like:

mexico Evaluation in Spanish

Spanish – English Bilingual Language Evaluation with Standardized Measures

We received a referral for an 8-year-old Spanish-English bilingual student who speaks both languages at home and English at school. Her parents shared that she struggles to use complete sentences to express herself, has difficulty focusing, and difficulty reading. 

Here is what her teacher is concerned about. It seems like there are a bunch of academic concerns alongside expressive and receptive language:

  • She does not consistently know her letter-sound correspondences.
  • She struggles to identify and describe the main idea of a story.
  • She is not able to summarize stories told in class.
  • She cannot consistently count in sequential order and she has trouble deciding if she should add or subtract to solve a math problem
  • She continues to need help in expressing herself both orally and in written composition. 
  • She struggles to follow directions in class, has poor work habits, and fails to complete work correctly.
  • She seems to have difficulty retaining skills taught.

We have standardized tests in both English and Spanish so here is what the testing looked like:

Standardized Bilingual Language Evaluation Results

CELF 4 Spanish and OWLS II

We have parent concern, teacher concern, and poor standardized results in both languages. Are we done? Not yet because we have a very important question we need to answer:

Is the child performing poorly because they have an impairment or because they haven’t had experience with what we were asking them to do during testing?

Secondly, I am not sure what the best goals are to move her forward. This is where dynamic testing comes in.

Non-Standardized Bilingual Language Evaluation Results

I did a language sample and saw a lot of the same errors that I found in standardized testing. Here is a short clip and some of the results:

The one thing that stands out the most is how short her utterances were. She’s 8! They should be a lot longer. Next I had to check English to make sure that her English isn’t more developed than her Spanish.

Turns out that she’s definitely using a lot more English than she did in Spanish. She made fewer errors, but she is still making a number of these red atypical errors that we can’t explain by development or native language influence. We would certainly expect a child of her age to be connecting those ideas in the story more.

So I did a quick teaching session talking to her about how to make longer sentences. Afterwards, we told another story and I did not see any improvement.

Story Retell after Dynamic Assessment

After practicing multiple sentences and putting them together and practicing those, we did not get any longer utterances in our retell. I think we can very confidently say with teacher concern, parent concern, low test scores in both languages, and minimal progress on dynamic assessment, that this is a child who we will diagnose with a language impairment.

The Result? This student qualifies for services as a student with a Speech Impairment in the areas of Receptive and Expressive Language. To sum it up, we saw:

  • Influence errors in English and Spanish
  • Atypical errors in in English and Spanish
  • No progress in dynamic assessment.
Portuguese bilingual language evaluation

Portuguese Bilingual Language Evaluation without Standardized Measures

In this next case study we have a first grader who is 6;6 and moved to the U.S. from Brazil one year ago. Portuguese is the language of the home and English is spoken at school. Parents reported that he received speech therapy since he was 2-years old and described his language as being like a 3-4-year-old. Teacher reported having difficulty understanding this student.

So we know that we don’t have any formal measures to work with so this will be a non-standardized evaluation. We needed an interpreter because I don’t speak Portuguese. On the day of the evaluation, the interpreter fell through! Unimaginable, right? Well, this gives us a good opportunity to show you how I worked with a bilingual parent.  Here is a quick example so you can so see what went on:

Because testing has to be done in both English and Portuguese, I used the English testing to show the mother what to do so she could do the same thing in Portuguese. We then took some samples of his language in English and I showed her how I was analyzing it. After that, we did the same thing in Portuguese.

Here is what we found. When he told the story in English, there were a lot of errors.

Story Telling in English Without an Example

Bilingual Language Evaluation Story Telling in English Without an Example

Story Telling in English After Hearing an Example

I told a different story to him in English so that he knew what was expected of him. However, on his second attempt he didn’t improve.

Bilingual Language Evaluation Story Telling in English After Hearing an Example

Story Telling in Portuguese with Translation from Parent

Then it was mom’s turn to do a narrative tell and you can see by the video that she did great! We translated it together and I asked her if those errors were normal. We were seeing the same patterns such as article omission, short utterances, and word order errors. I did some research on Portuguese speech and language development to double check and we were ready to write some goals.

Bilingual Language Evaluation in Portuguese with Translation from Parent

The Result? This student qualified for language therapy based on the errors that were in English and Portuguese that could not be explained by age. Obviously, he is going to get services in English, so we chose goals that were errors that existed in both languages. His parents were excited to support the goals in the home language as well.

So there you go. I hope this gave you a nice example of how we can go about understanding whether bilingual children have a language disorder or not. We don’t have testing tools that we can use in a lot of these languages so we have to be creative. This means relying on non-standardized measures to make a really strong diagnostic decision for our students.

Written by: Ellen Kester

One Comment on “2 Bilingual Language Evaluation Case Studies Without Standardized Test Scores”

  1. December 8, 2022 at 9:14 pm #

    So helpful. Thanks for those great examples!

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