The Purpose of the CALP Score is NOT to Determine Language of Speech-Language Testing

Earlier this week I did a webinar for a school district, and one of the things we talked about was the importance of testing bilingual students in both of their languages.  This brought up the topic of the purpose of the CALP score.  One of the SLPs in the group, Kolby Lungren, made the following comment:

We are limited by CALP scores and we are not “supposed to HAVE to” test in native language – I believe that testing in the native language is critical regardless of CALP score. Are you familiar with this measure?

For those of you not familiar with the acronym, CALP refers to Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency.  It is a term proposed by Cummins (1984). The blog Best of Bilash:  Improving Second Language Education provides a great description of BICS and CALP. Briefly, Cummins described Basic Interpersonal Communicatve Skills (BICS) as conversational fluency.  These are the casual social conversations with peers and teachers.  Cognitive Academic Language Skills (CALP), on the other hand, describe the use of language in decontextualized academic settings.  Cummins described these as levels of proficiency on a continuum of bilingualism.

The Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey-III (WMLS-III) provides a CALP score, which is what Kolby Lungren referred to in her comment.  The CALP score is sometimes used to decide which language to test a child in to determine the presence or absence of language impairment.  This was not the publisher’s intended use of the test.  Let’s take a look at the publisher’s comments on the purpose of the CALP score and the use of the WMLS-III.

The publisher, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, report on their website that the use of the WMLS-III is to:

  • Provide support for assessing and monitoring language proficiency in dual language programs, and
  • Help determine language proficiency, eligibility for English Language services, and readiness for English-only instruction.

The publisher provided the following information about the use and application of the WMLS-III:

  • The Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey (WMLS III) is a norm-referenced measure of reading, writing, listening, and comprehension. The WMLS III emphasizes the role of cognitive-academic language proficiency (CALP) levels in assessment of comprehension, it may serve as an excellent predictor of students’ actual academic adjustment.
  • The WMLS III generates considerable amounts of useful information. Different derived test and clusters scores offer data on growth, language proficiency, relative status among peers, and more. Cognitive-academic language proficiency (CALP), for example, determines oral language dominance of the bilingual subject. Student progress is reflected by the CALP score and can be tracked through repeated administration from a beginning level to an advanced level of proficiency.

There is no mention of using the tool to determine the appropriate language of testing to determine the presence or absence of a language impairment.

In a recent blog post, I went into detail about when and why we need to test in two languages.  In the earlier post, we talked about the fact that there are times we can rule out a language impairment without looking at both languages.  What we can’t do is to diagnose a language impairment without looking at both languages.

Testing Bilingual Children in Both Languages

Thank you, Kolby, and all of you out there, who question practices that have become widely used but just don’t seem right.  This is what moves us forward as a field.

 

 

Written by: Ellen Kester

2 Comments on “The Purpose of the CALP Score is NOT to Determine Language of Speech-Language Testing”

  1. Theresa Young June 21, 2018 at 8:04 pm #

    Let’s change low to early proficiency to move away from deficit concepts of learning a second language while acknowledging the developmental nature of language learning.
    Gracias

    • Ellen Kester June 21, 2018 at 10:39 pm #

      Theresa,
      I love that suggestion. You are absolutely right that it is an issue of “early” rather than “low.” Thank you for your input. I’m on board.
      Best, Ellen

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