Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Assessment Considerations in the Evaluation of Second-Language Learners: A Case Study

Academic journal article Exceptional Children

Assessment Considerations in the Evaluation of Second-Language Learners: A Case Study

Article excerpt

To provide optimal services to the large population of children who have learned little or no English by the time they enter school, educators must differentiate children with temporary limited English proficiency from children with language disorders (those who have difficulty leaming any language). The needs of these two groups are different. Children with limited English proficiency should eventually attain proficiency after receiving adequate bilingual education or English as a Second Language (ESL) instruction. Those with language disorders will need long-term special education services. Unfortunately, many students with limited English proficiency have been misdiagnosed as having language disorders--or remain undiagnosed; and children who are second-language learners are reportedly overrepresented in certain categories of special education (see Kretschmer, 1991, for a review of the literature).

The differentiation of children with language disorders from those with limited English proficiency presents perplexing problems to even the most skilled members of a child study team. The problem in diagnosis occurs primarily because norms are not readily available for all the languages of diverse populations and cultures, and because standardized tests in English are of little value in assessing many second-language learners who are not yet proficient in English. The criterion of limited communicative competence in both languages is often used for determining the presence of a language disorder (American SpeechLanguage-Heating Association, [ASHA], 1985), but arrested language development or language loss may negatively affect the child's performance in the native language so that using this criterion exclusively may result in false positive identifications.

PROBLEMS IN DIFFERENTIAL DIAGNOSIS

Standardized Tests in English

Standardized language tests in English have generally been norreed on monolingual English speakers, and if children from non-Englishspeaking or limited-English-proficiency (LEP) homes are included in the normal sample, they are usually underrepresented (see Mattes & Omark, 1984, pp. 51-70). Children from homes in which English is not spoken or only limited English is spoken cannot be expected to perform as well as children who come from homes in which standard English is spoken. Because English is acquired as a second language and there has not been sufficient opportunity to hear and use it (in comparison with an English-monolingual child), a normal second4anguage learner is expected to score lower on standardized tests for some time. Age-appropriate cognitive/academic language proficiency (CALP) may take up to 7 years to develop (Cummins, 1980).

Standardized Tests in Other Languages

Federal mandates (Public Law 94-142 and Title VII of P.L. 95-561) require that school assessments be conducted in the client's primary language. Consequently, it is recommended that non-English-speaking children orthose with LEP be tested in their native languages to determine if their native4anguage development is delayed (ASHA, 1983, 1985; Langdon, 1983; Mattes & Omark, 1984). Although standardized tests in Spanish are available, some have been normed on monolingual English-speaking children and then translated into Spanish. Even when tests have been norreed on a Spanish-speaking population, often the normed sample consists of monolingual Spanish speakers rather than speakers who have learned Spanish as a first language and are subsequently exposed to English.

Cultural and Linguistic Differences

When tests have been normed on "bilingual" speakers (i.e., other children who are learning English as a second language), one cannot assume that the tests have been normed on Spanish speakers who come from a particular client's culrural or- dialectal background. Cultural and linguistic differences need to be considered. In the Hispanic population, for example, cultural and linguistic differences exist among Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Mexicans, and Hispanic groups from Central and South America. …

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