Changing our Perspective on Language Evaluations

I recently attended a conference sponsored by my state education department. It was close to home and fairly inexpensive. I won't lie - I first signed up just to get some easy CEU's! But this conference ended up being a GREAT experience and I learned a whole lot.

The presenter, Douglas Petersen, Ph.D. is from the University of Wyoming. He discussed changing the way we do language evaluations to focus more on a dynamic assessment. I know what you might be thinking... I already incorporate lots of things in my assessments! I observe, I test, I language sample. Why do I need another thing to add to my assessment procedure? While standardized testing can provide some valuable information (and I am not telling you to go throw away your CELF-5), it is very... static. It is a snapshot. It can tell you relatively well if a child has areas of weakness in language-based tasks. A static standardized test tells you what a child knows about language, but a dynamic assessment can tell you how well a child can learn language. And isn't finding out if a child has difficulty learning language what our goal should be in an evaluation? 

There are lots of reasons students may not perform well on a typical standardized test... English as a second language or low socio-economic status for example. But when using a dynamic assessment, the examiner can look past those things and focus on the student's modifiability - how much effort is required to teach that student something new. If a student catches on to new language concepts quickly, he or she has high modifiability. If it takes a lot of work for the student to learn something new, he or she has low modifiability - this is a strong predictor of having a language learning impairment.

So where can you get a snazzy dynamic assessment? You can download a narrative assessment tool for FREE (you heard me) here called the Narrative Language Measures Cubed (NLM3). Seriously, who presents free assessments at a conference? All the SLPs in the room were in speech nerd heaven. The NLM3 is designed for children ages preschool to third grade (although the presenter did say he has used it on older students, too). It includes 25 stories per grade level - 9 benchmark stories (3 fall, 3 winter, 3 spring), and 16 progress monitoring stories. It is designed to be scored live. He had us practice on each other a few times and once we got the hang of it, scoring was pretty easy. Here's how it works: the therapist reads a short story one time and asks the student to tell the same story back to the therapist. Use the student's median score out of 3 in a single session to see if the student gets better with practice.  A table is included in the manual to determine if the student obtained what is considered to be an acceptable score, but Dr. Petersen stressed the content of the child's narratives should also be taken into consideration, not just the score.

What I like about this assessment:
  • It focuses on an important task used at home and at school: telling stories. It includes targets for story elements and language complexity, but also gives you insight into a student's ability to sequence, grammar, and vocabulary.
  • I work with a large ESL population. Sometimes it can be tricky to tell if these students truly have a language disorder. This assessment takes being an ESL student out of the picture and lets you look at their true language learning abilities.
  • My time at school is precious. This is fast and easy to administer and score. We are talking 5 minutes. Easy peasy.
  • Progress monitoring tools are included to look at student's progress throughout the year. Not only does this make me happy, but the data will make my administrators happy.
  • Have I mentioned everything you need for this assessment is free?

What do you think? Are you using dynamic assessments in your evaluations? I plan to incorporate them this fall into my evals. I will let you know how it goes!


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