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Testing ESL Children with Learning Disabilities

Considerations for Testing ESL Children with Learning Disabilities

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Updated March 16, 2012

Testing ESL Children

ESL Children in Class

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As the population in the United States becomes more diverse, the makeup of students in classrooms across the country also becomes more diverse. To address the assessment needs of these students, it is important for parents and educators alike to be aware of best practices in assessing English Language Learners. Testing any child requires preparation, and this is especially true when testing ESL (English as a Second Language) children suspected of having a learning disability. These strategies can help ensure that ESL children are tested appropriately.

First, Work with ESL Parents

As the population in the United States becomes more diverse, the makeup of students in classrooms across the country also becomes more diverse. To address the assessment needs of these students , it is important for parents and educators alike to be aware of best practices in assessing English Language Learners. The first and most important step in the testing and evaluation process is establishing reliable communication between ESL parents and the school staff working with the ESL child. Communication is important to the assessment and to ensure ESL parents are well informed about the process and their rights as parents of a child who may have a learning disability. Parent involvement in the evaluation ensures:
  • The ESL child's parents can provide an accurate developmental and social history.
  • The evaluators can discuss any questions about the ESL child with the parents.
  • The parents can assist in gathering additional information such as medical evaluations or other assessments from resources outside of schools to ensure a more comprehensive evaluation of the ESL child.

Effective parent communication can ensure that ES parents:

Second, Determine the Child's Current Language Abilities

The second step in determining the ESL child's readiness for any type of assessment is to determine his current language development levels. Teachers who are trained in teaching English as a Second Language (ESL) can determine the most appropriate way to test the children's level of language development in his native language, and in English. This can be done through:

  • Functional assessment using information used from interaction with the ESL child or observation;
  • Formal testing using standardized, commercially produced functional English assessments; and
  • Alternate achievement measures such as criterion-referenced and authentic assessments that test basic English language skills.

Third, Determine if Further Testing Should be Conducted

Once the ESL child's functional language abilities are understood, examiners can determine if further testing would be appropriate. It is often highly recommended that testing for special education should not be conducted until the child has had adequate instruction to prevent possible false positive results.

For non-disabled ESL children, it can take three to five years to develop speaking proficiency in English. To become proficient in English to achieve well in school can take four to seven years. Consequently, it is important to consider the child's level of English proficiency before referring for a learning disability assessment. For those students who can participate in formal assessment there are several options based on the ESL child's language development level:

  • Using nonverbal intelligence assessments such as the Comprehensive Test of Nonverbal Intelligence;
  • Testing the ESL child in his native language and in English if possible;
  • Using a bilingual examiner and/or interpreter during assessment;
  • Using receptive format tests for academic and intelligence skills;
  • Assessing the student using an alternative method of diagnosis called Response to Intervention;
  • Assessing the ESL child with typical standardized assessments, with the understanding that language limitations and cultural differences may artificially lower the students' scores. When this is done, the assessments are used more for general information about the ESL child's current level of skills and not as predictors of future learning; and
  • Conducting follow-up observations and work with the child to validate assessment findings and monitor the ESL child's needs as he progresses in instruction.

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