Wait a Year to Assess Preschool DLLs with Disabilities? No! And Here’s Why

I was asked by a district whether it was a good idea to wait for a preschool dual language learner to spend a year in English-only kindergarten before screening or assessing him for possible speech/language services. Here’s my answer along with relevant resources.

Assessing preschool DLLs with disabilitiesphoto by Bigstock.com

1. Full English immersion is not the best approach for young children in preK and K who have a home language other than English. Full immersion in English in PreK and Kindergarten will not ensure that a child is fully fluent in English to justify using an English-only screening or assessment process, and full immersion in English may actually hurt the child’s progress in English language development for the long term.

2. To make an accurate determination of a young child’s need or qualification for speech or special education services, screening and assessment tools designed specifically for testing bilingual children must be used along with additional information such as parent interviews and classroom observations. No determination should ever be made about a young child based only on a test score. Multiple measures are always required. When using strong observation skills and valid family interview notes, it is possible to identify bilingual children who need speech or special education services while they are still in preschool or just entering kindergarten.

3. A child who may have a disability can not afford to wait a considerable amount of time to get the services they need just because we, as a field, lack adequate assessment tools. SLPs with qualifications enabling them to provide services in two languages will be needed to support children as soon as observations and parent interviews reveal that a child may need those services. With properly qualified bilingual SLPs who are prepared to use ESL strategies in addition to bilingual SLP strategies, and who collaborate effectively with classroom teachers, young children who are learning in two languages can receive appropriate supports in early education. With appropriate supports in place, children can continue to learn and progress even if it is later determined that they don’t need special services.

You will find information to support these statements in my book: Young Dual Language Learners: A Guide for Prek-3 Leaders that has sections by national experts to answer these questions.

Other sources include:
Responsiveness to ALL Children, Families and Professionals – the position statement of the Council for Exceptional Children Division for Early Childhood.

Assessing Spanish/English Bilingual Preschoolers by Sandra Barrueco

Dual Language Development and Disorders (2nd edition) by Paradis, Genesee and Crago

ASHA technical report on Provision of Instruction in English as a Second Language by Speech Language Pathologists in School Settings

PreK-3: Challenging Common Myths about Dual Language Learners, An Update to the Seminal 2008 Report

California’s Best Practices for Young Dual Language Learners: Research Overview Papers
Paper 5. Assessment of Young Dual Language Learners in Preschool…………………………………….. Linda Espinosa and Vera Gutiérrez-Clellen
Paper 6. Early Intervention and Young Dual Language Learners with Special Needs……………….. Deborah Chen and Vera Gutiérrez-Clellen

Comments and suggested resources are welcome!


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