Monthly Archive

ESOL Placement and Assessment of English Language Learners

By: Alejandro Brice, PhD, CCC-SLP, Ellen Kester, Ph.D., CCC-SLP, and Roanne Brice PhD., CCC-SLP
General education teachers, English for teachers of other languages (ESOL) or English as a second language (ESL) professionals assess English language learners (ELLs) for school placement decisions (i.e., does the student qualify for ESOL/ESL services and is the student still in need of ESOL/ESL services). The outcome of these decisions may ultimately decide whether an English language learner may be assessed by a speech-language pathologist for a possible language learning disability.
The assessment process in Florida (this varies by state; therefore, Florida in this article is being used solely as an example) for English language learners encompasses three criteria: (1) use of a limited home language survey; (2) administration of a single norm-referenced standardized test such as the Idea Proficiency Test-3 (IPT-3) (Ballard and Tighe Publishers, 2004) or the Comprehensive English Language Learning Assessment (CELLA) (Educational Testing Service); and a state mandated performance test, i.e., the Florida Comprehensive Achievement Test (FCAT).
Case Example
Consider the following true scenario of a kindergarten student administered a standardized English language placement test (e.g., Pre-Language Assessment Scale, Pre-LAS). The Pre-LAS is an oral language test. This student for whatever reason performs well on this exam. This test does not assess her/his written language (i.e., reading and writing). As a consequence the student is not enrolled in ESOL or ESL services. The student struggles in reading and writing over the next two and a half years. What happened?
Bilingual Issues
Three main issues should be considered:

  1. The reader is reminded that oral language proficiency and academic language proficiency are two distinct language abilities and that these take considerable time to acquire for all ELL students. Researchers in second language acquisition have demonstrated that learning a second language may take from anywhere from two to three years for oral language skills to develop and 4-6 years or 5-7 years or sometimes even longer for academic language skills to develop (Collier, 1987; Hakuta, 1986). Academic language skills will only develop in this mentioned timeframe if the student has achieved a strong foundational base in their first language (Cummins, 1984; 1998; Thomas & Collier, 2002). The case study student was only assessed in oral language, yet she/he was graded in classroom activities based on academic language.
  2. The use of standardized norm referenced tests with ELL students has been well documented in speech-language pathology as being problematic in assessing true language and learning abilities (Brice & Brice, 2009; Kohnert, Kennedy, Glaze, Kan, & Carney, 2003; Roseberry-McKibbin, Brice, & O’Hanlon, 2005).
  3. The use of tests such as the IPT-3, the CELLA, and the FCAT do not measure learning over time and typically only assess discrete language skills. The use of alternative assessment procedures such as response to intervention/instruction (RTI/I) may more accurately assess learning abilities (Ehren, 2009). RTI/I is now being used as a system to measure learning and not only for possible identification of language learning disabilities. Hence, classroom teachers can implement tier one interventions and strategy accommodations for students who are struggling.

Outcome of the Case Study
Fortunately, the first author was contacted by the student’s classroom teacher. The teacher subsequently requested that this student be re-evaluated for ESOL placement. Hopefully, the student may avoid retention and/or referral for speech-language or special education services as a result of a more accurate school placement.
Given that many English language learner students are disproportionately placed into exceptional education programs; it is essential to realize that use of only standardized norm-referenced tests to assessing bilingual students is inappropriate. It is the benefit to the child and to the school that ELLs be assessed with a variety of language performance measures and not simply the use of standardized performance based exams (e.g., IPT-3, CELLA, FCAT). If a variety of performance measures are used (e.g., portfolios, observations, probes, etc) then schools will see less referrals for exceptional education testing [i.e., tier two or tier three response to intervention (RTI/I) approaches]. Research and practice has demonstrated that assessment must be conducted over a period of time (Brice & Brice, 2009). Therefore, it may be our job to demonstrate and advocate for this practice.
Ballard and Tighe. (2004). The Idea Proficiency Test. Reading and Writing language proficiency tests. Brea, CA: Author.
Brice, A. & Brice, R. (2009). (Ed.s). Language development: Monolingual and bilingual acquisition. Old Tappan, NJ: Merrill/Prentice Hall.
Collier, V. (1987). Age and rate of acquisition of second language for academic purposes. TESOL Quarterly, 21(4), 617-641.
Comprehensive English Language Learning Assessment. (2005). Technical summary report. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service.
Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism and special education: Issues in assessment and pedagogy. San Diego, CA: College Hill Press.
Cummins, J. (1998). Beyond adversarial discourse: Searching for common ground in the education of bilingual students. Presentation to the California State Board of Education, Sacramento, CA.
Ehren, B. (2009, May). Response-to-Intervention: SLPs as linchpins in secondary
schools. ASHA Leader, May, 10-13.
Hakuta, K. (1986). Mirror of language. The debate on bilingualism. New York, NY: Basic Books.
Kohnert, K. J., Kennedy, M. R. T., Glaze, L., Kan, P. F., & Carney, E. (2003). Breadth and depth of diversity in Minnesota: Challenges to clinical competency. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 12, 259-272.
Roseberry-McKibbin, C. , Brice, A., & O’Hanlon, L. (2005). Serving English Language Learners in public school settings: A national survey. Language, Speech and Hearing Services in Schools, 36, 48-61.
Thomas, P., & Collier, V. (1997). School effectiveness for language minority students. Washington, DC: National Clearinghouse for Bilingual Education.
This Month’s Featured Authors:
Alejandro Brice, Ph.D., CCC-SLP University of South Florida St. Petersburg
Dr. Alejandro E. Brice is an Associate Professor at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg in Secondary/ESOL Education. His research has focused on issues of transference or interference between two languages in the areas of phonetics, phonology, semantics, and pragmatics related to speech-language pathology. In addition, his clinical expertise relates to the appropriate assessment and treatment of Spanish-English speaking students and clients. Please visit his website at or reach him by email at [email protected]
Dr. Ellen Kester is a Founder and President of Bilinquistics, Inc. She earned her Ph.D. in Communication Sciences and Disorders from The University of Texas at Austin. She earned her Master’s degree in Speech-Language Pathology and her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish at The University of Texas at Austin. She has provided bilingual Spanish/English speech-language services in schools, hospitals, and early intervention settings. Her research focus is on the acquisition of semantic language skills in bilingual children, with emphasis on assessment practices for the bilingual population. She has performed workshops and training seminars, and has presented at conferences both nationally and internationally. Dr. Kester teaches courses in language development, assessment and intervention of language disorders, early childhood intervention, and measurement at The University of Texas at Austin. She can be reached at
[email protected]
Dr. Roanne G. Brice is the Assistant to the Chair for the Department of Child, Family and Community Sciences at the University of Central Florida. Her research interests have focused on language and beginning literacy skills in bilingual children and students with disorders/disabilities. In addition to teaching at the university level, Dr. Brice has been an itinerant and self-contained classroom speech-language pathologist as well as a general education classroom teacher. She may be reached at: [email protected]

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