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With the increase of bilingual children in the United States, speech-language pathologists (SLPs) will find themselves assessing and treating children who speak a language other than English (Caesar & Kohler, 2007). When evaluating bilingual children, SLPs should be asking themselves, “is this a language disorder or difference?”  

Unfortunately, bilingual children continue to be misdiagnosed as having a language impairment due to differences in home and academic language experiences. While translating standardized tests may seem like a viable solution, these tests do not translate consistently to another language, and differences in phonology, syntax, and semantics remain. So, what can SLPs use when evaluating bilingual children? Alternative assessment procedures are great for evaluating children who speak a language other than English! 

If alternative assessment measures are available, what’s the problem? Well, a lot of SLPs do not feel confident in their abilities to administer nonbiased bilingual measures because of a lack of training and education in this area (Caesar & Kohler, 2007; Guiberson & Atkins, 2012; Hammer, Detwiler, Detwiler, Blood, & Dean Qualls, 2004). 

During my clinical experience, I have been fortunate enough to learn and practice administering nonbiased bilingual measures. As clinicians, I understand it can be difficult to stray away from using standardized assessments during an evaluation, but there are alternative approaches that can be used. Dynamic assessment is one example of a widely used alternative measure (Peña, Iglesias, & Lidz, 2001; Peña, Quinn, & Iglesias, 1992).

While this blog is only a glimpse into one type of alternative assessment measure, I hope that this can serve as an additional resource for current and future clinicians working with culturally and linguistically diverse children. 

Defining Dynamic Assessment

So, what is dynamic assessment? Dynamic assessment has been proposed as a valid and unbiased alternative measure for differentiating language differences from disorder. It measures a child’s learning potential without cultural and linguistic bias (Gutierrez-Clellen & Pena, 2001). The goal of dynamic assessment is to determine whether the child’s performance reflects a lack of exposure to the skill or an underlying impairment. 

This approach is based on Vygotsky’s theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD). Vygotsky argued that a child’s cognitive development requires social interaction. Development of skills, such as language, is best learned when children are provided with guidance from a more knowledgeable other (Vygotsky, 1978, as cited in Gutierrez-Clellen & Pena, 2001). Bilingual children who are misdiagnosed as having a language impairment may not have had the proper instruction to learn aspects of the English language, resulting in low scores on standardized measures.

Dynamic Assessment: Test-Teach-Retest

So, what does dynamic assessment look like? There are several approaches to dynamic assessment. The test-teach-retest method is most appropriate for differentiating disorders from differences (Gutierrez-Clellen & Pena, 2001). The design of this approach is as follows:

  • Test: assess current performance in areas the child needs more support 
  • Teach: examiner teaches the child, providing them with the opportunity to learn from a more knowledgeable other  
  • Retest: the examiner re-assesses the area of focus- information gathered reveals the child’s competence and serves as an indicator of how they respond to additional support

Assessment during the test phase may include standardized tests as a qualitative measure for potential language areas in which the child may have difficulty in (Melick, n.d.). Results from this assessment should not be reported nor compared to the test’s normative data (DeLamo & Jin, 2011).

During the teaching phase of dynamic assessment, examiners should implement a mediated learning experience (MLE). MLE is a quick and reliable approach to teaching children new skills (Prath, n.d.). There are four critical components to MLE (Peña, Iglesias & Lidz, 2001):During the teaching phase of dynamic assessment, examiners should implement a mediated learning experience (MLE). MLE is a quick and reliable approach to teaching children new skills (Prath, n.d.). There are four critical components to MLE (Peña, Iglesias & Lidz, 2001):

  1. Intentionality: the examiner explains the goal/intent for the lesson
  2. Transcendence: the examiner encourages the child to think hypothetically (“what ifs”), developing their awareness of the task
  3. Meaning: the examiner explains why the task is important
  4. Competence: examiner helps the child develop a plan of strategies for completing the task and checks their understanding of the task’s importance

It is also important to record the type of support the child needs during the teaching phase (Prath, n.d.):

  • Minimum support (e.g., repetition of instructions)
  • Moderate support (e.g., modeling of the appropriate response)
  • Maximum support (e.g., direct imitation of appropriate response) 

*Always start with minimum support and gradually add more support when needed

Here is a great resource from Bilinguistics that provides clinicians with a dynamic assessment protocol: Dynamic Assessment Protocol

Dynamic Assessment: Interpreting a Child’s Performance 

So, you’ve completed the dynamic assessment protocol, now what? The information you have collected can determine whether the child needs intervention and the goals to be targeted.

  • If the child was able to learn the skill through mediated learning + their performance is considered appropriate for their age = the child does not qualify for services (language difference) 

In the instance where the child does not qualify for services, it is recommended that you share with the teacher(s) or caregiver(s) the types of supports you used to teach the skill. 

  • If the child showed improvements but their performance is still considered below for their age + they needed significant help to demonstrate improvements = the child qualifies for services (language disorder) 

It is important to remember that dynamic assessment is only one part of your evaluation protocol. If the child qualifies for services, you want to be sure that their language performance on the dynamic assessment task(s) is consistent across other alternative assessment measures and in both of the languages they speak. 

Implementing Dynamic Assessment to Your Evaluation

Dynamic assessment is only one aspect of understanding a child’s cultural and linguistic background. Ideally, you would want your evaluation protocol to include (Ortiz, 2019):

  • Pre-assessment information
    • Language exposure: know the language(s) that the child is exposed to at home and at school 
    • Parent and/or teacher report of concerns
    • Informal observations of the child in multiple settings (e.g., at home, in the classroom) 
  • Alternative assessment measures  
  • Language samples in both languages 
  • Comparison to developmental norms 
  • Rich description of the child’s speech and language abilities 

When I first entered my graduate program, I thought to myself, “how would I diagnose a child on my caseload without having standardized scores?” As I have progressed in my graduate career, and completed an externship at a school with predominately culturally and linguistically diverse children, I have learned a lot about the importance of nonbiased assessment measures. Through these experiences I have set a foundation for myself to keep growing and learning. There is so much information we can gather through various sources, not just standardized assessments, to determine whether a child has a disorder or difference. Your clinical judgment also plays a critical role in the evaluation process. Although developing cultural competence to treat culturally and linguistically diverse children is an evolving process, seeking out the appropriate resources is a great start!


Camilleri, B., Hasson, N., & Dodd, B. (2014). Dynamic assessment of bilingual children’s language at the point of referral. Educational and Child Psychology, 31(2), 57-72.

Caesar, G. L., & Kohler, D. P. (2007). The state of school-based bilingual assessment: Actual practice versus recommended guidelines. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 38(3), 190-200.

De Lamo, C., & Jin, L. (2011). Evaluation of speech and. Language assessment approaches with bilingual children. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 46(6), 613-627.

Guiberson, M., & Atkins, J. (2012). Speech-Language Pathologists’ Preparation, Practices, and Perspectives on Serving Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Children. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 33(3), 169–180.

Gutierrez-Clellen, V. F., & Peña, E. (2001). Dynamic assessment of diverse children: A tutorial. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 32(4), 212-224.

Hammer, C. S., Detwiler, J. S., Detwiler, J., Blood, G. W., & Dean Qualls, C. (2004). Speech–language pathologists’ training and confidence in serving Spanish–English Bilingual children. Journal of Communication Disorders, 37(2), 91–108.

Hasson, N. (2007). The case for dynamic assessment in speech and language therapy. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 23(1), 9-25.

Hasson, N., Camilleri, B., Jones, C., Smith, J., & Dodd, B. (2013). Discriminating disorder from difference using dynamic assessment with bilingual children. Child Language Teaching and Therapy, 29(1), 57-75.

Melick, N. (n.d.). The slp’s quick guide to dynamic assessment for culturally and linguistically diverse (CLD) children.

Ortiz, J. (2019). Alternative Assessment Methods. [PowerPoint Slides].

Peña, E., Quinn, R., & Iglesias, A. (1992.). The application of dynamic methods to language assessment: A nonbiased procedure. 26(3), 12.

Peña, E., Iglesias, A., & Lidz, S. C. (2001). Reducing test bias through dynamic assessment of children’s word learning ability. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology, 10(2), 138-154. 

Prath, S. (n.d.). Dynamic assessment: When formal evaluation results don’t tell us what we need to know.

Saenz, I. T., & Huer, B. M. (2003). Testing strategies involving least biased language assessment of bilingual children. Communication Disorders Quarterly, 24(4), 184-193.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Interaction between learning and development. Readings on the Development of Children, 23(3), 34–41.

About the author

Allison Granados is a graduate student in the department of Hearing and Speech Sciences at the University of Maryland. She is a member of the Cultural-Linguistic Diversity Emphasis Program (CLD-EP) and the Bilingual Certification Program. Her clinical interests include bilingualism and neurological communication.