The Ethics of Assessment With Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations Your supervisor asks you to evaluate a Cantonese-speaking 7-year-old. Her family came from China. No Cantonese-speaking speech-language pathologist is available in your district, so you evaluate her through an interpreter. This interpreter knows the dialect spoken by the child, and understands the purpose of a speech-language evaluation and her role ... Features
Features  |   March 01, 2004
The Ethics of Assessment With Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations
Author Notes
  • Catherine J. Crowley, an SLP who holds a law degree, teaches at Teachers College Columbia University where she coordinates the bilingual/bicultural emphasis track in the graduate program in speech-language pathology and the Bilingual Extension Institute. She also works as a consultant in the children’s program of United Cerebral Palsy of New York City. Contact her by e-mail at
    Catherine J. Crowley, an SLP who holds a law degree, teaches at Teachers College Columbia University where she coordinates the bilingual/bicultural emphasis track in the graduate program in speech-language pathology and the Bilingual Extension Institute. She also works as a consultant in the children’s program of United Cerebral Palsy of New York City. Contact her by e-mail at×
Article Information
Cultural & Linguistic Diversity / School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Features
Features   |   March 01, 2004
The Ethics of Assessment With Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Populations
The ASHA Leader, March 2004, Vol. 9, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.09052004.6
The ASHA Leader, March 2004, Vol. 9, 6-7. doi:10.1044/leader.FTR5.09052004.6
Your supervisor asks you to evaluate a Cantonese-speaking 7-year-old. Her family came from China. No Cantonese-speaking speech-language pathologist is available in your district, so you evaluate her through an interpreter. This interpreter knows the dialect spoken by the child, and understands the purpose of a speech-language evaluation and her role in the evaluation. You know of no standardized speech-language tests in Cantonese, and you know you shouldn’t report scores on translated tests. You have kept up to date on all the research, and your evaluation is consistent with current preferred practice guidelines for the assessment of bilingual/bicultural children.
A few days after you submit the evaluation, you receive a phone call. Your district has rejected your evaluation because it does not contain any test scores. You explain that translated tests are invalid because they do not take into account differences between the two languages. You also explain why what you have done is a good estimate of the child’s communication skills.
Your district supervisor, however, reminds you that up until this point you and every other SLP in the district provided test scores. These scores, she explains, were an easy way to see the child’s level of performance to determine eligibility for services. So, you must go back, re-test the child using a translated test, and report those test scores.
Your ethical dilemma: Do you go back with your interpreter, have her translate the tests, and then determine eligibility based upon the child’s scores?
Before the first case is resolved, you are asked to evaluate a bilingual third-grader who is having trouble mastering the curriculum. His family came to your town from the Dominican Republic a number of years ago. At home he tends to use Spanish with his parents and mostly English, but some Spanish, with his older brothers.
You are bilingual in Spanish, with near-native proficiency. You have several tests published in Spanish, but you have reviewed their normative samples and determined they are flawed. You also question their validity because their discriminate accuracy findings-a test accuracy in identifying whether a child has a communication disorder-are inadequate.
You do the evaluation based upon current preferred practices, and again provide an estimate of the child’s functioning level in the various areas assessed based upon the information elicited during the evaluation and your clinical judgment. This time your supervisor contacts you within a day of handing in your report. You explain that you used some subtests on the Spanish tests to probe for information, but you could not report scores because of the psychometric limitations. She complains that the district purchased the Spanish tests for you, and there should be no reason why the test scores can’t be reported.
Your ethical dilemma: Do you go back, give the student the tests, and report the scores?
Your supervisor decides that until the issue is resolved she will not ask you to do any more bilingual evaluations because you are creating so many administrative problems for her. So, she asks you to evaluate an 11-year-old boy who speaks African American English as his primary dialect of English. The boy is from a low-income family with many of the cultural characteristics of the “Trackton” community (a working-class African American community in the southeastern United States, where most of the adults have had little schooling and most of the community speaks African American English; Heath, 1982). You are aware that the test biases will negatively affect his performance and may erroneously indicate that he needs special education services. Your evaluation conforms to preferred practice guidelines. Once again, you decide not to report scores.
Your supervisor cannot understand why there is a problem reporting test scores for children who speak English. This is unbelievable to her-especially because all your colleagues report scores for all the English-speaking students they evaluate.
Your ethical dilemma: Do you report the scores on the tests to determine eligibility?
New Dilemmas
What happened? Just a few years ago, you were in blissful ignorance of the problems with using test-derived scores to determine eligibility. You gave the tests and reported scores, and everyone was happy. Why are you now faced with ethical dilemmas when there weren’t any in the past? If only you hadn’t read the research articles or attended the ASHA conferences-you never would have questioned the practice.
When did this become an ethical issue and not just a difference of opinion? ASHA’s Code of Ethics requires us to provide “all services competently” (ASHA, 2003b). The challenge is that as our field develops, matures, and expands, the standard for what are competent services changes (ASHA, 2003a). This means that what were once competent services may not be considered competent today.
But, you say, it is just too difficult to stay current and have to deal with the ethical issues. You consider telling your supervisor that you don’t want to evaluate these students anymore. That way, you hope, you won’t violate your ethical code, and you won’t have to deal with an unhappy supervisor. Sorry to say, but this does not resolve your dilemma. The ASHA Code of Ethics also prohibits discrimination-including on the basis of race, ethnicity, or national origin-in the delivery of professional services (ASHA, 2003b).
There is some good news. SLPs and audiologists across the country are finding themselves in situations just like yours. Many of them have worked with their colleagues and administrators to change the way things are done with the goal of providing more effective services for culturally and linguistically diverse children. Also, since the passage of the 1997 amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, districts can be in violation of federal law if too many of its minority children are referred for special education services, so administrators may be more open to alternative assessment procedures.
The accompanying stories (above and on page 26) are true experiences of SLPs who worked in their school districts to modify assessment requirements so that they could continue to provide ethical services as the standard of competency changed. They are models for all of us.
On the Right Track

In the fall of 2002 I began working for the City School District of New Rochelle (NY), where a large percentage of the student population is bilingual. I was specifically hired to provide services to bilingual, Spanish-speaking children at the elementary-grade level. My supervisor informed me that the district was struggling with the high number of bilingual children being referred and classified for special education services. Consequently, I was eager to provide the most effective service, especially since I had just left my previous job for imposing constraints on my ability to provide ethical service to their bilingual population.

I reviewed caseload files and became acquainted with my bilingual students. It was evident that they had been assessed using the traditional approach of “reporting scores,” which may have resulted in misdiagnoses for some. Preliminary discussions with Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) team members and bilingual speech-language pathology colleagues revealed that our district reportedly expected standardized scores. However, I knew that, under IDEA 1997 regulations, such scores were considered invalid, unreliable, and biased for this population. Continuing to report them would violate my own and ASHA’s Code of Ethics. I realized I would have to effect change in some way if I were to provide competent, nondiscriminatory services to these children.

I began by initiating discussions with PPS team members and other bilingual SLPs, allowing ample opportunity for debate, relying for support on state and ASHA guidelines and information I obtained from the Bilingual Extension Institute at Teachers College Columbia University. While colleagues expressed an interest in reviewing articles and sample reports, others were fairly tentative about my suggested bilingual assessment methods. Despite the mixed feedback, I presented my concerns to my supervisor, who was supportive and eager to have me provide an in-service to my colleagues, especially those in the speech-language-hearing department.

Soon after, the district introduced a new IEP (Individualized Education Program) database system designed to manage students’ files more efficiently. During a training session, I discovered that SLPs would be required to include scores and short narratives extracted from their evaluations. I took advantage of the opportunity to privately discuss the issue of reporting scores with the director of special and alternative education, who was serving as co-trainer at that time. She expressed her understanding of bilingual assessment issues and suggested ways I could report my findings more fairly.

Since then, rather than reporting scores, I have generated evaluations using more appropriate qualitative measures, which have been supported by my administrators. I also have continued to make an effort to collaborate with my peers in the provision of appropriate bilingual service delivery, whenever possible. Finally, the district has organized a new initiative focused on examining the effectiveness of appropriate assessment practices. The goal is to enhance and expand the skills of the members of our district in assessment, intervention, and instructional strategies for our bilingual/bicultural population through seminars, in-service, and ongoing discussions. I, of course, am eager and proud to be a part of that.

Laura D. Rivera is currently employed as a bilingual SLP in the City School District of New Rochelle, NY, and privately provides early intervention services. Contact her by e-mail at

To Score or Not to Score? That Is the Question

For most of the last decade, the New York City Department of Education has worked to establish a citywide standard reflective of current preferred practice in the assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse students. In a system with more than 1 million children and 1,800 speech-language providers, a number of strategies were implemented.

The first major activity was an intensive professional conference presented over three months and funded by the New York State Education Department. The conference focused on appropriate assessment strategies and was taught by experts from both inside and outside the department, with bilingual speech-language evaluators and their supervisors in attendance. The conference emphasized hands-on activities such as using videotaped case studies to apply preferred practices. Over the next year, conference participants met with assessment experts in their local schools for clarification and support on particular issues and with particular cases. This professional development spread the word on this city and state policy, and provided a strong knowledge base for the evaluators, supervisors, and administrators.

Of equal importance was the development, publication, and citywide dissemination of the Test Resource Guide, Volume V, Communication/ Language Assessment and Tests of Language Proficiency (1998; New York City Board of Education). In this book, the New York City Department of Education provides very clear guidelines regarding appropriate assessment of culturally and linguistically diverse children. It explicitly prohibits certain improper practices such as reporting scores from translated tests. It also contains analyses of the validity and reliability of more than 100 speech and language tests, including the applicability of each test to culturally and linguistically diverse students.

The Division of Student Support Services provides ongoing support by communicating with speech-language evaluators in the field concerning appropriate qualitative reporting measures. In individual cases where scores were inappropriately reported to determine eligibility, or where local administrators refused to accept reports solely because they did not contain test scores, speech supervisory personnel contacted those individuals directly to provide one-on-one support.

As a result of this work, it is now common knowledge and practice within the New York City Department of Education that scores are neither required nor reported for preschool and school-age bilingual-bicultural students. Indeed, a recent survey asked more than 100 bilingual speech-language evaluators whether they were being required to provide standardized test scores in their assessment reports for preschool or school-age children in New York City. Only two evaluators had been asked to provide scores, and, as it turns out, the two administrators who had asked for the scores were new to their positions.

Through this work, the New York City Education Department, in collaboration with the New York State Education Department, has improved the quality of evaluations. In doing so, it has reduced the number of inappropriate referrals for special education services of our bilingual/bicultural children.

Jane E. Coyle recently retired as a speech supervisor for the New York City Department of Education. She is in private practice and teaches at Long Island University’s Brooklyn Campus. Contact her by e-mail at

English Language Learners/Special Education Support Team

Right out of graduate school, I began working in a Portland, OR, school district. I was immediately faced with a school population consisting of more than 70 languages and cultures. I quickly discovered that the evaluation tools and methods that I had been taught to use in graduate school were rarely appropriate for culturally or linguistically diverse populations.

In a short time, I recognized that my experience was not unique and that my district as a whole also needed to adjust its evaluation practice pertaining to English language learners (ELLs). I approached my then special education director, Maxine Kilcrease, with a proposal to create a specialized team focusing on special education (SPED) issues related to ELLs. Acknowledging the need, she authorized and endorsed the creation of the ELL/SPED Support Team. Members of the team were special education professionals with experience in working with culturally and linguistically diverse populations and who were willing to look at alternative ways of assessment. The district committed two full-time positions to the team. Currently, the members are from the fields of speech-language pathology and school psychology.

The ELL/SPED Support Team began its work in September 2001 doing research on the ELLs in the district. We collected and analyzed data to identify patterns such as evidence of disproportionate referral of these children for special education services and whether these children tended to be placed in more or less restrictive educational settings. This research revealed patterns in the district that needed to be addressed and that were consistent with national trends in large urban districts (Portland has approximately 50,000 students).

Consistent with IDEA 1997 and district policy, the team’s ultimate goal continues to be to reduce the under- and over-identification of ELLs for special education services. To meet this goal, we provide training to district personnel (i.e., school teams and district leadership) on such topics as appropriate ways to assess these children, effective accommodations to learning styles, and the normal processes of second-language acquisition. We also provide individual consultations to school-based personnel who have particular questions. These questions include “what to do first” in an evaluation, how to implement an effective pre-referral process for a student, what information is available about a particular language or culture, and how to interpret the data they have gathered during the evaluation.

The team’s resources are in great demand-providing more than 875 consultations to date. More importantly, the training sessions and consultations are producing results. A recent comparative review of special education evaluations of ELLs in schools that had consulted with the ELL/SPED Support Team revealed that the evaluations reflect a methodology consistent with more appropriate assessment strategies. Particularly, these evaluations showed increases in interpretive data, use of interpreters, dynamic assessment techniques, inclusion of language and cultural issues, and a decrease in dependence on standardized test scores to determine eligibility. These results are very encouraging, and the team continues to expand its impact throughout the district.

Franklin W. Bender is an SLP who works part time for the Portland (OR) Public Schools, is in private practice as an ELL/SPED consultant, and teaches at Portland State University. Contact him by e-mail at

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March 2004
Volume 9, Issue 5