#139: Assessing Language: Formal Assessments

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This Week’s Episode: Assessing Language: Formal Assessments

This month we are diving into all things language assessment with Kallie Knight.

This first episode, Getting Started with Language Assessments, is a primer on best practices, and now we get to chat about how we really feel about formal assessments.

Are you ready to hear Kallie’s true feels? I hope so, because in all honesty — I agree with her!

Let’s chat!

You just got a new language evaluation…

In this episode, Kallie dives into formal assessments and why she isn’t the biggest fan. She shares her reasons why and some of her *favorite* formal assessments and how she then uses them in tandem with informal assessments.

Let’s hear some of the assessments she has used:

✔️ CELF – Clinical Evaluation Language Fundamentals
✔️ CASL – Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language
✔️ TNL – Test of Narrative Language (Storytelling-based test)
✔️ PLS – Preschool Language Scales
✔️ TILS – Test of Integrated Language and Literacy Skills
✔️ PPVT – Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (one word vocab test)
✔️ MacAuther Bates
✔️ CCC – Childhood Communication Checklist
✔️ Communication Matrix

Interested in psychometric properties? Check out this episode, Assessment 101: Formal Assesments. 

✨ Want to see Marisha’s general evaluation process? Check out the checklist here!

✨  Need the SLP Now Paperwork Binder to help streamline your process? SLP Now members can grab it here!
(Not a member? Sign up for a free trial and search for “paperwork binder” once you’re in!)

Here’s what to expect this month:

October 4: Getting Started
October 11: Formal Language Assessment
October 18: Informal Language Assessment
October 25: Making Recommendations

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Speaker 1: Hello there, and welcome to the SLP Now Podcast, where we share practical therapy tips and ideas for busy speech language pathologists. Grab your favorite beverage and sit back as we dive in to this week's episode.

Speaker 2: Welcome to the SLP Now Podcast. We are continuing our series on language assessment. This week we are diving in to formal assessment, and Kallie Knight is joining us again to kind of share her experience and her tips for navigating those formal assessments when we get our language referrals. So, the big question, what are some of your favorite or go-to formal assessments for language? And if you can give us an explanation of why you like them and maybe a quick overview of what they entail and what they look like, that would be super, super helpful.

Kallie Knight: I can do that, and I guess I have to preface, because hopefully my tone doesn't already show this. I am not a fan of formal evaluation tools for many reasons. Part of it might be because I've always worked in very diverse schools, both linguistically, socioeconomic. So we all know that formal evaluation tools are standard. Standardized evaluation tools often don't represent those students or those demographics. So I think, in my heart, I just have a really hard time using these tools anyway.

Kallie Knight: But I'm going to try to give you some objective information without letting my tone sync through about some of my feelings. I'll go through some of the evaluation tools that I've used, and I'm going to be honest, it's not because they're my favorite or I think that they're the best. It's just what I've had on hand. But when we talk about informal evaluation, I'll tell you how I maximize my use of these tools.

Kallie Knight: But some of the ones that I've used, people have probably heard of the CELF. I'm probably going to butcher what they actually mean. What is it, the Clinical Evaluation Language Fundamentals? You might have to help me with some of what they actually are, but that's comprehensive, receptive, expressive language. I know there's other parts to the CELF, too. I don't always give the whole entire thing, mostly because I just think I get more information elsewhere.

Kallie Knight: The CASL. I don't even know if I really know what the CASL stands for. I know it's an assessment of spoken language. I don't know if C is comprehensive. Maybe Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language. I actually think the CASL is fairly good, has a lot of different areas that it breaks down and evaluates, which I think is good, and then of course can give you output measures for expressive receptive pragmatics.

Kallie Knight: I like the TNL, so the Test of Narrative Language, but anyone who knows me knows that I love narrative language assessment intervention. So of course I'm going to choose something like that. So that's obviously a storytelling-based test. I've used the PLS, and I know people have a love/hate relationship with the Preschool Language Scales and the scary bear, but it is what it is.

Kallie Knight: I've also used the TILLS, which I like. The TILLS is the Test, I think, Integrated Language and Literacy Skills, I want to say. It's more of a literacy-based test. So you do get expressive receptive scores, but you also might get scores that are helpful in reading, or especially if I have a student who's also being referred for dyslexia. So we might have some of those concerns. That's not my responsibility in my school. That's our dyslexia or diagnostician's kind of wheelhouse. But I might do the TILLS because I could provide helpful information for them.

Kallie Knight: I've also done the PPVT, so the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test, and the expressive receptive one-words. I actually really don't like those, because I don't think you get that much out of a one-word vocabulary test. But that was not objective, that was subjective. So do what you will. If I'm working with little kids, I do like to use some of the checklists like the MacArthur Bates or the CCC. I think it's the Childhood Communication Checklist, I want to say. Those you can give to a parent or someone who knows the child well, and those are more vocabulary-based, but I think when you're that little looking at vocabulary and combination of words is more helpful, whereas if you're working with older students, I don't find that to be quite as helpful.

Kallie Knight: And I think the last one that I usually have and use is the Communication Matrix, and that might be for my students who are not completely speaking yet or just have more delayed language skills, and that just gives you an idea of ... And it goes from being intentional to full-on communication, and it may have nonverbal or gestural or even pre-linguistic skills that that looks at, and that's done by parent, teacher, and or therapist report. And I think I've just [inaudible 00:05:06] through everything that I probably have had at my disposal.

Speaker 2: But I am super impressed with with you remembering all of the acronyms.

Kallie Knight: Oh, my goodness.

Speaker 2: I love that. I love the Communication Matrix, too. That's been super helpful. It helps you break down a student's communication and gives you some really practical information, and it's nice to be able to get feedback from teacher, parent and all of that to kind of work towards building a plan for those kiddos. And it's a lot easier to kind of focus on their strengths, because if we are to giving the CELF or the TILLS to a student who's not yet speaking, we don't get very much useful information from that, so.

Kallie Knight: Exactly.

Speaker 2: Yeah. And that one is free to access, isn't it?

Kallie Knight: Well, it's free for a certain amount of uses, and then they ask you to pay for it just because it is a free option. But I know that some people just use a different email address every time to be free.

Speaker 2: Oh no.

Kallie Knight: But it is free for a certain amount of uses.

Speaker 2: Yeah. So it could be a really cool thing to try. And even if you have to pay for, it's much more affordable than purchasing a full-on assessment. So I feel like it's an easy case to make for the district.

Kallie Knight: It's like you said, it's actually really helpful, and they also can help you auto-generate blurbs to put in your report, and it auto-generates really nice kind of visuals and graphs that I copy and paste and put in my reports. So obviously that's not something that you need to use with every child, but if that fits their needs in the assessment, I highly, highly recommend that one.

Speaker 2: I know this is a tricky question to answer, because we're speaking very generally, and it's hard to get from the general to the specific. But I'm just curious if you can give us a little bit of insight into your process in terms of how you decide which assessments you use, and do you ever use a time measure? Like, okay, I have about this much time to evaluate a student. Do you make decisions based off of that? What does that process look like for you?

Kallie Knight: I'm going to give a disclaimer here that you might want to either ask or give the opinion of a couple people on this, because my answer, I think, is going to be very real, but it may upset some people. Have I probably in my life made a decision that I need to give a test, I only have this amount of time, so I'm going to choose one that I can do fairly quickly? Probably, yeah, because that's the reality of it. But it kind of goes back to what I said. I have a limited amount of time to use with every student anyway, and I don't put most of my eggs in the formal assessment tool basket. So a lot of times I will just choose something that I can do fairly quickly, get a general idea, get the score that they want, and then move on to informal, and I'll talk later about that.

Kallie Knight: Contextualizes everything I find in my formal to either confirm or refute it. So actually what you said, based on time, actually could be quite a powerful reason that I choose something, yes. Do I always try to choose something that's psychometrically strong, meaning maybe they have decent classification accuracy? Most formal assessment tools, but people don't always know to look at the psychometric properties. Something that for me, like I said, I work in Title I and very diverse schools.

Kallie Knight: I'm certainly trying to choose something that's going to maybe represent my students and consider different language- and culture content-type biases. Can't do a lot about that with a lot of our formal tests because they're kind of mainstream, middle class, Caucasian-type culture ties. But I mean, those are the things I consider. In general, that's probably not the best answer, but we don't live in a real beautiful. Everything's kind of gray, and the tools we have are trying to be black and white.

Speaker 2: Yeah, no. And I love that just real perspective of an SLP who's been in the trenches. What does that look like? And it's amazing to attend the presentations that give us the perfect ideal situation of all the things we should be doing. And I think SLPs who are in the trenches who are struggling to do that perfect gold star evaluation, and I'm really excited about next week's episode, diving in to informal assessment and how we can really leverage that. I feel like maybe that should have been the whole month, what we should have talked about.

Speaker 2: But I think this was a really important conversation to have, and if you heard Kallie talking about psychometric properties, and you're like, What? How do I look that up? What do I do? I talked about that in episode 135. So if you want a super quick recap of the psychometric properties and what to look at, check out that episode. And yeah, I think that's a wrap on our discussion for formal assessment. And then, get excited, mark your calendars for next week where we'll dive in to informal assessment.

Speaker 1: Thanks for listening to the SLP NOW podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please share with your SLP friends, and don't forget to subscribe to the podcast to get the latest episode sent directly to you. See you next time.



Hi there! I'm Marisha. I am a school-based SLP who is all about working smarter, not harder. I created the SLP Now Membership and love sharing tips and tricks to help you save time so you can focus on what matters most--your students AND yourself.

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