A variety of assessment materials and procedures are frequently used in speech and language as well as psychoeducational evaluations. These include static and dynamic assessments and language samples.

Dynamic vs. Static Assessment

One important distinction in assessment is between static and dynamic assessment. In static assessment, the evaluator administers an assessment and the individual’s performance on that assessment is determined by comparison to norms or set criteria. A static assessment assesses the skills and knowledge the individual has gained from his or her prior experiences. It does not assess the individual’s ability to acquire skills and knowledge since that would have happened before the assessment was completed. Current commercially available assessment materials are static assessments. They generally are either norm-referenced or criterion-referenced tests.

Norm-referenced tests compare the test-taker’s performance to the performance of individuals in the normative sample. A criterion referenced test, however, compares the test-taker’s ability to a number of criteria assumed to have been acquired by the test taker at that age (e.g., linguistic forms, vocabulary, spelling skills,etc.). Norm-referenced tests are usually not valid for culturally and linguistically diverse children because the norming sample is not representative of the individual’s background. Comparatively, criterion-referenced tests are very susceptible to the bias of the test developers since the test developers are the ones determining what skills and knowledge should be present by what age. Commercially available tests are generally not suited for use in diagnosing language impairment as IDEA (2004) requires assessment materials to be valid, reliable and free of bias.

Dynamic assessment, in contrast to static assessment, looks at an individual’s ability to acquire skills or knowledge during the evaluation. Clinical judgment is required to accurately administer a dynamic assessment because the evaluator is responsible for comparing the individual’s performance on the assessment tasks with the performance of typically developing children from the same speech community. In dynamic assessment, a skill is tested, then taught and then retested. With this procedure, you are giving the individual the chance to learn the skill or knowledge being tested. There are no currently available commercially published dynamic language assessments. However, research has demonstrated the usefulness of several dynamic assessment procedures, including fast mapping and non-word repetition tests, with less of the bias and validity issues that are common to static assessment (Dollaghan & Campbell, 1998).

Language samples are one of the less biased assessment tools available to clinicians.Language samples can be elicited in different ways. Many clinicians use pictures that imply a story or absurdities. These can be useful in eliciting a speech sample especially when used with many children in a similar speech community because this allows the clinician to improve his or her clinical judgment. As he or she uses the same pictures with many children, the evaluator becomes very good at knowing what the performance of a typically developing versus a disabled child will look like. The evaluator can also use toys, such as dolls, puppets or costumes, that encourage complex language use. Language samples should then be analyzed according to expectations for the child’s cultural and linguistic background. Language samples are especially useful when creating holograms, as they provide a way to illustrate the child’s strengths and weaknesses while providing concrete data. If a language sample cannot be collected because the child does not voluntarily interact with the examiner or due to other circumstances, the examples collected from the parent during interviewing will be especially useful. The parent interview is important because it provides the information essential to determining whether the child truly has a disability or concerns are being caused by other factors (e.g., typical second language acquisition, subtractive bilingualism, etc).


Nonword Repetition Assessment Task


Dollaghan, C., & Campbell, T. F. (1998). Nonword repetition and child language impairment. Journal of Speech, Language, and Hearing Research41, 1136-1146.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004, H.R.1350,108th Congress (2004)