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This study has exposed the disconnect between research, state and federal law, and clinical practice. Despite lack of validity in determining disability and even though federal law (IDEA, 2004) recognizes that lack in requiring assessment materials to be “valid, reliable and free of bias,” many state laws continue to require norm-referenced tests in determining disability and in establishing severity level.
Background: This study reviewed state guidelines for determining severity of child language impairment and to what extent norm-referenced tests were suggested or required. Additionally, the authors reviewed test manuals available in current norm-referenced tests for information regarding their utility in making severity determinations.
Methodology and Participants: Authors collected information from state departments on best procedures for determining the severity of language impairment. Additionally, authors collected test manuals for 45 norm-referenced child language tests to ascertain to what extent the tests were designed for the purpose of determining language impairment severity. Finally, state criteria were compared to test design as described in the manuals. Authors found published state guidelines for determining severity level for 8 states, all of which indicated the use of norm-referenced tests in the process.
Conclusion: Results revealed variation in the extent to which norm-referenced tests were used as well as cut-off points. However, in no case did specifications of the state match with indications in test manuals. In cases where test manuals did provide information for determining severity through test scores, evidence was not provided demonstrating how the scores were identified or the validity of using them as a way to determine severity. Authors concluded stating, “Researchers and clinicians should be cautious in determining the severity of children’s language impairment using norm-referenced test performance given the inconsistency in guidelines and lack of empirical data within test manuals to support this use.”
Relevance to the Field: It has already been established in the research that norm-referenced, standardized tests are not valid, reliable, or accurate in distinguishing between children with language disorder and those that are typically developing for a number of reasons. This study demonstrates that they are also not useful in establishing severity levels of language impairment if one exists. This study has exposed the disconnect between research, state and federal law, and clinical practice. Despite lack of validity in determining disability and even though federal law (IDEA, 2004) recognizes that lack in requiring assessment materials to be “valid, reliable and free of bias,” many state laws continue to require norm referenced tests in determining disability and in establishing severity level. Norm-referenced/standardized tests used in disability determination are contributing to the over referral of minorities in special education. Additionally, therapy and setting determinations are often made based on the perceived severity of the impairment. Even if the child truly has a language impairment, using a test score to drive therapy decisions is likely causing therapy to be inappropriate for the true nature of the child’s disability. For these reasons, it is necessary to use appropriate assessment procedures in order to determine the presence of language impairment.
Spaulding, T. J., Swartwout Szulga, M., & Figueroa, M. (2012). Using norm-referenced tests to determine severity of language impairment in children: Disconnect between U.S. policy makers and test developers. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 43, 176-190.