Assessment of Spanish-Language Students
in U.S. Schools
or miscues in speaking, reading or writing, which can be explained
by their primary language’s influence on English, are
to be expected. These miscues are developmental, and they
do not constitute a learning problem or (dis)ability. They
are an indication of a natural phenomenon of linguistic transference
from the primary to the second or the new language.
| The student’s
unique language acquisition background
Was the child exposed/involved only with Spanish
at home, with English first encountered when he or
she entered school (a sequential learner),
Was the child exposed to two or more languages from
birth (a simultaneous learner) (Hammer, Miccio and
have shown that there are critical differences between
the linguistic profiles of these two groups (Goldstein
& Washington, 2001). When a child is learning two
languages, he or she will apply aspects from the first
(L1) and second (L2) language, and vice-versa. Therefore,
the bilingual student will follow a “different
developmental course of language development in each
of their languages in comparison to monolingual children”
(Kester & Peña, 2002, p.3).
The literature suggests that even the development of
children’s phonological systems can differ when
the child is learning more than one new language. Therefore,
in order to assess a child’s language performance
appropriately, the child’s language needs to be
compared to that of other children with similar backgrounds
and linguistic histories.
| The geographic origins
of the child or the child’s family
country or region within a country is the child from?
(Each area, national as well as regional, may have
its own unique linguistic patterns.)
Spanish is a common language spoken in so many different
parts of the world, it must be acknowledged that there
are linguistic variations between the Spanish as it
is spoken in Spain and that Spanish varies from one
Latin American country to another. In fact, there are
not only variations between countries, but there are
also regional variations within these countries. Some
of these variations are:
- second person verbal forms;
- differences in pronunciation, intonation, and accent
| The length of time
that a child's family has been in the U.S.
the child’s family lived in the United States
for ten years and adapted to the new culture,
Did they just move to this country?
can also influence the extent of the child’s acculturation
process and, therefore, the strength of the influence
of their native culture on their communication style and
behaviors (also known as pragmatics).
history as well as educational background
instance, has the child been in a monolingual Spanish
classroom for several years, or
in a bilingual classroom in which Spanish is spoken
for part of the day?
communication patterns of second language learners are
expressed developmentally according to their growth
and the stage of second language acquisition.
The data indicates that “L2’s acquisition
follows a developmental course that is strikingly similar
to that of L1. Sounds that are acquired late in the
developmental sequence by monolingual speakers also
tend to be acquired late by second language learners”
(Mattes & Omark, 1991, p.11).
When you are faced with the question: “Are
the errors or miscues in reading, writing the result of a
linguistic influence or are they an indication of a learning
disability?” The first step is to ask yourself:
- What do I already know about linguistically and culturally
- What essential questions do I have about my ELL student’s
language and cultural needs?
- What knowledge do I need to seek that will support my
effectiveness as a teacher/assessor of these students?
To begin to explore the answer to some of these questions,
you are invited to link to STARTING
POINT before initiating a referral or any eligibility
assessment of an ELL at (beginning, intermediate or
advanced) levels of English proficiency.
Before any valid interpretation of the assessment data collected
on a Spanish-speaking student, you need to have acquired the
essential linguistic and cultural knowledge factors such as:
- the main characteristics of English.
- the stages of second language acquisition and the
levels of English
- the difference between fluency and proficiency (BICS
- factors that influence second language acquisition
- the main characteristics
of Spanish and how they differ from those of English.
- how the home language contributes to the Spanish studentís
learning to understand, speak, read and write in English
as a new language.
- similarities and differences between second language
acquisition and learning disabilities indicators.
- cultural diversity pedagogy
- level of
acculturation of the student
- studentís family cultural
background (e.g. values, beliefs, child-rearing practices
and behaviors) and how similar or how different it is from
U. S. majority culture.
- influence of culture on assessment, learning and motivation
To be able to explore the distinction between linguistic
differences and learning disabilities, many educators need
to enrich their professional knowledge with an upgrade
in diversity education, which focuses on cultural and linguistically
specific information (Wilson-Portuondo, 2004).
NOTE: Spanish-speaking students come from a diversity
of countries and academic backgrounds. This site only
focuses on those that come from Puerto