Assessment of Bilingual Students: A Case Study

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Theories of Learning

Structural Theory sees the person’s mind as a mediator between knowledge and experience, emphasizing how humans do not simply absorb or detect information from the environment (Seifert, 2002, p. 38).

Cognitive Theory, or learning theory, entails rapid associations with stimuli or the association between responses and reinforcements (Seifert, 2002, p. 40). Several different types of learning can take place under this theory: (1) associative or classical conditioning; (2) operant conditioning; and (3) vicarious conditioning. Classical conditioning is concerned with establishing connections between stimuli. Connections between response and consequences are known as operant conditioning. Vicarious conditioning is also known as “observational learning” because if the response and consequence were a part of someone else’s behavior, it did not actually happen to the observer. Nevertheless, learning still occurs.

Information Processing Theory separates the mind, knowledge, and the “energy” it takes to motivate learning into different conceptual entities (Seifert, 2002, p. 41). This theory sees the mind as a container for information, or knowledge, while the energy it takes to learn requires accessing different types of stored strategies or templates to aid in making sense of the information by organizing and tying it together in a relevant way.

SBTL: Socially based learning theories highlight the interactive component of learning. There are three main varieties including (1) social mediation of cognitive change; (2) use of cultural tools to learn; and (3) group participation to promote learning together (Seifert, 2002, p. 43).

Social mediation describes learning through help from others, either from peers, a parent, or a teacher. (Seifert, 2002, p. 43). It works best when a student is actively participating in the learning experience by asking questions and when the teacher gives the student a chance to respond in such a way for clarification and solidification of learning new concepts.

Cultural tools work as mediators by acting as a norm or structure by which things are done, emphasizing the extension of societal rules, and by transcending its practical use, in the same way a computer considered comparable to a human mind (Seifert, 2002, p. 44).

Group participation, or joint creation of knowledge, helps people combine their already existing knowledge to gain an understanding of new ones (Seifert, 2002, p. 45). Interaction can spawn new ideas or new ways of thinking about a solution to a problem.

Domain: Language Development

The first objective was to gain meaning by listening, and this was illustrated by the reading of a book entitled The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle (1969). I read the book during morning group time. The children were expected to answer any questions on the reading.

Another objective was uses expanded vocabulary and language for a variety of purposes. In The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the caterpillar eats many different types of food – some healthy and some “junk food.” The student was encouraged to talk about what foods are nutritious and what can happen when he overeats. He was also asked about his favorite foods. This was meant to demonstrate the child’s use of vocabulary and language. The task was to look through magazines for pictures of food, cut them out, poke holes in them and run green yarn through the holes to represent the caterpillar. A specific recipe for caterpillar salad was given that included one apple, two pears, three plums, four strawberries, five oranges, and mint leaves.

The final objective was “comprehends and responds to stories read aloud.” The teacher demonstrated a story with the flannel board pieces first then invited the students to try illustrating it themselves in whatever way they could think of. A life cycle of a butterfly was the illustrative goal, which started with an egg on a leaf, growing and eating, enters a cocoon, and emerges a butterfly. H decided to act it out with his classmates. The students held their ankles and bent down to represent the egg, “squirmed like a worm” to imitate larva, crawled into a sleeping bag with colored handkerchiefs, and emerged from the cocoon swaying their handkerchiefs in the air like the wings of a butterfly.

Justification of Teaching Style

The style of my methods included positive aspects of all aforementioned learning styles. Under the structural theory, I am to ask the proper questions to prompt students into thinking about a problem in a particular way (Early Childhood Curriculum and Assessment: Critical Perspectives). This acknowledges H’s prior knowledge about the world in that H would not be fit to learn at the same level as the other students if he was not at the proper stage of development. He is in progress and shows the potential to learn efficiently. As it pertains to the book, the children demonstrate prior learning – that is, how the butterfly differs from other insects in the way it looks and changes its body. My class activities are social in and of themselves. It requires the active participation of both listening and talking amongst peers and to the teacher. Therefore, the socially based theory of learning is utilized here. Information processing theory is most apparent with the caterpillar salad and the transformation of the caterpillar into a butterfly. Children bring in their own experiences about the world to creatively complete the assignment. There were step-by-step instructions given and students were expected to respond to the stimuli in a way that drove them to organize preexisting notions of fruits, vegetables, and butterflies.

Learning theory required modeling concepts and ideas. I modeled the reading of a book as well as the transformation of a caterpillar in a way that enhanced their understanding. As the students gain understanding, this serves as their positive reinforcement for being attentive. By successfully imitating my modeling, the students make meaning out of what has been modeled, try it themselves, and gain confidence by accomplishing their goal. There is less explanation on the teacher’s part with this theory and more doing the desired behavior.

Assessment of Effectiveness

There should be a before, during, and after measurement protocol for the students that is meant to shed light on their development during different points in the curriculum. Students would begin with a pre-test measuring the objectives within my selected domain of language development. I would read a different book with similar difficulty and ask questions to test comprehension. To measure expanded vocabulary, I will ask students to find different objects from magazines associated with different themes. Instead of a caterpillar salad, the theme could be “things I like to do with my friends” or “anything that can be found in a kitchen.” To test comprehension of stories read aloud, I will demonstrate a different story each time, and ask students to replicate it with creativity. The latter two objectives will be quantified on more of a qualitative basis (i.e., students will either demonstrate understanding as a group or not). The pre-test would serve as a baseline, while midway through the school year another test of the same difficulty would be administered. Finally, at the end of the year students would be tested once more. Additionally, I would develop a questionnaire to discover what their home life is like, what culture they identify with, and what languages most commonly use and in what contexts. It is beneficial to know more about the socio-cultural context of the student to get a better representation of their intelligence. A concept that encompasses many domains is Vygotsky's zone of proximal development (ZPD).


Vygotsky’s concept of ZPD was studied by Rutland and Campbell (1996) to determine its relevance in assessing children with disabilities. ZPD is known as the difference between a child’s performance on a given task in an assisted versus an unassisted manner. The procedure required children to use a mapping system to help them locate an object within that space. This measure goes beyond IQ tests, assessing several domains of development without dooming them to never or hardly improve. Results from the study showed that ZPD had more predictive validity for the pretest-post-test improvement than the IQ score or initial static measures (Rutland & Campbell, 1996, p. 156). This points to a possible bias in standardized measures of intelligence in our society, such as IQ tests.

Numerous studies have elaborated on ideas regarding language assessment and instruction. Caesar and Kohler (2007) aimed to find biases within the current system used by school-based speech-language pathologists (SLPs), namely by investigating the frequency with which SLPs used recommended practices for assessing bilingual students, and the frequency with which SLPs used standardized tests versus informal procedures. What they found was a tendency for SLPs to favor standardized, formal assessments that do not show cultural sensitivity outside the dominant population. Furthermore, less than 1% of all 409 public school SLPs in the study were bilingual themselves, hinting a lack of diversity concerning primary language. Out of the 409 SLPs, nearly 70% said that they had bilingual students on their caseload whose lineages span 40 different languages. Seventy-five percent of the SLPs said English was the only language they used when assessing bilingual students. This would not be as prominent an issue if more culturally sensitive assessments were used instead of a culturally diverse SLP sample. Rather than train SLPs how to speak as many languages as a multilingual translator, it would be more practical to use this data as a starting point for improving assessment protocol by including culturally sensitive means to obtaining sound information about the child.

Girolametto and Cleave (2010) studied the assessment and intervention of bilingual children with language impairment. The children showed no signs of delays in neurological development or cognitive ability and any social ineptitude only had to do with a lapse in language, not social skills per se. As touched on in the linguistic theories of Stephen Krashen, three concepts to better understand the assessment results of a bilingual child that are commonly overlooked are the distribution of abilities in two languages, cross-linguistic association, and individual variation (Girolametto & Cleave, 2010, p. 453). This article argues for language sampling, or a collection from multiple sources, and the triangulation of this data to see a more representative picture of the child’s linguistic ability. Moreover, comparisons with peers who display optimal bilingual learning are encouraged, as are narratives. Narratives offer a less biased approach because they are contextualized. A study showed that monolingual and bilingual students performed just as well as one another on narrative tests. Caroline De Lamo White and Lixian Jin (2011) were also concerned with society misdiagnosing bilingual children as cognitively impaired and sought to evaluate procedures for assessing this population. They found that the sociocultural approach was the most effective means for assessing bilingual students. It is based on the premise that language is “inseparable from the influence of their social and cultural environment” (De Lamo White & Jin, 2011, p. 621). This is a holistic approach in that it considers everything - the child’s developing speech within the context of their culture and social environment. As a new method, it is still relatively untested in the field but shows promise in developing accurate testing for bilingual children and may hold implications for expanding into part of an SLPs training.


There is a huge disparity between the expectations of bilingual children and the reality of their intelligence because it is measured with assessments insensitive to their culture. The first step in improving this situation is becoming more aware of it and letting other aspiring teachers and SLPs know that bilingual students are being looked at under a crooked lens. Most of the standardized approaches are not valid – they do not actually measure what they claim to be measuring. I plan to look at every student holistically, to never neglect their background or the impact their culture has on their everyday lives. I am confident in my ability to engage students in their own learning experiences with one another in groups and through lectures. There is not just one type of intelligence; there are many. What standardized tests attempt to do is quantify one type. But what about the other types? This is where bilingual students are given a skewed reputation. Assessments need to be more accurate so that the help can be given in the most productive ways. As an aspiring education professional, it is my job to create an environment where any student can thrive.


Caesar, G., L., & Kohler, D., P. (2007) The state of school-based bilingual assessment: Actual practice versus recommended guidelines. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 38, 190-200.

Carle, E. (1969) The Very Hungry Caterpillar. New York: Putnam.

De Lamo White, C., & Jin, L. (2011) Evaluation of speech and language assessment approaches with bilingual children. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 6, 613-627.

Girolametto, L., & Cleave, L., P. (2010) Assessment and intervention of bilingual children with language impairment. Journal of Communication Disorders, 43, 453-455.

Early childhood curriculum and assessment: Critical perspectives. (2014) Lecture given at Institution Name, City, State.

Rutland, F., A., & Campbell, N., R. (1996) The relevance of Vygotsky’s theory of the ‘zone of proximal development’ to the assessment of children with intellectual disabilities. Journal of Intellectual Disability Research, 40(2), 151-158.

Seifert, K. (2002) Sociable thinking: Cognitive development in early childhood. In. Saracho, N., O. & Spodek, B. (Eds.), Contemporary Perspectives on Early Childhood Curriculum (pp. 35-47). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing.