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Assessing Spanish–English Bilingual Preschoolers

Assessing Spanish–English Bilingual Preschoolers

A Guide to Best Approaches and Measures
Authors: Sandra Barrueco Ph.D., Michael López Ph.D., Christine Ong Ph.D., Patricia Lozano

ISBN: 978-1-59857-219-3
Pages: 296
Copyright: 2012
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Stock Number:  72193
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As the population of young dual language learners continues to rise, how can early childhood professionals choose culturally and linguistically appropriate assessments for Spanish–English bilingual preschoolers? They'll get expert guidance in this one-of-a-kind resource, a comprehensive roundup and analysis of 37 developmental assessments available in English and Spanish. The only guide that examines specific early childhood bilingual measures, this book gives professionals detailed reviews culled from the highly respected authors' extensive research and comparative analyses. For each measure, program administrators, curriculum developers, SLPs, and other professionals will

  • get an at-a-glance snapshot of key characteristics, including age range, cost, domains measured, and time requirements
  • evaluate major strengths and weaknesses
  • easily compare the English and Spanish versions across cultural, linguistic, and psychometric properties
  • learn the basics of administration and scoring
  • investigate technical data, including standardization, norming, validity, and reliability
  • see if the tool includes adaptations and accommodations for children with disabilities
  • review the results of relevant studies that used the measure

To help professionals conduct the most effective assessments, the book also includes research-based strategies and solid background information. Readers will get a helpful overview of bilingual language development, general guidelines on selecting measures for young dual language learners, and tips on administering assessments with awareness of and respect for cultural and linguistic influences.

An essential resource to support informed decision-making, this invaluable guide will help professionals choose culturally and linguistically appropriate early childhood assessments that accurately capture the abilities of young dual language learners.

A featured book in our Successful Screening and Assessment Kit!

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Review by: Carol Hammer, Professor, Communication Sciences and Disorders, Temple University

"A must-have . . . Everything one wants to know about the assessment of dual language learners is pulled together in one invaluable volume."

Review by: Alison Bailey, Professor, Department of Education, UCLA

"A compendium of vetted Spanish and English assessments for use with young children that can be utilized to take the guesswork out of assessment choices by early childhood care and education professionals."

Review by: Brian Goldstein, Temple University

"Well-researched, well-resourced, and easy to use . . . an indispensible resource for any practitioner who has ever asked, 'what test should I use?'"

About the Authors

Bilingual Assessment During Early Childhood

  1. Assessing Young Children within and Across Two Languages
  2. Selecting Appropriate Dual Language Approaches and Measures
  3. Techniques for Administering Assessments to Dual Language Preschoolers
  4. Guide to the Measure Reviews and State of the Field

Appendix A: Alphabetical List of All Measures Originally Considered
Appendix B: Measures at a Glance: A Visual Representation of the Relative Strengths and Weaknesses of the Measures Reviewed

Individual Review of Measures

Battelle Developmental Inventory–Second Edition (BDI–2): English
Battelle Developmental Inventory–Second Edition (BDI–2): Spanish
Bilingual Vocabulary Assessment Measure (BVAM)
Boehm Test of Basic Concepts–Third Edition Preschool: English
Boehm Test of Basic Concepts–Third Edition Preschool: Spanish
BRIGANCE Preschool Screen–II: English
BRIGANCE Preschool Screen–II: Spanish
Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals®–Preschool–Second Edition: English (CELF® Preschool–2: English)
Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals®–Preschool–Second Edition: Spanish (CELF® Preschool–2: Spanish)
Compton Speech and Language Screening Evaluation of Children: English
Compton Speech and Language Screening Evaluation of Children: Spanish Adaptation
Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning–Fourth Edition (DIAL–4): English
Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning–Fourth Edition (DIAL–4): Spanish
Early Literacy Skills Assessment (ELSA): English
Early Literacy Skills Assessment (ELSA): Spanish
Early Screening Inventory•Revised (ESI•R) 2008 Edition
Inventario para la Detección Temprana•Revisado (IDT•R) 2008
Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test–Fourth Edition (EOWPVT–4): English
Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test–Spanish–Bilingual Edition (EOWPVT–SBE)
FirstSTEp: Screening Test for Evaluating Preschoolers: English
PrimerPASO Screening Test for Evaluating Preschoolers: Spanish
Get Ready to Read! Screening Tool (GRTR): English
Get Ready to Read! Screening Tool (GRTR): Spanish
Merrill-Palmer–Revised Scales of Development (M-P–R): English
Merrill-Palmer–Revised Scales of Development (M-P–R): Spanish
Peabody Picture Vocabulary TestFourth Edition (PPVT–4): English
Test de Vocabulario en Imágenes Peabody (TVIP)
preLAS® 2000: English
preLAS® 2000: Español
Preschool Language Scale–Fifth Edition (PLS–5): English
Preschool Language Scale–Fourth Edition (PLS–4): Spanish
Receptive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test–Fourth Edition (ROWPVT–4): English
Receptive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test–Spanish-Bilingual Edition (ROWPVT–SBE)
Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey–Revised, Normative Update (WMLS–R NU): English
Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey–Revised, Normative Update (WMLS–R NU): Spanish
Young Children's Achievement Test (YCAT): English
Prueba de Habilidades Académicas Iniciales (PHAI)


Excerpted from Chapter 2 of Assessing Spanish–English Bilingual Preschoolers, by Sandra Barrueco, Ph.D., Michael López, Ph.D., Christine Ong, Ph.D., & Patricia Lozano, M.A. Copyright© 2012 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Assessments in both Spanish and English are being increasingly included as part of efforts to improve knowledge, services, programs, and policies for the growing population of Spanish–English dual language children in the United States. However, along with the increased use of Spanish and English assessment measures, there is a concomitant need for improved guidance to the field in both the selection and appropriate use of such measures. In particular, the language(s) to be used while assessing language skills is a primary question. It is discussed first here, followed by a description of the psychometric, linguistic, and cultural features of assessment that also necessitate careful consideration.


The selection of the most appropriate measures and measurement approaches when assessing young dual language children should be guided by a number of factors. It is critical to carefully collect information from parents and other caregivers regarding the child's prior and current language exposure and abilities. This information can then be used in combination with information on characteristics and technical properties of different measures and measurement approaches to best address the specifi c developmental, diagnostic, or research questions of interest.

Language Assessment and the Language of Assessment

Given the variability that exists within the linguistically diverse population, there are multiple strategies for approaching the measurement of language skills among young DLLs, whether one is using direct child assessments or parent reports. The following sections discuss 1) common strategies used to determine a child's primary or dominant language, 2) approaches for choosing the best language in which to assess dual language children, and 3) advantages and disadvantages of assessing bilingual children in different languages or combinations of languages.

Determining a Child's Primary Language(s)

One key consideration for direct assessments of bilingual children is determining the child's primary or dominant language(s). The subsequent decision then focuses on the language or languages in which to conduct the assessment: the child's primary language (i.e., the language that the child uses most often and/or most accurately) or a combination of languages. Because each of these approaches yields different information, the choice should be guided in part by the intended purposes of the assessment results. Therefore, the accurate initial determination of a child's primary or dominant language(s) informs assessment choices and interpretation of the resulting data.

Sources of Information on a Child's Primary or Dominant Language(s)

When deciding how best to determine a child's primary or dominant language, early childhood professionals must take into account the relative reliability of the available reporters. Many approaches used to determine a young dual language child's primary language proficiency status involve collecting parent reports about prior home language exposure, the language(s) spoken most often in the home, and the child's current level of proficiency in both English and the home language (Espinosa & López, 2007; Gutiérrez-Clellen, Restrepo, & Simon-Cereijido, 2006). For the youngest children, reports on primary language would likely be made by parents, teachers, or other care providers. Yet depending on how long a child has been in a given out-of-home care setting, and the formality of both intake, screening, and assessment procedures and teacher-parent interactions, a care provider or teacher may not be able to confidently report on the primary or dominant home language of the child. Unless the care provider has specifically attempted to gather information from parents about the child's home language experiences and his or her current use of and proficiency in each language with all household members, it may be difficult for the care provider to accurately determine the child's primary language, language dominance, and/or relative proficiencies across different languages.

Sensitivity of Measures

Given the variability in the timing and rate of acquiring different language skills and abilities, care must be taken when assessing a child's relative language proficiencies at any given point in time. The onset and rate of language acquisition depend on factors within both the child and the child's home and other learning environments (Anderson, 2004; Pan et al., 2005). The child's personality, aptitude for languages, interest, and motivation interact with the quantity and quality of language inputs and opportunities for use to influence the rate of language acquisition and eventual fluency levels (Romaine, 1994). Multiple skills are involved in language use, and a child's profile of dual language skills could be complex or even contradictory. Depending on his or her age, the amount of prior English exposure and the particular stage of English language acquisition, and the stage of home language acquisition, a child may perform differently on different types of assessments. For example, many young dual language children demonstrate greater proficiency on measures of receptive vocabulary than measures of expressive vocabulary, as the latter requires a more advanced set of language-related skills and abilities (Tabors & Snow, 1994). Therefore, the fact that a child may demonstrate proficiency in a few narrow linguistic skills (e.g., items on a language screener that assess receptive language skills) does not necessarily mean that the child is equally proficient in other areas of language.

Thus, efforts to determine an individual dual language child's primary or dominant language(s) should clearly articulate the specific definitions and factors used in the assessment process, such as the type of informants used, information on exposure to both primary and secondary languages, and related information collection procedures that will be used. The process chosen to determine a child's primary or dominant language(s) would then shape subsequent decisions about selecting the corresponding direct child assessments.

Different Approaches to Choosing the Language(s) of Assessment

More complex than determining the child's primary language(s) is choosing assessment processes that will gather meaningful information in one or both languages. Many of the different assessment approaches used with dual language children acknowledge the complexities of bilingual language and literacy development and try to overcome the limitations of many of the assessment tools discussed here. Different assessment approaches range from a sole focus on the use of English assessment measures or the total exclusion of non–English-speaking dual language children in research and accountability assessment, to relatively sophisticated efforts that take into account an array of developmental skills and abilities both within and across languages (Espinosa & López, 2007). The following sections review three methods of using information on a child's primary or dominant language to guide related decisions pertaining to the assessment of dual language children. Each method yields different information, which is often used for different purposes. The methods are as follows:

  • Preliminary screening for primary language(s), followed by administration of assessments in a single language
  • Separate administration of measures in each language
  • Conceptual scoring of measures administered in a combination of two languages

The selection of a particular assessment approach should be guided in large part by the specific developmental, diagnostic, and research questions at hand and the types of data that will be needed to answer those questions.

Formal Prescreening of Language Proficiency

The most commonly used language proficiency prescreening approach, a monolingual language prescreening, is more applicable for research and accountability assessment purposes than for instructional planning or diagnostic purposes. Several major evaluation studies have screened for minimal proficiency in English prior to administering each wave of English-language assessments. The Early Childhood Longitudinal Study– Kindergarten (ECLS-K; National Center for Education Statistics, 2000) is one example of dual language assessment conducted primarily in a single language. In this study, children from non–English-speaking homes were initially screened using the English version of the Oral Language Development Scale (OLDS), which was developed using several subtests of the preLAS 2000 (Duncan & De Avila, 1998). The non–English-speaking children who scored above an empirically derived threshold score on the OLDS indicating a minimal level of English oral proficiency were subsequently assessed using English direct assessments of reading, general knowledge, and mathematics. However, those Spanish-speaking children who scored below the cutoff on the OLDS completed only a limited set of assessments in Spanish (i.e., only the translated mathematics and psychomotor direct assessments).

This type of monolingual prescreening procedure helped ensure that assessment results better reflected the children's abilities in the content areas rather than their proficiency in English (or lack of English proficiency). In other words, children were directly assessed on the broader array of assessments only when they demonstrated a certain minimum level of English proficiency. Furthermore, this approach kept children with little to no English from having to complete frustrating assessments that they likely were not able to understand. However, it is important to note the differential impact that this screening process had on the composition of the final sample, especially the sample of children from Spanish-speaking backgrounds. Overall, 15% of the total ECLS-K sample screened with the OLDS; 62% of those screened were children whose home language was Spanish (9% of the total sample). About half of the children who were screened were not administered the full direct child assessment battery because their English skills were below the threshold (National Center for Education Statistics, 2000). However, those screened out were primarily Spanish speakers (58% of the children screened out; 4% of the total sample). These screened-out children represented almost a 48% reduction in the number of Spanish-speaking children who participated in the full battery. Excluding this number of children significantly undermined the knowledge gained regarding the early childhood development targeted by the ECLS-K. Again, such a strategy would not be appropriate for assessments of dual language children for instructional planning or diagnostic purposes. Nor would such an approach be appropriate for use in research or accountability efforts when such efforts are expected to contain anything more than a minimal percentage of Spanish-dominant children, who would be likely to be screened out by such an approach.

A somewhat similar prescreening approach involves separate bilingual language Prescreening conducted in both English and Spanish. In this approach, a child first completes brief language screening measures in both languages to determine his or her minimal proficiency in both languages and/or the more dominant language. Then the child completes the rest of the assessment battery in the more dominant language. Results obtained using this method more accurately reflect a child's peak skills in his or her more dominant language than likely would have occurred if the decision about the language of assessment had been guided by more informal information on the child's language abilities. One strength of this approach for use in research or accountability efforts is that a greater percentage of children then participate in the assessment process either in Spanish or in English.

However, there are some important limitations to both the monolingual and bilingual language prescreening approaches. Assessing children in one language only makes it difficult to understand both their separate and comparative linguistic proficiencies in each separate language. Key understanding of separate (English and Spanish) bilingual developmental trajectories and outcomes is lost. Bilingual screening would be most meaningful if it occurred periodically, because children may switch dominant languages over time (McLaughlin et al., 1995).

Dual Language Administration of Assessments

Another dual language assessment strategy overcomes some of the inherent limitations of the monolingual or bilingual language prescreening approaches by conducting assessments in both English and the child's home language (Espinosa & López, 2007; Hammer, Lawrence, & Miccio, 2007; Páez & Rinaldi, 2006). This dual administration approach allows for the simultaneous examination of children's performance in both their home language and English at any given point in time as well as the examination of developmental variations at different ages and over time.

The dual language assessment approach has many obvious advantages over the previously described approaches, mainly with respect to matching the language(s) of assessment with one or more language(s) in which the child is actually proficient. In other words, children would be assessed separately in each language in which they are at least minimally proficient. However, there also are some limitations. When young dual language children enter more formal care and education settings, they not only face the challenges of rapidly learning a new language (typically English) but also may experience changes in their rate of acquisition of their home language (Genesee et al., 2004; Hammer, Lawrence, & Miccio, 2007). If data are gathered at only one point in time, the results from a dual language administration approach need to be interpreted with extra care for children during this transitional period, as their performance on either measure may be substantially lower than that of either their predominantly English-speaking peers or their dual language peers who are not undergoing such a transition. Furthermore, current research provides little clear guidance on how to either statistically analyze or interpret the separate information obtained on children's English language versus home language developmental trajectories. In addition, a dual administration approach can also involve extensive additional testing time, cost, and practice effects.

Conceptual Scoring Approaches

An emerging strategy in the field of multilingual measure development is the use of measures that have standardized conceptual scoring of items, wherein a child's correct responses are accepted regardless of the language in which he or she provides them. Some advocate that this approach measures children's overall knowledge, skills, and abilities irrespective of the language in which their responses are provided (Pearson, Fernandez, & Oller, 1993). For measurement tools developed intentionally for such use, individual items are typically developed (written, tested, refined, and standardized) simultaneously in both English and Spanish. Extensive care needs to be taken to ensure that each item in each language is answered correctly by the same percentage of children of the same age. These matching questions are then used during the actual administration; usually the tester is allowed to provide prompts in both English and Spanish. In addition to recording the child's response for each item, the assessor also indicates the language of the response. Measures that are specifically developed for this purpose also tend to have appropriate normative samples to compare with the child's score. One example is the Expressive One-Word Picture Vocabulary Test–Spanish-Bilingual Edition (EOWPVT-SBE; Brownell, 2001). The EOWPVT-SBE was standardized with a sample of 1,050 children who generally matched the demographic characteristics of the U.S. Hispanic population. The normative sample included an oversampling of individuals from the Western region whose dialect was Mexican-Spanish, whereas Hispanics from other geographic and dialectical regions were somewhat underrepresented. Thus, scores derived from the EOWPVT-SBE can be compared with normative scores for Spanish-speaking bilingual children in the United States.

The resulting standardized score from such conceptually scored measures could be considered to reflect a child's combined or total knowledge within the given domain assessed irrespective of his or her primary language or languages. This approach thereby overcomes one of the main limitations of the dual language or prescreening approaches described previously: the possible loss of information about a child's overall abilities due to assessment in only one language or separately by language. The method may be particularly appropriate within the context of research or accountability data collection efforts that include a substantially high proportion of bilingual children and/or studies designed to assess bilingual children over time, as the relative balance of the children's respective language abilities is also likely to change (e.g., Hammer et al., 2008; Páez, Tabors, & Lopez, 2007).

Although the standardized conceptual scoring approach has many advantages (e.g., it is less burdensome, it is more cost effective, and it captures an overall or combined perspective of a child's language or literacy functioning), there are some important limitations. For example, on receptive language assessments, the child is only required to provide a correct response in one language or the other, which does not accurately assess the child's full range of receptive language abilities in each separate language. Furthermore, if the purpose is to assess the development of children's separate language abilities both at any given point in time as well as longitudinally, the use of such an approach would not be warranted. In sum, the decision to utilize such an approach needs to be guided by the specific question of interest that the assessment is intended to address. Another major limitation is the scarcity of measures that have been developed and standardized to reliably and validly gather conceptual scores across languages.