Assessing Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Students

By Jennifer Oden, Loyola Marymount Los Angeles, Masters in School Psychology
Image of 2 students who might be linguistically diverse

What to do with linguistic diversity in schools?

Teachers and psychologists often have concerns related to assessing culturally and linguistically diverse students. There are several factors related to accurately testing Limited English Proficient students. When assessing students who have limited English proficiency, there are issues of acculturation to consider, as well as issues with bilingual interpretation, and fair assessment procedures.


Acculturation is a very complex concept. Acculturation is not always directly observable nor is it always measured in the same way. Although assessing acculturation can be difficult, it can be considered an important factor in many aspects of psychological functioning including learning and development. Though there are several ways to assess acculturation and each of these ways carry limitations:

  • Interviews- Unfortunately, the interview questions tend to never be as important as to whom the questions are asked. Adults are able to give more straight forward answers, but children and adolescents seldom do. To avoid this limitation when interviewing students, it is best to try and interview the parents as well.
  • Observations- One might observe the manner or style of dress, participation in or celebration of holidays, and overt expressions to cultural knowledge. The home environment tends to be the richest place to observe acculturation; however this is a limitation because observing others in their home environment is rather difficult to do.
  • Questionnaires- Several limitations accompany the use of questionnaires to evaluate acculturation. First, the selection of an appropriate questionnaire considering the population is often a difficult choice. Second, it is hard to place all the elements of acculturation into specific questions that might be limiting. Third, psychometric problems may arise when scales end up measuring more than one construct at once. Finally interpretive issues while scoring the assessment data could be limiting in that explanations may vary depending on the scorer.

Bilingual Interpretation

Unfortunately, the following is a common example of the misuse of bilingual interpreters during the assessment process: Mrs. Garcia, the school’s bilingual aide, is constantly asked to be an interpreter for IEP meetings.  She often feels very unprepared and asks other school staff for guidance.

If Mrs. Garcia were to express concerns regarding her role as an interpreter at an IEP meeting, it would be important to offer her several points of advice:

  • She must be proficient in the native language- able to speak, read and write.
  • She must take time to gain some general knowledge about possible topics that might arise in the IEP meeting- consult several dictionaries, develop intimate knowledge of grammar, slang, and common expressions.
  • She must come to understand that cultural differences might lead to changes in meanings of certain words and/or expressions. Be aware of possible difficulties in communication because of this.
  • Gain an understanding of the ethics involved in interpretation- work within your competency, continue to improve your skills, respect appointment times and deadlines, translate faithfully the intent and spirit of the speaker in a neutral fashion, uphold confidentiality.
  • Meet with the school psychologist and other personnel who will be attending the meeting prior to the actual meeting date. Discuss ahead of time some of the things you will be required to interpret.
  • Maintain a neutral role as much as possible. Do not undermine the conversation.

Fair Assessment Procedures

The equity viewpoint of fairness proposes that assessment be tailored to the individual student’s instructional background and experiences. Keeping this in mind, teachers and psychologists should chose from a variety of assessment methods. There are multiple examples of tests that are norm-referenced to use with limited English proficient students, as well as tests that are informal and therefore are more fair to students who are not English proficient.

Advantages to using informal measures include individualized criterion and item selection, ongoing documentation, direct comparison to instructional content, and they unlimited in nature. However, the disadvantages of using informal measures are greater in number and include wide variance from teacher to teacher, and teaching-to-the-test effects.

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