Common Speech Language Pathology Assessment Tools

When evaluating speech and language disorders or communication disorders in an individual, it’s the speech therapist’s job to  select the proper assessment tools based on the client’s age, language profile, cultural heritage, values, communication related factors, such as cognitive functioning and hearing impairment, and severity of presumed disorder. Learn more about some of the common SLP assessment tools below.

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What Are Speech Pathology Assessment Tools? 

Speech pathology assessment tools are various instruments that a speech language pathologist (SLP) can use to measure, diagnose and rehabilitate individuals at any age.  Careers in speech pathology vary widely, and the collection of tools and technologies available for clinicians is equally comprehensive. Whether the goal is to evaluate speech and language disorders or communication disorders, an SLP can identify an appropriate assessment tool.  

Due to the developmental differences between adults, children, and infants and toddlers, speech pathologists may approach assessment differently for each of these age groups. However, a speech pathologist can select several assessment instruments to help address patients’ various speech and language needs. 

Speech Therapy Standardized Assessments 

Derived through empirical means, current standardized assessment tools for speech pathologists provide established statistical validity and reliability, according to an article on speech and language assessment from the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. A standardized test, built on a foundation of consistency, requires all test takers to respond to identical questions, and answers are graded in the same, predetermined manner. This standardization allows a clinician to compare the respective behavior among individuals or groups of individuals. The two types of standardized assessment tools are criterion referenced and norm referenced. Learn more about each below:

Criterion-Referenced Tests 

The criterion-referenced test is a standardized speech pathologist assessment tool that compares an individual’s knowledge or skills against several predefined performance criteria or benchmarks, according to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association. Benchmarks may include detailed written descriptions of what an individual is expected to know or be able to do at a specific level of education or developmental stage.  Applications for this type of assessment tool in an educational setting include identifying whether a student has learned particular skills or knowledge. Although passing or earning a perfect score on a criterion-referenced test is desired, success does not indicate perfect knowledge but that the individual met the established performance standards. Examples of this type of assessment tool include:

  • Driver’s test
  • School year-end final
  • Employment certification exam

Norm-Referenced Tests 

The second type of standardized speech therapy assessment tools compares and ranks test takers in relation to their peers, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association notes. This test allows for comparison to a large group of statistically selected individuals such that they are the same age or the same grade level and have taken the test. While a norm-referenced test does not indicate whether an individual met or exceeded a specific criterion or standard, it provides insight into the individual’s performance.  Scores from norm-referenced tests are recorded as a percentile ranking. For example, an individual who scored in the 75th percentile performed as well as or better than 75% of the test takers of the same norming group, like age or grade level. Examples of norm-referenced tests include:

  • Standard Achievement Test (SAT)
  • Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC)
  • World Health Organization (WHO) Baby Growth Rate Chart

Selecting and Interpreting Standardized Assessments 

To determine which assessment tool for speech language pathologists one should employ, the clinician may consider any concurrent diagnoses or disorders that can vary from population to population, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). If the norming sample fails to represent the testing individual, the resulting standard scores would likely be unreliable and invalid. In addition, standardized tests must be linguistically and culturally applicable. Translation of a standardized assessment invalidates test results, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reports. 

Examples of SLP Standardized Assessments 

To help ensure the efficacy (the ability to accurately diagnose speech and sound disorders) of standardized tests, it’s important that the clinician utilizes well-constructed assessments that possess an appropriate normative sample, reliability (how consistently it measures a behavior), and validity (if the test measures what it is intended to measure). According to Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital’s article on delayed speech, the early detection and treatment of speech or language delays and disorders is also important. 

Below are some assessment tools SLPs may use.

Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (Bayley-III) 

Designed for use with children ages 1 to 42 months, the Bayley Scales of Infant and Toddler Development (Bayley-III) measures developmental functioning. This tool can help a clinician plan necessary interventions by identifying developmental delays in children. The Bayley-III can also help define a child’s strengths and weaknesses in five developmental areas: motor, cognitive, social-emotional, adaptive behavior and language. During an intervention, scales in this SLP assessment tool can help monitor the child’s progress. One scale is to be administered by the speech language pathologist with the child and two by the primary caregiver. 

Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF) 

The Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF; PDF, 376 KB) assesses an individual’s language and communication skills in various contexts to detect language disorders, describe the disorder’s characteristics and support planning for intervention or therapy. This SLP assessment tool is a thorough and flexible procedure that includes a number of tests a clinician can administer independently or in combination. The age range for the CELF is 5 to 22 years of age.

Differential Ability Scales Assessment (DAS-II) 

The Differential Ability Scales assessment (DAS-II) measures cognitive aptitudes essential to learning. It helps ascertain learning disabilities in children aged 2 to 18. This SLP assessment tool is of particular benefit in evaluating Spanish-speaking individuals and children who are hard of hearing or deaf. By establishing the individual’s strengths and weaknesses, the DAS-II helps determine necessary Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) goals and intervention approaches to support progress monitoring. 

Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation 3 (GFTA-3) 

The Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation 3 assesses an individual’s consonant sound articulation and identifies types of misarticulation. The speech language pathologist, or examiner, uses engaging images and verbal cues to prompt single-word responses from the examinee that test ordinary speech sounds. The age range for the GFTA-3 assessment is 2 to 21 years old.

PLS-5 English 

The PLS-5 English assessment measures language development and establishes a language delay or disorder by identifying an individual’s receptive and expressive language skills in several areas, such as play, attention, concepts, vocal development and language structures. This SLP tool determines the presence and type of language disorder by assessing strengths and weaknesses. Test results can help ascertain proper interventions and eligibility for services. The PLS-5 is applicable for children from birth through age 7.

Speech Language Pathology Assessment Techniques 

Because standardized tests may provide a mere snapshot of an individual’s authentic speech abilities, utilizing other speech pathology assessment methods in conjunction offers additional insight.  Speech pathology observation techniques are different from standardized assessments because they primarily involve observing the individual in varying contexts. The following are conventional assessment techniques for speech pathology.

Ethnographic Interviewing Technique  

The Ethnographic Interviewing technique for speech pathologists is a qualitative interviewing style that relies on broad, generally descriptive, and structural open-ended questions, a report from The ASHA Leader on framing questions notes. Its purpose is to obtain information about the examinee’s daily activities and experiences, along with the objects and people, such as family, friends and teachers, in their lives. This SLP assessment tool effectively gathers knowledge on the client’s social situations and views, including linguistic and cultural variables. It may be useful to understand how an individual may obtain or clarify information from their environment, including family members, caregivers and teachers. Specifically, this technique avoids the use of leading questions and “why” questions. Results  rely on being unbiased—clinicians should avoid creating assumptions about families and individuals based on general cultural, ethnic or racial information.

Language Sampling Technique 

The American Speech-Language-Hearing Association notes that the Language Sampling technique for speech therapists elicits spontaneous language in various settings, including free play, narration, conversation and expository speech. Since there are a variety of contexts used within this technique, this SLP assessment tool is intended to supplement standardized language assessment data. During the initial evaluation process, language sampling can prove useful in gaining insight into the client’s language abilities and overall conversational skills.

Analog Tasks Observation Technique 

This speech therapy observation technique involves a clinician observing a child in a staged communication context that simulates real-life scenarios, like peer group activities, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reports. This technique for speech language pathologists is also used to mimic workplace interactions with adults, doing its best to observe behavior and communication abilities in relevant contexts. As a tool in the SLP assessment toolbox, analog tasks can identify social communication defects and facilitate intervention strategies.

Naturalistic Observation Technique 

Speech language pathology observation techniques, like naturalistic observation, allow pathologists to observe the individual in social settings, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association notes. This technique may be used by speech therapists in the patient’s school or home and is intended to be spontaneous, arising from play,  daily activities or instructional activities. Thus, there is a lot of discussion around how to impose intervention within naturalistic interactions. Since the technique involves observation of a participant’s natural habitat, researcher notes may be unstructured without a relevant system—there may be too much information or too many variables in an uncontrolled environment.

Systematic Observation and Contextual Analysis Technique 

This speech therapist observation technique involves a clinician observing the individual in a variety of tasks and settings to determine his or her language functioning and to recognize trouble areas that play a part in communication proficiencies, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reports. The systematic observation and contextual analysis technique used by speech pathologists complements findings obtained from other assessment processes. Generally, this technique may be useful to identify contextual variables in someone’s communication style.

Curriculum-Based Assessment Technique 

The curriculum-based assessment technique is an ongoing assessment that monitors a student’s daily performance in relation to a school’s curriculum.  According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, the assessment can come directly from materials in the student’s classroom, such as a textbook (e.g., a chapter quiz), or it can involve inquiries or other types of direct assessment. Results from a curriculum-based assessment can be useful in developing instructional goals and evaluating the student’s progress. Plus, since it relies on the schoolwork’s language demands to determine problem areas, this technique may be used to evaluate a student’s progress through their schooling. 

Dynamic Assessment 

Since assessing children from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds can be complex, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association notes that dynamic assessment (DA) is a useful alternative to standardized testing methods. Dynamic assessment is the method or process of testing an individual, assessing his or her needs, and then addressing those weaknesses and retesting to determine if those needs were adequately met. Dynamic assessment can distinguish between language differences versus a language disorder; therefore, it can be used with standardized assessments and language sampling. It emphasizes the learning process and accounts for the nature of examiner investment. It’s fairly interactive and highly process-oriented. 

Parent/Guardian, Teacher and Self-Reporting Measures

Parent, teacher and self-reporting measures include various tools like rating scales, checklists, questionnaires and inventories that are completed by the parents/family members/caregiver, teacher or individual. The clinician can compare findings from these multiple sources to gain a comprehensive profile of the individual’s communication skills, the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association reports.  It is recommended that clinicians use a checklist when possible for non-native English speaking individuals to obtain accurate information.

What Makes a Powerful SLP Assessment Toolkit?

Someone with a  speech language pathology master’s may use none, some or many of these tests, assessments and techniques to help those living with speech language and communication disorders. What ultimately determines which, if any, assessment tools to employ is which would be most helpful to the individual being tested and the suspected disability, according to a Fusion Web Clinic article on common assessments.  Regardless of the SLP work settings, whether it be a school or hospital, there are a few things a clinician must keep in mind. Two tests must be completed to prove eligibility for SLP services, consider test biases, and their possible influence on results, compliance issues for behavioral considerations and non-native English speaking individuals.