Test norms problematic for high- and low-SES kids

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In this study, the authors analyze high-SES and low-SES preschoolers’ language test scores, and demonstrate a big difference in group scores on the Preschool Language Scale—4 and Peabody Picture Vocabulary Tests—3. Now, many of us already recognize that SES predicts child language performance somewhat. However, this isn’t just “somewhat”. And—here’s the problem—our standardized tests are providing us with a single set of norms, meant to represent an entire population (matching US census data), not show us how certain groups (e.g. SES) perform. This study, combined with (many) previous, “indicate that typical cutoff decisions (for speech–language services) using published norms will lead to identification of both (a) a large proportion of children from low SES homes, perhaps as great as 50%, and (b) only a very small proportion of higher SES children, perhaps as little as 1%.” Ooph! That's going to mess with our clinical decision-making.
 
So, what should we be doing? Many of us are well aware that test norms should be only one factor used in making eligibility decisions. However, our states and school districts are still using firm cutoffs from norm-referenced tests to make qualification decisions. This could clearly put a disproportionate number of lower-SES children in SLPs' therapy rooms who do not have a language disorder, and also under-qualify higher-SES kids.
 
The authors call for test publishers to start providing us with sub-sample norms, so that a child’s age, grade, and SES could be considered when making peer comparisons. The authors suggest that while SLPs wait for test publishers to provide us with more useful normative data, our role is to simply make sure we understand the drawbacks of weighing test norms too heavily for certain groups of children. The authors state that there is an “… absolutely critical need for SLPs to consider family SES in the interpretation of child performance on norm-referenced measures of oral language when making eligibility decisions…”

Abel, A.D., Schuele, C.M., Arndt, K.B., Lee, M.W., Blankenship, K.G. (2016). Another look at the influence of maternal education on preschoolers' performance on two norm-referenced measures. Communication Disorders Quarterly. Epub ahead of print. doi:10.1177/1525740116679886.

NOTE: This article would be great for SLP or SPED group reading. It's well-written, easy to read, short(ish), and has some fantastic discussion points, beyond what’s summarized above.