The Role of Independent Language and Literacy Assessments in Speech Pathology

Independent assessments of language and literacy are crucial tools for designing precise, beneficial treatment recommendations for students with language and literacy needs. Independent assessments conducted by speech-language pathologists (SLPs) outside the school system can provide valuable insight into the client’s strengths and needs as well as effectively aid in creating targeted interventions.

Purpose of Independent Assessments

The primary aim of independent language and literacy assessments is to establish detailed profile of the student’s language and literacy strengths and needs as well as to develop personalized treatment goals for a child. These assessments:

  1. Identify Specific Needs: Unlike evaluations that might be conducted to meet general educational standards, independent assessments focus on identifying specific language and literacy challenges a child faces, which might be overlooked in a broader educational assessment.
  2. Tailor Interventions: They help in tailoring interventions that are specific to the child’s unique needs, which can differ significantly even among children with similar educational diagnoses.
  3. Provide a Second Opinion: Independent assessments offer a second opinion to school-based evaluations, which might be constrained by limited resources, time, or specific administrative agendas.
  4. Engage Parents and Caregivers: They involve parents and caregivers more deeply in the diagnostic process, providing them with a clearer understanding of their child’s needs and the rationale behind proposed treatment strategies.

Challenges with Schools Acceptance

Despite the value added by independent assessments, schools reserve the right to reject these reports due to various reasons:

  1. Resource Constraints: Schools often have limited resources with respect to what tests they use for assessment purposes. As such administrators may feel that the tests used by the district SLPs (which did not identify any difficulties) accurately reflect that the student has no language and literacy needs.
  2. Policy Differences: There can be a discrepancy between the findings of independent assessments and the classification criteria (often arbitrarily) established by the school district (particularly as related to qualification for therapy services).
  3. Budgetary Concerns: Special education can be costly. For example, following the implementation of the School Funding Reform Act of 2008 in New Jersey, the average cost per special education student rose significantly, leading some districts to vary widely in how they identify and fund students with disabilities.
  4. Administrative Priorities: At times, school agendas or priorities, such as maintaining certain statistical outcomes or performance metrics, may lead to the sidelining of external recommendations that do not align with these goals.

Grounds for Rejection?

Parents should be aware that the reasons schools give for rejecting external assessment findings might not always be rational or understandable. After conducting their own internal review, schools have the authority to dismiss any external assessments, and their reasons for doing so can appear unreasonable to someone not familiar with the process. Here are a few examples I’ve heard in the past week alone:

  1. Clients sought a qualified provider out of state due to the lack of available options within their own state. School dismissed the assessment by undermining the provider’s credentials, as if crossing state lines invalidated provider qualifications.
  2. Initially, a school rejected a teleassessment, questioning its validity and reliability. This decision was later reversed when presented with research evidence demonstrating that teleassessments are a credible method for evaluating language and literacy skills.
  3. The administration delayed acknowledging an independent evaluation report for six months. After this period, they unexpectedly informed the parents that a new reassessment was necessary. This was despite their own district guidelines that reevaluations are required on triannual basis (every three years) and despite no evidence in speech pathology suggesting that assessment results expire after six months.

Benefits of Independent Evaluations

1. Objectivity

One of the primary advantages of independent assessments is their objectivity. External speech-language pathologists (SLPs) are not influenced by previous evaluations or the potential biases that might exist within a school or community setting. This detachment allows for a fresh perspective on the client’s abilities, potentially uncovering aspects that previous assessments may have overlooked.

2. Comprehensive Coverage

Independent evaluators often use a wide array of tools and methodologies that might not be available in all school or clinical settings. These comprehensive evaluations are crucial in accurately diagnosing complex cases where the interaction between different linguistic and cognitive abilities needs to be understood in depth. This thorough approach ensures that all facets of language and literacy are evaluated, leading to a more detailed understanding of the client’s needs.

3. Expertise and Specialization

Independent SLPs may bring specialized expertise that general practitioners in school settings might not possess. For example, they may have specific training in pragmatics, reading and writing all of which is intricately linked to literacy. This expertise allows for more targeted assessments and can lead to more effective, customized intervention plans.

4. Enhanced Intervention

With detailed and specialized assessments, the intervention strategies can be better tailored to the individual’s needs. Independent assessments can provide a clearer roadmap for what specific therapies or interventions will be most effective, allowing practitioners to optimize treatment plans and potentially achieve better outcomes.

5. Needs Validation

For students in educational settings, independent assessments can serve as important validation of their needs, which can influence the support services they receive. These assessments can provide evidence that supports the need for individualized education programs (IEPs) or accommodations, ensuring that resources are allocated appropriately to assist the student in their learning environment.

6. Empowerment

These evaluations empower parents and caregivers by providing them with detailed information and an independent second opinion about their child’s or dependent’s abilities and challenges. This empowerment facilitates more informed decisions regarding treatment options and educational strategies.


Independent language and literacy assessments are not conducted to challenge or fight school findings but to enrich and enhance the understanding of a child’s specific needs. These assessments are critical for developing effective, thoughtful, and personalized treatment plans that ensure the best outcomes for children with speech and language challenges. While there may be instances of pushback from educational institutions, the goal of these assessments remains clear: to advocate for the child’s best interest in achieving optimal language and literacy development.

This emphasis on child-centric evaluation and intervention underscores the importance of collaboration between independent SLPs and educational systems to overcome barriers and enhance support for children requiring speech and language therapy. By recognizing the complementary roles of these assessments, both parents and educators can work towards more integrated and effective approaches to supporting child development in language and literacy.

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