Language-literacy assessment: focused, research-based and process-oriented

NOTE:   Suggested tools for 60-90 minute process-oriented assessment are listed on the document attached (under Reference).


Marquart and Gillam (1999) discussed the importance of descriptive methods in the identification and differential diagnosis of language disorders in the context of the frameworks typically used in evaluation. Recent research supports the use of an evaluation protocol that includes a range of reading measures to address the language processes that are the most predictive of reading success  (Harlaar, N. et al., 2010).  Selecting reading materials (e.g., textbooks) directly from the client's curriculum allows especially pertinent and powerful observations (Nelson and Van Meter, 2002). 

The protocol is focused and process-oriented in that it is organized not around any specific "test" but around specific language processes that have been shown to be the most  important underpinnings (and the most predictive) for language-literacy development. According to Harlaar, et al. (2010) these processes are:

1) phonological decoding

2) word recognition

3) listening comprehension

4) vocabulary

The assessment protocol covers the above language processes, is relatively quick to administer, has good reliability and validity, can be used or adapted for clients across a wide age range and provides a clear guidance for treatment planning.


Basic diagnostic questions are:

  • Is there a problem?
  • If so, how severe is the problem?
  • What type of problem is it? 
  • What intervention approaches have been proven to be most effective with this type of problem?

  The clinician administering a process-focused assessment must have:

  • Knowledge of the orthographic structure of written English. (See the checklist of word and sub-word structures in this article.)
  • Knowledge of how children (and adults) learn to read, spell and write and how these skills are related to oral/aural language development.
  • Knowledge of language processing systems and neuro-biological processing disruptions.
  • Knowledge of how to match a client’s processing patterns to evidence-based interventions.
  • Knowledge of the psychometric aspects of individual assessment procedures and instruments.
  • Skills to select and administer assessment procedures and instruments that address the basic diagnostic questions.
  • Skills to perform an error analysis on assessment samples (e.g., a spelling error analysis)


Protocol for evaluation of language processing skills based on the Simple View of Reading theoretical model:


  Assessments include a mix of standardized and descriptive measures.


  • Standardized articulation testing may be included if the provider is a Speech-Language Pathologist and speech articulation is a concern. (If the provider is not a SLP and speech is a concern, refer to a SLP for this component of the evaluation.)

Hearing & listening

  • Confirm hearing has been screened and is within normal limits

Phonological Processing (awareness & memory)

  • The Test of Auditory Processing Skills-Revised (TAPS-R)

Rapid  Automatized Naming   (RAN)

  •  Rapid naming assessment using standard tasks and related to standardized life span data:   van den Bos, et al. (2002). Life-Span Data on Continuous Naming Speeds of Numbers, Letters, Colors, and Pictured Objects and Word Reading Speed



  • The Expressive One Word Picture Vocabulary Test (EOWPVT) and/or
  • The Receptive One Word Picture Vocabulary  Test (ROWPVT-4)

If a word-finding disorder is suspected consider administering both the expressive and receptive versions and computing a difference score. Children with word-finding disorders typically score significantly lower on expressive measures of vocabulary than on receptive measures of vocabulary.

Listening Comprehension

  • The Test of Auditory Processing Skills-3  (TAPS-3) (Auditory Comprehension and Auditory Reasoning Subtests )
  If a word-finding disorder is suspected assess listening comprehension using both an oral response and a non-oral response (German, 2007).

Sound-Letter Association

  • Z-Screener (The Lexercise Clinician's version) -  This is a free, online descriptive assessment available only to Lexercise Clinicians. It assesses the client's ability to decode short, phonetically regular word patterns with an emphasis on the automatic decoding of the  “rime” or vowel segment.
  • Descriptive assessment of decoding of all six syllable types.

Single Word Reading

  • San Diego Quick Assessment (SDQA) - The Lexercise Clinician's online version is free and automatically generates a report of the client's grade level word reading. This test has been found to be a valid estimate of reading ability.

Text Reading



1) Correct words per minute;

2)   % Correct words

3) Compare to norms


  • Oral text reading at specific Lexile range(s)
    • 1” passage at client's SDQA instructional level
    • 1” passage at grade placement level
    • See procedures described here



Written Language

  • Written language  Collect a writing sample using a standard procedure and perform a descriptive analysis of spelling, sentence structure & discourse structure; Calculate the number of Correct Writing Sequences (CWS) and compare to standard scores.



German, D. J. (2007). Formulate a Second Hypothesis: Word Finding Based Oral Reading Errors. A White Paper.

Harlaar, N., Cutting, L., Deater-Deckard, K., DeThorne, L.S., Justice, L.M., Schatschneider, C., Thompson, L.A., and Petrill, S.A. (2010). Predicting individual differences in reading comprehension: a twin study. Annals of Dyslexia, Vol. 60 (20). (Abstract)

Isaacson, S. Simple Ways to Assess the Writing Skills of Students with Learning Disabilities. Reading Rockets Website.

Marquart, T.P. and Gillam, R.B. (1999). Assessment in communication disorders: some observations on current issues.  Language Testing.  Vol. 16 (3). 249-260. (Abstract

Nelson, N.W. and Van Meter, A. (2002). Assessing Curriculum-Based Reading and Writing Samples. Topics in Language Disorders, Vol. 22 (2). 35-59. (Article)


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