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Psychoeducational Testing for Predominantly English-Speaking Students Receiving Schooling in French: Can a Learning Disability Explain Challenges?

If you or your child is struggling at school, a Learning Disability might be the reason. How do you know for sure? A Psychoeducational/Signature Assessment from the Possibilities Clinic can help you figure that out. Our Telemedicine Assessment services extend from Toronto to Ottawa, Hamilton to London, Oakville to Kingston, Oshawa to Thunder Bay, Kitchener-Waterloo to Windsor, and any other location in Ontario.
As a first step, we recommend that you request a Psychoeducational Assessment through your school. If you’re fortunate, you’ll be able to obtain an assessment at the school in a quick and timely manner.
But what if that’s not the case? If you’ve decided to obtain a private assessment, how do you decide where to go and what type of assessment to pursue?
What questions should you ask when seeking a Psychoeducational Assessment?

Testing students who speak English—as a dominant or first language—while receiving schooling in French adds complexity to any assessment of learning, especially when a Learning Disability might explain the difficulties your child is having. When you are looking for clinicians to test your child, it’s important to ask these questions:

  1. Will all of the testing be done in English?
  2. Will any of the testing be done in French?
  3. If there’s a mix of French and English testing, what kinds of tests will be done in French?

Asking these 3 questions of any clinic will help you determine whether there is a good fit for revealing difficulties accurately. Does receiving instruction in French explain your child’s challenges, or is something more going on? A gold standard approach to assessment when French instruction is a factor helps cut through this complexity. The most important features of gold standard assessment are highlighted here:


Recently updated Guidelines from the Ontario Psychological Association (OPA) address challenges related to the assessment and diagnosis of Learning Disabilities in students receiving French instruction whose first or dominant language is English. For an accurate diagnosis of Learning Disabilities in predominantly English-speaking students enrolled in French language programs at school, the OPA makes three core recommendations:

  1. The majority of testing should be done in English (for example IQ, memory, and language tasks).
  2. However, academic tasks that measure skills like reading, writing and spelling should be done in both English and French, with French academic testing done by an examiner proficient in French.
  3. English-speaking clinicians should work collaboratively with French-speaking clinicians so that both English and French testing results are interpreted with expert analysis of learning and development, and understood in the context of French instruction at school.

AT POSSIBILITIES we have always offered our most comprehensive Psychoeducational Assessments (called Signature Assessments) to predominantly English-speaking students in French programs—whether in French Immersion, in Extended French, or in French school—following these guidelines. We offer cognitive and attention testing in English, and academic testing in both English and French to determine—with the highest possible accuracy—if a Learning Disability is present in the context of French schooling. Our French-speaking clinicians work collaboratively with our English-speaking clinicians, to ensure that students receive assessments developed with the highest standards and strictest guidelines for ensuring accurate diagnoses and appropriate, evidence-based treatments.

If you want to learn more about the complexity of assessing predominantly English-speaking students learning in French, we’ll explain in more detail below. And yes, it is quite complicated from a clinical point of view—which is why there is so much information on this webpage! Rest assured, though, the most important points about assessing predominantly English-speaking students receiving French instruction at school appear in the box above. If you’re still motivated to learn about the “why” behind these gold-standard guidelines, meet Vivian.

Vivian is a Grade 3 student who has been in a French Immersion since Senior Kindergarten. Vivian’s family does not speak French, so she speaks English to her parents and brother at home. When Vivian is in class, though, most of her learning is in French. Vivian’s parents describe her as a smart girl who has made friends with many classmates. But learning in French has been difficult for Vivian, and she’s becoming more and more frustrated. Vivian struggles to spell in French, and reading in French is hard for her, too. She also has trouble speaking in French, and it’s difficult for her to understand what the teacher is saying.

If you’re reading about Vivian’s story—and your child has similar challenges learning in French—then you’ve probably asked yourself the same question. “Will my child catch up with more time in a French program?” It’s a great question.


In Vivian’s case, her parents understood that some growing pains would be expected at the start of French Immersion. Everyone in Vivian’s household speaks English, so learning in French would be an entirely new experience for her. But they hoped their daughter would catch on quickly, since she’s always been a smart child who could solve problems easily.

Despite her intelligence, Vivian began to struggle in Grade 1. Her teacher provided her with extra support to try and fill in gaps in her learning. Compared to classmates, though, Vivian’s challenges in French Immersion seemed bigger and much harder for the teacher to address. At home, Vivian’s parents noted difficulties spelling and reading in English, too. Vivian had seen very few English words as part of her schooling in French, so it made sense that spelling and reading in English would be challenging for her. But difficulties learning in French continued through Grade 2.

Now in Grade 3, Vivian’s classmates are learning at a pace expected by the teacher. However, Vivian is still struggling. She struggles to pay attention when the teacher is speaking French. She struggles to understand what is being asked of her when tasks must be done. She struggles to understand her French textbooks. And when she writes, her guesses at French spellings look much different than the attempts of her classmates. Vivian’s parents and teacher now wonder if Vivian has a Learning Disability.

The definition of a Learning Disability has evolved over the years. Generally, though, it means being smart and curious, but struggling significantly in one or more academic areas like reading, writing, and/or math. A processing deficit is usually part of the definition, too—like problems with attention or language or processing speed—that helps to explain why learning is so hard.

There’s something else you should know about Learning Disabilities, and it has to do with exposure. Clinicians shouldn’t conclude that a student has a Learning Disability if the student has not been exposed to specific teaching needed to learn a specific skill. So if a student has never been taught to read, then reading problems cannot be assumed to represent a Learning Disability. If a student has never been taught math, then problems performing calculations cannot be assumed to represent a Learning Disability. If a student has not been exposed to English words while writing, then challenges spelling English words cannot be assumed to represent a Learning Disability, either. So clinicians thinking about learning challenges when French instruction is in the mix have to keep this issue of exposure in mind. With the right information from a gold standard assessment, clinicians can determine whether learning problems represent an exposure problem that will be remedied with more French instruction, or a Learning Disability that requires specific, intensive intervention. 

We recommend testing starting in late Grade 1 if problems are identified. This timeline is in keeping with recommendations from the Ontario Psychological Association (OPA), and allows for the early Identification of Learning Disabilities. Academic difficulties still persisting into late Grade 2 and into Grade 3 are very concerning and need to be examined as soon as possible since a Learning Disability may be the cause.
Well, the answer to this question comes down to exposure. If a clinician relies only on English academic testing to determine if a student in a French program has trouble learning to read, or write, or spell, for example, then a Learning Disability might be diagnosed incorrectly. The student might be struggling in English not because of a Learning Disability, but because of limited exposure to English instruction. No one can know what they’ve never been taught.

The solution is administering some elements of a Psychoeducational Assessment—but not all elements—in both English and French. Let’s think back to Vivian. Her first language is English. So it makes sense to test her cognitive abilities—like her intelligence, processing speed, memory, and language skills—in the language she is strongest in—so we gain an accurate measure of her potential to learn and remember. 

Attention testing should happen in her strongest language, too, so poor understanding of French doesn’t get in the way of Vivian’s focus. 

Academic testing should happen in both English and French. That way, clinicians can see how the brain is learning in the language it’s being exposed to at school—which is French—and how learning is happening in English, the language spoken at home. Comparing the kinds of errors made in both English and French helps clinicians determine whether the difficulties in French learning are to be expected, or stemming from a Learning Disability.

At Possibilities, our Psychoeducational Assessments are called Signature Assessments. For predominantly English-speaking students receiving French instruction at school, our Signature Assessments with additional French components are divided into French and English testing in this way. 

If your child’s first or dominant language is French—and speaking and learning is much stronger in French than in English—then most of the assessment, including cognitive and attention measures, should be done in French. Whether both French and English academic testing are required will be determined by our French-speaking clinician, depending on what language your child is being exposed to at school.
The cost of this assessment is $5690. This cost, or a portion of it, may be covered by employee benefits or private insurance plans.
For more information about our Signature Assessment with French components, please contact us at [email protected] or call 1-833-482-5558. You can also get started right away by completing our Child and Adolescent Intake Form or our Adult Intake Form. A doctor’s referral is also required since a physician is involved in the assessment. 

Once the doctor’s referral is received, and the Intake Form has been completed, our Care Coordinator will get back to you with booking options. 

Please note that we are currently unable to provide our French testing option to students within CSViamonde, since our French clinician provides services to this school board. Check back here to receive updates about our ability to assess CSViamonde students in future.

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