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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:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.