Dynamic assessment

dynamic assessment

Dynamic assessments are an important component of a speech-language pathologist’s role in understanding a client’s speech and language skills.

Regardless of the setting, a speech-language pathologist typically starts by completing an initial assessment with the client. Then, the SLP might complete a re-evaluation of the client’s skills at periodic intervals (e.g., after 6 months or 1 year of therapy).

A typical component of a speech therapy assessment is the administration of a standardized test. The test is then scored by the SLP to determine the client’s areas of strengths and difficulties.

But, is this always the most effective means of completing an assessment? What if you feel like the test results aren’t reflecting the client’s true abilities? There is an alternative method of completing an assessment that might help in those situations. It’s known as dynamic assessment.

Dynamic assessment is a method of assessment that “measures an individual’s performance with the assistance of an experienced peer or adult.”

While probing various skills, the evaluator might provide the client with certain prompts or modifications to determine whether these benefit the child’s ability to complete certain tasks.

Dynamic assessment is based on the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s theory of the Zone of Proximal Development (ZPD).

The test-teach-retest model of dynamic assessment can yield helpful information that can also guide the course of treatment and therapy goals. Here’s what SLPs should know about dynamic assessment, including how and why to incorporate it into their practice.

What is Dynamic Assessment (DA)?

Dynamic assessment is a term many SLPs have likely heard at some point during their career, but may not be incorporating into their practice yet. DA is basically a way of assessing a client that is interactive and focuses on the learning process.

In a Dynamic Assessment, the speech-language pathologist might start by looking at the results of a standardized assessment or another means of determining an area of concern.

The SLP would then chooses a measurement that:
  • Provides a sample of a specific language skill
  • Maintains sensitivity to changes occurring short term in the client’s learning process
  • Demonstrates emerging skills

Dynamic Assessment Example
Here’s an example of how an SLP might incorporate dynamic assessment as a tool in therapy:
  • Test: Using a wordless picture book and asking the client to tell a story.
  • Teach: Based on the strengths and difficulties that the client shows in narrative language abilities during the task, teach him or her specific skills. For example, certain narrative elements like organizing elements of a story.
  • Retest: Ask the client to tell the story again with the same wordless picture book and take note of if and how the client uses the strategies you reviewed, and whether they improve their performance.

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What is the SLP’s role in DA?

The SLP uses a Mediated Learning Experience (MLE) during DA. The MLE describes how the SLP provides intervention while using DA.

The components of MLE are:
  • Intentionality (explaining the goal to the child)
  • Meaning (discussing why the goal is important for him or her to reach)
  • Transcendence (connecting/generalizing the goal to other daily situations)
  • Competence (statements about how the child can complete a certain task independently, like remembering to use certain strategies)

Dynamic Assessment vs. Standardized Assessment

During administration of standardized tests, the SLP (the evaluator) takes on a more passive role. It’s important for the therapist to follow testing protocols to maintain the validity of the scores - and that means adhering to the specific, word-by-word instructions outlined by the assessment.

Assistance like providing verbal repetitions of directions may not be allowed, or are only allowed for a specified number of times as outlined by the testing manual.

In dynamic assessment, the SLP more actively engages in the assessment of skills. Contrary to observation, in DA, the clinician presents intervention strategies and assesses how effective they are for the child.

Benefits of using Dynamic Assessment

Scores yielded in standardized tests can be helpful, though they do not alway capture the “full picture” with regards to a client’s abilities and stimulability to gain certain skills.

Benefits of using Dynamic Assessment include:
  • Provides information to the SLP on how a child responds to certain types of interventions
  • Yields a language sample (that can be analyzed by the therapist for more information)
  • Helps differentiate a language difference versus disorder for English language learners

What clients should DA be used for?

Dynamic assessments can be used by SLPs with clients they would like to gain additional information on such as strengths, difficulties, and stimulability for using therapeutic techniques to improve skills.

According to the American Speech-Language Hearing Association (ASHA), dynamic assessment is recommended, particularly when “evaluating students who are culturally and linguistically diverse”.

DA findings: What’s next?

How can the SLP report on the findings from a dynamic assessment?

Using the previous example of having the child tell a narrative while looking at a wordless picture book and incorporating DA, the SLP might report something such as:

(Client) demonstrated difficulty with sentence and story organization, including difficulties sequencing and retelling a narrative. Dynamic assessment indicated improved performance with the client’s ability to retell a story while incorporating narrative elements when a graphic organizer was utilized.

Treatment options

The results of the dynamic assessment can assist an SLP in determining factors such as frequency and recommended length of intervention.

In the school setting, the SLP might relay the results of the DA to the teacher and other professionals working with the child. Knowing the strategies that were or were not found to be effective during the assessment can be helpful for use in the classroom setting.

More resources for speech therapy assessments

Knowing how to complete a Dynamic Assessment can help SLPs complete diagnostic evaluations and gain valuable information for goal planning in therapy. TheraPlatform has some amazing resources for Speech Language Pathologists to aid in this effort including ICD-10 coded lookup that will auto-populate to documentation, billing and claims. It can also be used to manage your private practice. Consider starting with a free trial of TheraPlatform today!

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