Dynamic Assessment: How Does it Work in the Real World of Preschool Evaluations?

dynamic evaluation


In a disability evaluation, we ask a child to point “to the triangle” or “to the author” as part of test developed to identify disorder.  An evaluator who uses this kind of test to identify disability must assume that all children being evaluated have had similar exposure to “triangle” and “author” including similar family, cultural, and educational experiences. It follows then, that if a child cannot identify “triangle” or “author” it is because that child has some kind of learning problem. But what if a child does not have a disability but simply did not have the same exposure to “triangle” or books as the majority of children his age? Dynamic assessment offers evaluators an approach to see whether a child can acquire new linguistic information from the environment. Here are some clinicians examples of how to translate the dynamic assessment research into their own disability evaluations, including some “dynamic” approaches to increase the accuracy of our preschool disability evaluations.

First, Let us consider nonword repetition tasks, one type of dynamic assessment. Nonword repetition tasks assess whether a child can hear, retain briefly, and then repeat nonsense syllables of varying lengths. Nonword repetition tasks give us insight into why a child may have a weak vocabulary. If the child has difficulty with nonword repetition tasks it may indicate a disordered ability to learn new words from the environment and will also affect the child’s ability to understand directors and spoken stories. Here are two modules analyzing videos of several children, both with and without language impairments, doing the same nonword repetition task. By seeing how different children of different abilities perform as they acquire the new words, clinicians acquire clinical judgment. Nonword repetition tasks are not classic dynamic assessment because there is no pre and post-test. But because we watch the child learning new syllables in front of us, it is dynamic rather than static.

Another dynamic approach is fast word mapping. In fast word mapping we evaluate whether a child can learn new words. Because the words are completely made up, no child has more or less experience with these words. In these videos of 4-year-olds, one child is typically developing, one child has low average to mildly delayed skills, and one child has mild to moderate delays. What is especially helpful with more dynamic approaches to assessment, we see a much greater range of information about a child’s skills, rather than simply did he identify the “triangle” or not?

A child’s cognitive skills, including the ability of children to describe cognitively challenging tasks, can also be seen through dynamic assessment. Here is an example of how a psychologist used dynamic assessment to evaluate the nonverbal cognitive skills of a 2 year 10 month old boy with Autism Spectrum Disorder (See 8:25 to 10:50). The psychologist described in his report what he saw as: Dynamic assessment demonstrated that George is intelligent and learns quickly. The evaluator showed George how to make a rubber duck fly into the air by placing the duck on the flat end of a spoon placed on the table and hitting the round end. George smiled and laughed and searched for the duck, although he did not make eye contact with the evaluator. George tried and had difficulty the first time, but after a second demonstration George was able to make the duck fly and seemed happy he made it happen.”

David’s dynamic assessment task reminds me of one that a great trilingual SLP, Barbara Dittman, showed me. She used the disappearing egg in the cup trick. Barbara would show the trick to the student and tell him how to do it. Then she would bring another person–a parent, teacher, or peer—and have the student do the trick and then explain to the person how to do it. Barbara learned about cognition and also about the student’s ability to explain a somewhat challenging task.

Recent articles demonstrate similar effectiveness of dynamic assessment in distinguishing bilingual preschoolers with and without disabilities. These dynamic assessment tasks for bilingual preschoolers include fast word mapping and a graduated prompting task with a novel word learning, semantic, and phonological awareness component.

Based on research going back several decades, the importance of dynamic assessment in accurate identifying a language disorder is well established. New studies continue to support its value. In addition to the videos on dynamic assessment and preschool assessment in general, the LEADERSproject.org has many resources available to anyone looking to sharpen their disability evaluation skills including test reviews, discussion of current law, regulations, and policies, and model evaluations.

Catherine J. Crowley, CCC-SLP, JD, PhD, Distinguished Senior Lecturer in speech-language pathology at Teachers College Columbia University, founded and directs the bilingual/multicultural program focus, the Bilingual Extension Institute, and the Bolivia and Ghana programs. An experienced attorney, Cate is working with NYCDOE on a multi-year project to improve the accuracy of disability evaluations. The LEADERSproject.org is a website dedicated to supporting quality clinical services and is funded by the Provost’s Office and several foundations.  Cate, an ASHA fellow, received the “2012 Humanitarian Award” from the National Council of Ghanaian Associations, and ASHA’s certificates for Contributions to Multicultural Affairs and for International Achievement.


  1. says

    Thanks so much for all the links to videos/articles, a mini-course! Very helpful in thinking about how to evaluate our little guys more effectively and accurately.

  2. says

    Great information as always. More SLPs need to understand and use dynamic assessment to ensure that the right children are getting the services they need.

  3. Teresa Wolf says

    Great article. I’m happy to see dynamic assessment being used more in evaluations, especially with the culturally and linguistically diverse population. The information they provide can be invaluable.

  4. Shannon Luckovich says

    As a new clinician about to begin her clinical career, these dynamic assessment examples are invaluable. I will definitely be putting these into practice.

  5. Christine Mullaney says

    A great refresher – thanks so much for all of these valuable resources!

  6. says

    Thank you for all the valuable material you keep sharing with us! It is definitely a great source of information to “refresh” our knowledge about what needs to be done when evaluating and treating bilingual children and why. I look forward to your next blog!

  7. Blair Markowitz says

    Amazing articles with helpful information and examples. This will definitely help all of the future SLPs (including myself). Thanks for sharing.

  8. Carla Montoya says

    Thank you so much for sharing ! The links/videos are extremely useful and easy to share to help others understand the usefulness of dynamic assessment. As a new CF in a preschool setting I am looking forward to sharing this article.

  9. says

    This was very informative. So many children are misdiagnosed because they are environmentally deprived or lack exposure to age-expected concepts. These are concrete strategies that actually make sense.

  10. says

    I have learned so much from you about the best ways to evaluate children. I know I will always have these things in mind when evaluating children in the future! Thanks so much!

  11. Danielle says

    Thank you Dr. Crowley for shedding light on the importance of using alternative (and appropriate) ways to assess the abilities of multicultural/multilingual children. Too many of us rely on “standardized” assessments as the basis for determining a speech and language disorder rather than looking at the child from a holistic perspective. Excellent information and resources that we can add to our “toolbox” as SLPs!

  12. Jenna Schaeffer says

    Determining whether a child has a language disorder or a language disability is such a critical issue in our field and the potential to alter the life trajectory of a child. Thank you for sharing some of your tools to help us better assess the abilities of the diverse population of children we work with and for continuing to challenge us to think “outside of the box”.

  13. Miaoling Huang says

    I believe dynamic assessment is the most accurate tool in bilingual evaluation! Thank you for sharing the wonderful videos and helpful links!

  14. GTC says

    Terrific ideas. And it gives the teacher some freedom in understanding the nature of learning.

  15. Grace Chung says

    These video examples are great! I think seeing more of these live evaluations do help new SLPs better idea of how to compare and assess children.
    I think dynamic assessment is such a valuable and flexible tool for evaluation, especially considering the difference shown in each child (like bilinguals).
    Thank you for sharing the excellent info :)

  16. Raffaella says

    It is imperative that we take a holistic approach during the evaluation process. We must do more to understand a student’s learning environment, before attaching a label to the child . A label that may remain a with them for a lifetime. Using dynamic assessment and gathering information (e.g., through caregiver interviews and surveys) regarding a child’s literacy and language exposure is vital to the process. Thanks Cate for the great resources!

  17. says

    With the complexity of linguistic factors a bilingual child has, dynamic assessment is the best evaluative approach to use.Thank you for the treasurable information you provide.

  18. Danielle Stevens says

    Great article! Thank you for disseminating the message that dynamic assessment is research-supported, more appropriate for multilingual and multicultural children, and serves the higher purpose of holistically assessing the child rather than assigning them a statistically arbitrary score. Receiving the label of language-disordered and thus receiving supportive services can be life-changing in many ways, and it is not a decision to be taken lightly.

  19. Ouja says

    Always appreciate and respect the perspectives of Dr. Crowley. Thank you for this excellent resource.

  20. Celeste Roseberry-McKibbin, Ph.D. says

    Fabulous–so helpful and practical! I get so many questions about preschoolers, and this article could not be more timely. Thank you for sharing highly useful information that is valuable to our profession! I especially like nonword repetition, as research from both the U.S. and the United Kingdom supports use of this type of assessment with preschoolers.

  21. Lauren says

    Thanks for the great post! Too often, reports are required to include “standardized measures.” I wish the public, beyond SLPs, would recognize the importance and necessity of dynamic assessment. Your perspective, as always, is a welcomed and valuable asset to the field.

  22. Pius says

    Really took my time in reading. This is a very great piece and provides an indepth insight into the dynamic assessment, contrasted with the conventional disability evaluation. Has been very educative for me. Excellent work. Thanks

  23. Keturah Perkins-Trembley says

    Excellent article Cate & much needed! Your step by step instructions of how too dynamically assess are key, b/c now we know what to do & how to do it. No excuses–you demonstrated that testing is not easier, just less accurate, especially for our multilingual/bicultural populations. Thank you for writing this article & sharing the many resources included. I am looking forward to sharing your article w/ others!

  24. Kristin Guest says

    I’m so happy to see dynamic assessment getting more exposure. It really is the best way to assess students from diverse backgrounds. The first time you give a standardized test to a student from a diverse background, you see how inappropriate it is.

  25. Kelly Hantman says

    Conducting an evaluation of a child is a snap-shot of the child’s abilities, which may be affected if the child is tired, hungry, sick, etc. Therefore, best practice requires a clinician use dynamic assessment to better understand and assess a child’s strengths and challenges. Thank you for sharing this brilliant reminder for clinicians to be creative and use tools in addition to standardized testing to create a better understanding of a child, which can lead to more effective treatment.

  26. Chad Grossman says

    Thank you for this fabulous article! I’ve found LEADERSproject.org to be a great resource.

  27. Keovmorkodh Chhuon says

    Resources similar to this article from Dr. Crowley is what makes Assessment and Evaluation one of the most important courses offered at Teachers College, Columbia University. The sensitivity to multicultural populations that have varying exposures/backgrounds is something that is in need of much more attention. Thank you Dr. Crowley for advocating alternative assessments that are holistic and comprehensive in nature.

  28. Eliza Thompson says

    I am loving the videos and examples. This article offers excellent and interesting ways to assess preschoolers in a real context that I never considered before. As always, great job, Cate!

  29. El'licia Price says

    Great information, will definitely save this article to my resource kit!

  30. says

    Great article Cate! It illustrates very well the difference between dynamic versus static assessment and points out the limitations of the second one. It is especially useful when assessing bilingual children but also true for children from different socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. I am looking forward to share it with fellow slps here in Israel who are used to assess children whose mother tongue is hebrew, but also russian, arabic, amharit and yiddish.

  31. Vidya Parashar says

    Wonderful piece, Dr. Crowley. Thanks so much for opening our eyes to alternatives to standardized testing! It will be crucial to put this into play when interacting with bilingual/multilingual children in our field.

  32. Margaret Laskowski, Ph.D., CCC-SLP/TSHH-BE says

    Cate, once again, thank you for sharing your expertise. Your article provides “user friendly” information which I can share with administrators and educators. Plus, it’s a great source to add to my “resource kit.”

  33. Erika Cardamone says

    Fantastic article and a necessary reminder for all evaluators to know and understand how to best represent a child’s skills. The videos are so helpful, and make this approach easy for any clinician. Wonderful!!

  34. Kimberly says

    Thank you for sharing such wonderful resources and examples. Please keep the information coming!

  35. Lorena Diaz says

    Crucial information presented in such a practical and useful manner! Many thanks for illustrating the how and why dynamic assessment is so important. Assessing our children on a level playing field is the only way to ensure that we are gathering pertinent information that pertains to the individual child rather than other environmental factors, will refer to this article time and time again!

  36. Tom Besade says

    Wonderfully written and helpful article! Thanks so much for access to these great resources!

  37. Kenay Sudler says

    Wonderful article. As clinician’s we must be dynamic because the children we serve are dynamic!! This type of assessment allows us to gain a deeper understanding than a score from a test that may not even have been designed with our unique clients in mind. Thank you for posting.

  38. says

    We developed a dynamic assessment/RTI tool for Pre-K and K that looks at 4 areas highly correlated to future reading comprehension: auditory comprehension, following directions, categorization, and narrative language. We use the test to provide language RTI services, regardless of second language status. We test 3x a year to monitor progress and increase/decrease services. This year, we partnered with Eastern Illinois to conduct a validity study on the kindergarten version of the test, the Kindergarten Language Benchmark Assessment (KLBA). Our research on 110 children showed high correlation with the CELF-V screener. The KLBA is also valid for measuring growth over time with a small standard deviation. In 2014-2015, we are building our normative sample to 500-1,000 children. For more info or to partner: http://www.sl3lab.com/#/kindergarten-language-benchmarking-assessment-klba/

  39. Audrey M says

    Valuable resource especially to us starting clinicians! Thank you so much for sharing – another great source to add to the resource kit!

  40. Julia Lee says

    I love the practical takeaways in this article in addressing not just the WHY but the HOW of conducting dynamic assessment in young children. If I ever work with preschool children in the future, I will be going back to this article. Thank you, Cate!

  41. says

    Thank you for sharing Cate! The resources on the LEADERSproject website have been really helpful for me this year in rethinking my assessment practices for elementary-age students. I love using the nonword repetition task!

  42. says

    Dynamic assessment is the best way to accurately assess the abilities of a multilingual/multicultural population. Thanks for sharing such an excellent resource!

  43. Nik Pandey says

    Great article! Dynamic assessment is such a valuable and flexible tool for evaluation, especially for children from multicultural/multilingual backgrounds.

  44. Julia Cardamone says

    Thank you for sharing! What a great resource for us future SLPs to have!

  45. Sandi Spuhler (Chmielewski) says

    This was so informative, Cate! . It makes me really miss TC! Thank you so much for all you do

  46. Elanna Seid says

    Thanks so much for this valuable information! Will definitely share with colleagues. It’s so important we get our students the services they need and deserve!

  47. Valerie Bazile says

    Informative and wonderful refresher. I will try to incorporate dynamic assessment with my students. All on the mark Cate.