Speech-language pathologists all over the United States are experiencing the challenge of providing clinical services to an increasingly diverse population of students. In most states, there are growing numbers of English Language Learners (ELL) in the public schools. Since the 1990-1991 school year, the ELL population has grown 105%, whereas the general school population has grown only 12% (Kindler, 2002). Many experts in the field of speech-language pathology have emphasized the importance of improved service delivery to ELL students with communication disorders. There has especially been an emphasis on the need for more valid, reliable methods and materials for less biased assessment of ELL students.
In 1990, a survey was sent out to public school SLPs all over the United States to determine current conditions regarding service delivery to ELLs as well as respondents' needs and interests for more information in this area (Roseberry-McKibbin & Eicholtz, 1994). In 2001, because the survey had become dated and was no longer representative of the current state of the art, we sent public school SLPs a similar survey with mostly identical questions and a few new questions. We analyzed a total of 1,736 returned surveys and compared the results to those of the 1990 respondents (Roseberry-McKibbin, Brice, & O'Hanlon, in press).
Comparison of Results
In 2001, more respondents had ELL students on their caseloads than had respondents in 1990. In both surveys, the most commonly represented racial/ethnic group on respondents' caseload was "Hispanic," followed by "Asian." In 1990, 49% of ELL students on respondents' caseloads received treatment for language disorders; in 2001, the number was 91%. Thus, it appeared that in both surveys, the majority of ELL students received intervention for language disorders, although that number had almost doubled in 11 years.
Respondents in both surveys were asked if they spoke another language with adequate fluency to provide clinical services to students who spoke that language. In 1990, 10% of respondents said "yes"; in 2001, 12% said "yes." A comparison of the two surveys shows that despite ASHA's repeated calls for more bilingual SLPs, very little had changed in 11 years.
Respondents in both surveys were asked to indicate what specific problems they encountered most in assessing and treating ELL students with communication disorders. In both 1990 and 2001, the number one problem indicated was "don't speak the language of the student." The second problem indicated in both surveys was "lack of less biased assessment instruments," and the third problem was "lack of other professionals who speak students' languages." Interestingly, problems indicated by respondents in both 1990 and 2001 were almost identical in order of occurrence, indicating that little had changed in 11 years in these particular areas.
An encouraging finding was that in 1990, 76% of respondents indicated that they had no coursework addressing service delivery to ELL students; in 2001, only 27% of respondents indicated that they had no coursework in this area. Thus, the 2001 survey respondents appeared to have a much better university coursework background than the 1990 respondents, indicating that more universities appear to be devoting part or all of a course to issues in service delivery to ELL students.
Respondents in both surveys were asked, "Given the opportunity to participate in continuing education training that addressed services to ELL students with communication disorders, please rate the following in terms of your interest level." First, in 2001, the area of greatest interest (not asked in 1990) was "Less biased methods and materials for distinguishing language differences from disorders." Seventy-seven percent of the 2001 respondents indicated that they were "quite" or "extremely" interested in this topic. In both 1990 and 2001, a topic area rated as very important by respondents was "general assessment procedures and materials." In 1990, 81% of respondents indicated a great deal of interest in this area; in 2001, 77% of respondents did. Thus, it appeared that the topic area of greatest interest for respondents in both surveys was assessment of ELL students with communication disorders.
Second, in 1990, 77% of respondents indicated that they were very interested in "treatment procedures and materials"; in 2001, 72% indicated great interest in this area. Third, in both surveys, "Effects of bilingualism on language learning" was the next topic area of greatest interest for respondents. The fourth area of greatest interest for respondents in both surveys was "Second language acquisition," and the fifth area of greatest interest was "First/primary language developmental norms."
It was interesting to note that respondents in both 1990 and 2001 were interested in the same topic areas in the exact same order of importance: 1) assessment, 2) treatment, 3) effects of bilingualism on language learning, 4) second language acquisition, and 5) first/primary language developmental norms.
In both 1990 and 2001, respondents were asked to rank various options in order of importance in terms of how the field could best prepare them to serve ELL students with communication disorders. In both 1990 and 2001, exactly 85% of respondents indicated that the number one service delivery format they preferred was "More seminars and workshops offered by school districts." Next was "More coursework at the university level." In 1990, 82% of respondents indicated this option; in 2001, 76% of respondents indicated this option, reflecting the previous finding that the 2001 respondents had more university coursework in their backgrounds than 1990 respondents.
In 1990, 63% of respondents indicated that they felt that "More state and national convention presentations" were important in terms of continuing education opportunities; in 2001, 64% of respondents indicated that convention presentations were important. Lastly, in 1990, 52% of respondents indicated that "More journal articles in this area" were important; in 2001, 50% of respondents indicated that journal articles were important. Essentially, in terms of how our field can best prepare us to serve ELL students with communication disorders, the responses in both 1990 and 2001 were almost identical. Seminars and workshops offered by school districts ranked as #1; journal articles ranked as #4.
What's Old Is New
The comparison of the 1990 and 2001 surveys was both encouraging and discouraging. It was heartening to note that many more public school SLPs today have had university coursework pertaining to service delivery to ELL students with communication disorders. However, it is clear that the field of speech-language pathology has continued needs in several areas pertaining to service delivery to ELL students. Our profession needs to continue to recruit and retain bilingual SLPs to provide services to our increasingly diverse public school population. In addition, our profession, at both the university and the local school district levels, needs to continue to educate SLPs about less biased assessment methods and materials for ELL students. We also need to educate SLPs regarding appropriate intervention for these students, and help SLPs understand the effects of bilingualism and second-language acquisition on the language of ELL students who are referred for speech-language services.
ASHA continues to make major efforts to meet SLPs' needs for knowledge and skills to serve ELL students in our public schools. ASHA has a focused initiative in the area of culturally/linguistically diverse populations, and continues its efforts to recruit bilingual, bicultural SLPs to serve ELL students and their families. ASHA's continuing education series has recently featured several videos focusing on meeting the needs of ELL students with communication disorders (e.g., Langdon, 2002; Roseberry-McKibbin, 2003). It is hoped that universities and public school districts will commit increasing amounts of time and money to educating SLPs regarding topics of importance indicated by public school clinicians nationwide: nonbiased assessment, appropriate intervention, and effects of bilingualism and second-language acquisition on the language of ELL learners with potential communication disorders.