Karen Miranda is a Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist on the Bilingual Assessment Team with Prince George’s County Public Schools. She is a Salvadoran American who has been in the field of speech pathology for 24 years. In her position, she works with the school IEP teams to help determine if referred students’ speech-language difficulties are due to a difference or disorder. Read this feature article to learn about Karen Miranda’s role within her district, her Community of Practice and influences that have shaped her career.
Ms. Miranda tell me about your position as a Bilingual Speech-Language Pathologist on the Bilingual Assessment Team?
As an integral part of the Bilingual Assessment Team, I help the school IEP teams determine whether the students they refer to us (as candidates for special education) are going through the second language acquisition process, or if a true language disorder exists. I also help determine the student’s language dominance and the best person and method for assessing the student. Last, but not least, I try to be a support system for the teams so that they can understand the development of their Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CLD) students.
What tips do you have for clinicians to be mindful of when completing a speech-language assessment of a bilingual student?
I would like clinicians to keep foremost in their minds that the tests we use are not normed on children like our diverse students; therefore, reporting a score is not valid. Rather, we need to describe the students’ strengths and weaknesses. To determine whether what you are observing is a true disorder or a language difference, gather as much information about the student’s primary language and how it influences their English language development. Ask yourself, is this a typical transfer from their native language? Or, does this qualify as a true error in need of remediation?
What are your thoughts on how culture, language and dialect factor into your assessment process and approach when working with culturally and linguistically diverse students?
This is such a great question because I think that we sometimes tend to identify a student solely by the language(s) they speak. In my assessments, I consider culture, language, and dialect as entwined, but not the same. For culture, we cannot just look to a student’s country of origin for answers. We must take into consideration the culture of the community they live in and the customs within their home. Therefore, it is important to conduct an ethnographic parent interview before the assessment. Dialect is another huge factor to take into consideration. Many countries share the Spanish language, but depending on where the student is from, different words, dialects, expressions, and humor (just to name a few) are used. A very simple example would be the different names for a “baby bottle.” In Mexico, they use “biberon” and in El Salvador they call it “pacha.”
As a bilingual SLP how do you approach an assessment for a student who has an L1 in a language that you do not speak? What different languages have you encountered in your role?
Here in Prince George’s County, I have encountered (off the top of my head) Igbo, Haitian Creole, French Creole, French, Arabic, Mandarin, Mam (dialect), and Amharic. When I lived in California I also came across Vietnamese and Khmer.
When I work with students who speak any of these languages, I find that Google is my friend! I typically search key words such as Amharic-influenced English, French-influenced English, and the like. This typically leads me to an ASHA resource and many other resources. Some languages require more research than others, but it’s fun to learn about them. I have even resorted to using YouTube videos that show people speaking English when their primary language is a different language, so I can familiarize myself with the way their primary language influences how they speak English. Also, relying on interpreters is key during the assessment, as they can help me understand what is appropriate or what is not in terms of what is said in the student’s language.
What have you learned through the years on your job and how has it changed your approach?
Oh wow, I have learned so much! But, perhaps the most important thing has been the irrelevance to reporting scores when assessing a diverse student. Because of this, I have changed my assessment approach. I have learned to incorporate dynamic assessment when working with CLD students. My report writing skills have also improved because I have a bigger responsibility to relay the student’s skills. I feel that I have learned so much, that now I want to pass it on and teach others. So, in the last couple of years, I have changed my approach in terms of guiding clinicians.
Please tell me about your professional development program Community of Practice.
Community of Practice came about as a different way to provide professional development to support SLPs who work with CLD students in making the shift to scoreless assessments. In addition to giving a presentation, I also find it a good practice to have a Community of Practice, which involves me facilitating and leading an open discussion forum with fellow colleagues. In this forum, we all come together to have open-discussions surrounding any given topic pertaining to working with culturally and linguistically diverse students. I felt that SLPs who do not have much experience working with CLD students can be more encouraged when hearing from their colleagues who have this experience, including myself. This community of practice is not mandatory, so all SLPs are welcomed and encouraged to join if they have an interest in the topic. Maryland licensure CEUs are also offered.
My plan is to also invite special speakers (either from our district or community) to participate as keynote speakers.
Do you have an SLP that has influenced your career?
Definitely. Dr. Cate Crowley of the Leaders Project. Years ago, I attended one of Dr. Crowley’s continuing education events. During her presentation, she said “there is nothing in IDEA that says we have to report standard scores for bilingual assessments.” Before that presentation, something inside of me knew it felt wrong to report scores, but I did not yet grasp the importance of not reporting scores until this event. So, as you can imagine this was my “A-ha moment,” which gave me the incentive to suggest excluding scores in our reports. Luckily, my department was very open to the change. I came back to the county, wrote my reports, and never reported scores again.
I also reflected on other approaches that Dr. Crowley recommended to enhance our report writing, which I adopted. For example, she recommended that when we write our reports, we should make a hologram of our students so that whoever is reading the reports can visualize this child clearly.
What has been your greatest success?
My development as a bilingual SLP, (in all honesty). For example, I got into this field by accident, but I truly feel that it was meant to be! I wanted to be a teacher, when I graduated high school. After I applied with a school district in California, I was asked by the special education department if I wanted to work as a speech aide. My interest and studies in this field developed from there. I am proud of how knowledgeable I have become through the years, and how much I have learned from my colleagues and other professionals.
What has been your greatest challenge?
It has been a challenge to get buy-in from all SLPs. When I first stopped reporting standard scores, there were a few clinicians that were skeptical and felt they needed a standard score to compare these results to. But, I think the tide is turning and many are beginning to understand that not reporting scores, but rather describing the child as a whole, helps us to not over- or under-identify bilingual students for speech-language services. There is so much research out there to support this endeavor.
What advice do you have for speech-language pathology students?
I really want them to know that they have truly chosen a great field with a variety of opportunities to pursue. It is not always easy, but do not be discouraged because you are not alone. Reach out to your colleagues in the field. Use tools at your disposal such as ASHA, people that are specialists within your state, and MSHA! (You can always contact me too *smiling*).
Also remember, you do not need to be bilingual in order to support CLD students, but you do need to be interested. Learn as much as you can about the communities and students you serve!