Posted in Assessment

Dynamic Assessment: What is it & how do I use it?

I mentioned dynamic assessment a bit in one of my previous posts about culturally & linguistically appropriate assessment, but I felt there was much more to be discussed in terms of what dynamic assessment actually is and how it is used. Dynamic assessment (DA) is an interesting mode of assessment because unlike standardized assessment tests which involve the interpretation of quantitative scores, DA focuses on analyzing a child’s thinking and learning process during tasks. Based on how much support the child needs during the assessment and how they proceed through the tasks, the clinician using DA can make inferences about what strategies or intervention methods would be best for the child.

Some methods for the dynamic assessment of language include: 

1) Testing the limits:

  • This involves determining the highest level at which a child can respond, using a series of probes and elaborated feedback or verbalization.
  • Unlike simple feedback (simply indicating whether an answer is correct), elaborated feedback includes feedback about why a child’s response was correct or not and an explanation of the principles involved in the task (i.e., “The reason that Tommy was sad, not happy, was because in the story it said…”).
  • Verbalization involves asking children to describe the question or task and how they arrived at their answer (i.e., “How did you know that Tommy was sad in the story?”).
  • The administration of a test can also be modified to focus on generating questions which will help a child understand how they are thinking about a test question (i.e., “What would happen if…”, “How did you know that?”, etc.) and enable their awareness of the targeted skill(s).

2) Graduated prompting:

  • Graduated prompting involves using a hierarchy of predetermined prompts (from minimal prompting to maximal prompting) to determine the child’s readiness to learn specific targets.
  • Prompts should vary in the level of contextual support they provide.
  • Predictions can be drawn about the child’s response to intervention by looking at their responses to the test procedures and new tasks.
  • Below is an example of a hierarchy which may be used for the dynamic assessment of sentence structure (DASS), provided by Hasson et al. (cited below in the additional resources).
Table taken from Hasson et al. (2012), cited below.

3) Test-teach-retest:

  • This method begins with the “test” or evaluative component to determine the area(s) where a child needs more support.
  • The “teach” component involves the examiner teaching the child the principles of the task. This provides an opportunity for the child to learn from the examiner.
  • Finally, the “retest” component typically involves the re-administration of a task in the area of focus (i.e., if reading comprehension was targeted, a new reading passage will be presented to the child). This provides an opportunity for the child to reveal their competence to the examiner and provides insight into how the child responded to the “teach” step.

Dynamic assessment can be a great approach to assessment because it encourages a focus on the “process” behind tasks. Modifications and flexibility during assessment can help ensure that a child understands the tasks and expectations. It also informs clinicians on the stimulability and readiness of a child to begin intervention tasks. I think this form of assessment would be especially helpful when working with “difficult to test” populations (i.e., bilingual children, children who use AAC, children with behavioural challenges, etc.), since other assessment methods (i.e., standardized assessment tests) may not best assess the competences of these children.

For more information, check out these additional resources:

De Lamo White, C., & Jin, L. (2011). Evaluation of speech and language assessment approaches with bilingual children. International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders/Royal College of Speech & Language Therapists, 46(6), 613.

Gutierrez-Clellen, V. F., & Pena, E. (2001). Dynamic assessment of diverse children: A tutorial. Language, Speech, and Hearing Services in Schools, 32(4), 212-224.

Hasson, N., Dodd, B., & Botting, N. (2012). Dynamic assessment of sentence structure (DASS): Design and evaluation of a novel procedure for the assessment of syntax in children with language impairments: Dynamic assessment of sentence structure (DASS). International Journal of Language & Communication Disorders, 47(3), 285-299.

Spencer, T. D., Petersen, D. B., & Adams, J. L. (2015). Tier 2 language intervention for diverse preschoolers: An early-stage randomized control group study following an analysis of response to intervention. American Journal of Speech-Language Pathology/American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, 24(4), 619.


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