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Child Language Teaching and

Therapy
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Educational attainments of children with specific language


impairment at year 6
Emma Knox
Child Language Teaching and Therapy 2002 18: 103
DOI: 10.1191/265659002ct230oa
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http://clt.sagepub.com/content/18/2/103

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Educational attainments of children with


speci c language impairment at year 6
Emma Knox
Human Communication and Deafness, School of Education,
University of Manchester

Abstract
The present study examined the performance of a group of children with
Speci c Language Impairment (SLI) in National Curriculum Key Stage 2
(KS2) assessments of key curricular subjects. One hundred children (86 boys
and 14 girls), who previously had all been in full-time attendance at specialist
provision in the form of language units, participated in the study. The sample
of participants were recruited in their nal year of primary school education
(year 6) and were divided into two groups, matched for ability, de ned by the
nature of their current educational placement. The Mainstream Education
group comprised 50 children attending mainstream education with or without
some level of additional support. The Special Education group consisted of 50
children attending special education in the form of either a language unit, a
language school, or a special school. Participants performance in the
National Curriculum KS2 assessments was measured, together with an
examination of assessment procedures concerning the application of special
testing arrangements. It was found that participants performed poorly relative
to national levels of expectation and achievement across the curricular
subjects of English, mathematics and science in both KS2 tests and teacher
assessments. The Mainstream Education group of participants was found to
perform signi cantly better than the Special Education group in the mathematics and science tests. Furthermore, special arrangements were made for a
large number of participants who did take the tests.

Address for correspondence: Emma Knox, Human Communication and Deafness School of Education,
University of Manchester, Manchester M13 9PL, UK.
Part of this work was presented by the author as part ful lment for the degree of PhD.
# Arnold 2002

10.1191=0265659002ct230oa
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Introduction
Speci c language impairment and education
Speci c language impairment (SLI) is known to affect around 7% of the
school population, with a higher incidence in male children than in female
children (estimated at a ratio of approximately 3:1) (Leonard, 1998). Children
with SLI are essentially characterized by a failure of normal language
development in the absence of any other major neurological, physical or
global impairment.
Traditional thinking around the education of children with SLI has
suggested that early primary placement in specialist language provision
would remedy dif culties prior to the commencement of secondary education. However, many longitudinal and follow-up studies have indicated that
such thinking has not been re ected in reality. It is now evident that the actual
prevalence of children with SLI who continue to experience linguistic, social
and educational dif culties following periods of intensive therapy and provision in the primary education years is substantial (e.g., Baker and Cantwell,
(1987); Bishop and Adams (1990); Catts (1993); Magnusson and Naucler
(1990). Furthermore, despite the existence of over 200 language units and
language schools across England, many primary-aged children whose
problems are identi ed primarily as a language disorder are now educated
in non-specialist mainstream schools.
In a follow-up study of 27 children (mean age 11:11 years) who had
primary-age attendance in a language unit, Davison and Howlin (1997)
found that over 50% remained in specialist educational provision. Furthermore, a large proportion of the total sample showed continuing dif culties in
many aspects of language, with 89% of the sample still found to have
inadequate reading skills. Notably, many of these children were attending
mainstream schools and would therefore have been subject to educational
structures adhering to the national curriculum and its standardized assessments, access to which is heavily dependent on competent abilities in
literacy.
Stothard et al.s (1998) review of long-term consequences of language
impairments reported a consensus that through childhood, between 50 and
90% of children continue to exhibit language dif culties. This is supported by
research work such as that by King, Jones, and Lasky (1982). In following up
50 young adults and adolescents rst diagnosed with, and who received
therapy for, a developmental language disorder as preschoolers, they found
that 52% had required academic support at some time during school. Aram
and Nations (1980) follow-up study of children with initial diagnosis of
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developmental speech and language disorders also established a persistence of


language or speech impairments in 40% of the sample, four to ve years after
initial intervention. Research by Dockrell and Lindsay (2000) identi ed skills
in both mathematics and handwriting as being highly vulnerable in children
with language impairments, thus highlighting an overspill of language
dif culties into the broader regions of the academic curriculum.
Collectively, such studies contribute evidence to the growing awareness of
the pervasive nature of SLI and the persistent academic vulnerability of
children with SLI. As noted by Haynes and Naidoo (1991; p. 225), based on
the ndings of their longitudinal study of children attending a school providing
intensive speech and language therapy and education to children with severe
disorders of language, A speci c language impairment is pervasive and longlasting in its effects, even when good progress has been made.
Indeed, it is indisputable that language is a principal foundation of all
educational processes, and that language skills are an essential requirement for
accessing education. Almost every aspect of the curriculum demands multifarious usage of language, and so with respect to its nature, almost every
modern mainstream curriculum assumes a certain basic skill level of language
and literacy in the educational population that it serves. Further, such
necessary skills are expected to develop throughout academic life in order
to keep pace with the corresponding curricular demands. However, another
observation made by Haynes and Naidoo (1991) was that improvements
observed in the language and literacy abilities of children with SLI attending
specialist provision seldom kept pace with time. Such evidence implies that
with increasing curricular demands, de cits in language and literacy skills will
have greater negative impact on educational performance. This contradicts
historical theories of short-term resolution through intensive provision and
further alerts us to the continuing educational requirements and dif culties
from which children with SLI are at risk. Thus, the risk is not only one of
continuing dif culties in these children as a characteristic of the primary
language impairment, but in its secondary manifestation as a range of
dif culties experienced in the educational context.
Previously conducted research aiming to examine outcomes of children
with earlier diagnosis of SLI have usually focused de ning variables in
domains other than those concerned directly with educational achievements.
Much attention in both longitudinal and retrospective studies of outcome has
been given to the speci c examination of language, literacy and cognitive
skills through psychometric testing (Davison and Howlin, 1997; Grif ths,
1969; Johnson et al., 1999; Paul and Cohen, 1984; Rescorla and Schwartz,
1990; Stothard et al., 1998; Weiner, 1974).
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No doubt standardized psychometric test scores have provided, and will


continue to provide, a valuable contribution to researchers and specialist
practitioners in furthering widespread understanding of the abilities of children
with language-disorders across time. Indeed, they may actually be more
informative measures of language, literacy and cognitive abilities than
formal educational assessments, in a clinical or research domain. They are,
however, unfamiliar tools in the more general educational community and the
interpretation of such data and their impact in a practical sense is mostly
limited to a specialist eld of professionals with experience and knowledge
about the realistic implications of such shortcomings in skills. Although
language and literacy abilities as measured by standardized psychometric
tests may be good predictors of educational outcome overall, they do not tell
us how well any child with SLI would actually perform on formal assessments
as set, for example, by national assessment boards with the purpose of
monitoring the progress and abilities of all children nationally.
Interestingly, there is a lack of available research concerning primary-level
national school attainments for children with SLI. However, Conti-Ramsden,
Donlan and Grove (1992) did examine the National Curriculum Key Stage 1
assessment scores of a group of 12 children with a diagnosis of SLI, compared
with the attainments of age-matched peers. These attainments were examined and
discussed in combination with standardized psychometric test scores covering a
variety of language, literacy and cognitive skills. The overall ndings indicated
that while the SLI samples National Curriculum test attainments were found to be
poor relative to national and control levels of expectation and achievement,
informative correlations between the National Curriculum test scores and any of
the standardized psychometric test scores were not established. This study served
to provide preliminary insight into the likely test performance of children with
SLI educated in the National Curriculum. In doing so, it highlights the need for
researchers to be aware of the educational importance of National Curriculum
testing, both to the teaching and parental community, irrespective of its informative value in understanding the speci c characteristics of children with SLI.

National curriculum assessments


Despite a lack of research interest, it is nevertheless a fact that most children
with SLI take National Curriculum Key Stage assessments (unless disapplied)
and are assessed for academic skills against normally developing peers
through these national measures.
National Curriculum assessments are commonly referred to by parents and
the educational community as SATs (Standard Assessment Tests). These are
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mandatory assessments of all pupils educated according to the National


Curriculum in schools across England. The assessments are designed to
monitor educational progress and standards, providing data for individual
schools, local education authorities and the UK government. They provide
teachers and parents with a measure of each childs performance, relative to
local and national standards of educational achievement, in core curricular
subjects. The annual publication of national league tables, based on the overall
performance of all state schools in England also enables schools to examine
their own standards of achievement with a local and national perspective. Over
recent years, the league tables have gained widespread recognition in the eyes
of teachers and parents in setting the standards of attainment to which schools
and pupils should aspire, providing a motivation for achievement as opposed
to simply existing as a measurement.
Although the Quali cations and Curriculum Authority (QCA, 2000) report
that the National Curriculum and its assessments are designed to be accessible
to as many pupils as possible, special consideration in testing and assessment
arrangements is given to children who have special needs, which may limit
their access. This may entail disapplication from the test, or more usually by
accommodating individual needs with special testing arrangements as detailed
in of cial teacher guidelines (QCA, 1999, 2001). Special testing arrangements
are designed to support childrens abilities in a way that is compatible with
their everyday classroom support, without providing them with an unfair
advantage. The selection and application of special testing arrangements
currently occurs at the discretion of individual teachers.

A way forward
The growing signi cance of National Curriculum Key Stage assessments in
the educational community has been emphasized, and their relevance and
application to the population of children with SLI has been noted. Given the
above, the current study attempts to address an opening in existing research for
examining true educational attainments, as measured and recognized by the
government and whole educational community, as a complementary measurement of outcome to studies focusing on the speci c characteristics of language
disorders. This facilitates a preliminary examination of the extent to which the
educational attainments of children with SLI are at risk in the context of the
modern curriculum.
This will be shown through presenting the National Curriculum Key Stage 2
(KS2) attainments of a sample of children with SLI at 11 years, examining
outcomes relative to national standards of achievement and expectation, and
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by considering some of the testing procedures applied to the sample as a


subgroup of the population with speci c special educational needs. Furthermore, in view of the current range of placement types providing education to
children with a history of SLI, the present study aims to examine differences in
the NC KS2 test procedures and attainments between mainstream and special
education.

Methodology
Participants
The participants comprised 100 children, 50 attending mainstream education
and 50 attending special provision, matched for age, gender and on four
measures: estimated non-verbal IQ, short-term memory, expressive vocabulary, and comprehension skills.
The participants in the present study are a subgroup drawn from an
extensive longitudinal study examining a variety of issues surrounding English
children attending language units (Conti-Ramsden and Botting, 1999; Botting
et al., 1997, 1998). The original study examined 242 children (186 boys, 56
girls) in school year 2 (mean age 7 :0). Criteria for inclusion in the original
study required each child to be attending a language unit for more than half the
school week and to exhibit no signs of hearing impairment. No other
exclusionary criteria were applied to the recruitment of participants although
only three children presented with non-verbal cognitive abilities below the
2.5th centile. The children were drawn from 118 language units representing
most counties of England.
For the purpose of the current study, the families of the 100 children were
contacted as the children approached their nal year of primary school. Each
parent or guardian gave written permission for their child to be visited and
assessed in school during school year 6.
Educational placements at year 6. Each childs educational placement type
of attendance in year 6 (previous to the secondary education transition) was
recorded according to ve broad categories representative of various placement types: 20 children were attending mainstream education with no
additional learning support; 30 children attended mainstream education with
additional supported learning; 29 children continued to attend a language unit
attached to a mainstream school for at least half of the school week; six
children were in full-time attendance at a language school; and 15 children
were in full-time attendance at a special school with provision for various
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special educational needs. Most children continued to have formal statements


of special educational needs, the remainder were at least recognised on their
schools register of special needs. For children in attendance at dual or
integrated placements, their principal placement was considered to be that
where attendance accounted for more than half of the school week.
The ve placement categories were compressed for the purpose of the
present study and two groups were formed, de ned by the nature of the
childrens educational placement in school year 6. The rst group comprised
50 children attending mainstream schooling, with or without some level of
support. This represented a group of children whose schooling could be
described as predominantly mainstream in the structure and content of its
teaching. Thus, throughout the present study it will be referred to as the
Mainstream Education group. The second category group comprised children attending any of the specialist placements, i.e. language unit, language
school, or special school. Each of the 50 children in this group continued to
receive education with special provision for either language impairments or
other special dif culties that could impact upon learning and the educational
experience. With reference to the nature of this type of educational provision,
the second group of participants is labelled the Special Education group
throughout the present study.
The 50 children from each group were matched on a number of criteria
including age, gender, and a variety of language and cognitive abilities. Thus
the nature of the groups educational placement became the dominant
differential variable.

Measures
Group matching variables. The Mainstream Education group and the
Special Education group both consisted of 43 males and 7 females. At the
time of study the mean age of participants in the Mainstream Education
group was 130 months (range: 122140 months); and the mean age of the
Special Education group participants was 131.5 months (range: 121141
months).
Other than the variables of age and gender, the two educational placement
groups were also matched for estimated non-verbal IQ, short-term memory
ability, expressive vocabulary, and comprehension skills. A description of each
of the standardized tasks that were used to match the two groups of children is
given in the following sections. The battery of psychometric tests was
designed to give reliable measures of ability, without being exhaustive or
especially demanding on the child.
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Estimated non-verbal IQ: WISC-III Picture Completion. The rst of the


two performance subtests of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, third
edition (WISC-III; Wechsler, 1992) used to obtain an estimated non-verbal IQ
score for each participant was Picture Completion, a test of spatial memory
and reasoning that requires participants to identify the important missing part
in a series of pictures.
Estimated non-verbal IQ: WISC-III Block Design. The second WISC-III
subtest contributing to the measure of estimated non-verbal IQ was Block
Design. This further tests visuo-spatial cognitive abilities where it requires the
child to physically manipulate the testing materials, replicating patterns
depicted in the stimulus material.
Estimated non-verbal IQ. The scores from the Picture Completion and
Block Design subtests were combined to give an estimated value of non-verbal
IQ for each participant. The composite non-verbal IQ score was derived by
prorating the sum of the two scaled scores. The resulting scaled score
corresponds with an IQ equivalent on the WISC-III conversion table, ranging
from IQ 46 to 155. It is recognized that this method does not provide a nonverbal IQ score that is strictly legitimate, as the IQ is pro-rated from only two
subtests. It is used here only to provide a guide to the childrens non-verbal
abilities, and scores should be interpreted with caution.
The Mainstream Education groups mean estimated non-verbal IQ score was
94.7, while that of the Special Education group was 93.4. Thus, according to
the measure employed, every child possessed an estimated performance IQ
score above 69 and so was broadly considered to have non-verbal cognitive
ability within the normal range.
Short-term memory: WISC-III Digit Span. The Digit Span subtest task was
also taken from the WISC-III battery and utilized independently in this study
as a measure of verbal short-term memory. The Digit Span subtest comprises a
series of orally presented number sequences that the child repeats verbatim to
complete Digits Forward, or in reverse order to complete Digits Backward.
The Digit Span mean centile score for the Mainstream Education group was
21.7, while for the Special Education group it was 17.3.
Expressive vocabulary: WISC-III Vocabulary. This WISC-III subtest was
administered to provide a measure of each childs expressive vocabulary. The
mean WISC-III Vocabulary centile score for the Mainstream Education group
was 7.9, and for the Special Education group was 5.2.
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Verbal comprehension: WISC-III Comprehension. Also a part of the


WISC-III test battery, the Comprehension subtest provides a measure of
each childs use of language in discourse, together with an insight into their
understanding of standard social conventions and strategies of approach to
everyday scenarios. The mean WISC Comprehension centile score for the
Mainstream Education group was 14.4, while for the Special Education group
it was 9.5.
Receptive vocabulary: BPVS-II. This BPVS-II (The British Picture Vocabulary Scale, second edition (Dunn et al., 1998), was employed to provide an
effective measure of each childs receptive vocabulary. The Mainstream
Education groups mean centile score was 26.3, while that for the Special
Education group was 19.2.
Summary of group matching variables. The mean centile scores of each
groups performance in the battery of group matching variables are
summarized in Table 1. The nal column of the table indicates the level
of statistical signi cance of between-group differences, resulting from a

Table 1 Mean centile scores and standard deviations achieved by the Mainstream
Education and Special Education groups on the battery of group-matching variables tasks

Mean score (SD)

Gender
Age
WISC-III
Estimated
Non-verbal IQ
WISC-III
Digit Span
centile score
WISC-III
Vocabulary
centile score
WISC-III
Comprehension
centile score
BPVS-II
centile score

Mainstream
Education
group

Special
Education
group

p value

43 males =7 females
130 months (4.79)
94.7 (14.42)

43 males =7 females
131.5 months (4.89)
93.4 (19.63)

0.124
0.711

21.7 (25.12)

17.3 (26.12)

0.384

7.97 (15.145)

5.2 (11.379)

0.308

14.4 (23.58)

9.5 (18.25)

0.251

26.3 (20.64)

19.2 (21.44)

0.095

SD standard deviation.
p value signi cance value from one-way ANOVA between group scores.
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series of ANOVAs conducted to compare the mean centile scores for each
test (except the category of gender, where both groups have identical
distribution).
As illustrated by Table 1, there are no statistically signi cant differences
between the performance of the participants in the two educational placement
groups on any of the measures described ( p > 0.05 in all cases). Thus, the two
groups are considered to be well matched in their non-verbal ability, shortterm memory, expressive vocabulary, and comprehension skills.
Comparing educational outcomes Key Stage 2 (KS2) assessments. Following the cognitive and linguistic pro ling of the present sample the current
study proceeded to examine and compare the National Curriculum Key Stage
2 assessment experience of the two groups. National Curriculum assessments
are currently used by of cial education bodies as key indicators of the
academic and educational abilities of the national year 6 population in the
main curricular subjects at Key Stage 2. As such, targets of attainment set by
national levels of expectation and achievement are already in existence and
enable valuable comparisons with data obtained in the present study. The
national level of expected attainment at KS2, as recommended by the
government (QCA, 2000) is level 4. Therefore, any score achieved below
this level at KS2, in any academic subject, is considered to be an indication
that current performance is outside the expected range. Although in practice
the full assessment process also involves complementary Teacher Assessment
awards, which in turn have signi cant in uence on decisions of test entry, data
were collected by the present study with regard to nal test attainment levels
only and any additional special arrangements that were made for participants
during their undertaking of the tests.
National Curriculum KS2 attainment levels are awarded to all children
attending primary school year 6 across England according to their test
performance in the three core curricular subjects of English, mathematics
and science. The mathematics and science test scores are originally single
scores, while the English test score is an aggregated score derived from
separate reading and writing test scores. Children who are not entered for the
test have usually attained a teacher assessment level justifying their non-entry.
The nationwide applicability of assessment and scoring procedures sets a
national standard of expectation and achievement against which all childrens
performance levels can be measured, as is the case in the present study.
The present study has also examined the type and level of application of
special arrangements made for each child during the written tests. As an
integral part of the assessment procedure, particularly for children with
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registered special educational needs, special testing arrangements were felt to


be an issue of essential consideration in a comprehensive examination of
educational performance according to National Curriculum assessments.
Procedure
Collection of standardized psychometric test data. Following written
consent from the families, participants were each visited and assessed on
the battery of standardized psychometric tests by the researcher in their school,
during year 6 of primary school education (199899). In each instance, a
suitably quiet and private area in the school was sought. Only the examiner
and participant were present during the assessments. The order in which the
standardized tests were administered was not varied between children, and the
testing was usually completed in one sitting.
Collection of National Curriculum assessment data. Towards the end of
June 1999, printed forms were sent to the schools of all participants requesting
information regarding the outcomes of the National Curriculum KS2 written
tests that were undertaken in May 1999. The application for all information
was made by the author and accessed within three months of the of cial
national testing dates. With regard to each of the academic subjects of English,
mathematics and science, the levels awarded for the written test were requested
in the same format as data were submitted to the local education authorities.
Analysis of test scores was then enabled around the nationally-set levels of
expectation and achievement for KS2, that of level 4.
Finally, teachers were also asked to give details of any special testing
arrangements that might have been made for the child for completion of the
written test. Possibilities provided as examples on the form included: use of a
reader, use of a scribe, support from specialist language staff or classroom
assistants, provision of a separate classroom, or additional time provision for
completion of the test. However, opportunity was also provided for teachers to
detail any special arrangements not already suggested on the form.

Results
Firstly, participants National Curriculum KS2 test scores are reviewed by
an educational placement group (as de ned in year 6), followed by an
examination of the level of agreement between the scores of the two groups
(Mainstream and Special). Throughout the section, much emphasis
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is given to the attainment of level 4 in the KS2 tests, as this represents the
standard of achievement expected of pupils being assessed by KS2 and is
also the minimum standard attained by the population majority in each
subject test. The wider testing experience of the sample is then addressed by
examining the level and nature of special arrangements that were applied to
the KS2 tests.

National Curriculum Key Stage 2 test outcomes


Summarized performance levels of all participants in the National Curriculum
KS2 tests are illustrated in Tables 24, where score levels have been collapsed
into two categories. Re ecting the emphasis placed on test achievements
relative to national standards of expectation, the tables divide participant
counts into those who achieved at least level 4, and those who achieved below
level 4. The participant counts are presented by educational placement group
for each academic subject examined by the tests.
Tables 24 re ect the test attainment levels of the total participant sample
(n 100). Therefore, where test entry did not occur, the test attainment level
of the relevant participants is counted in the category of achievement levels
below that of 4 (since they still failed to achieve that level by virtue of no
entry). The particular aim of the tables is to illustrate the number of
participants in the present study who have achieved at or above the national
level of expectation for children of their educational stage.
English test. As illustrated in Table 2, both groups of participants
performed poorly relative to national levels of expectation and achievement.
Only 11% of the total sample (n 100) achieved the expected level 4 in the
English test, comprising 14% of the Mainstream Education group participants
Table 2 Count and percentage of children who achieved a KS2 English test result
level above or equal to level 4, and below level 4 (including those who did not take
the test), by educational placement group

Count (%)

Score < level 4*


Score level 4
Total

Mainstream
Education group

Special
Education group

Total
count

43 (86)
7 (14)
50

46 (92)
4 (8)
50

89
11
100

*Includes those who did not take the test.

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Table 3 Count and percentage of children who achieved a KS2 mathematics test
result level above or equal to level 4, and below level 4 (including those who did
not take the test), by educational placement group

Count (%)

Score < level 4*


Score level 4
Total

Mainstream
Education group

Special
Education group

Total
count

32 (64)
18 (36)
50

44 (88)
6 (12)
50

76
24
100

*Includes those who did not take the test.

and 8% of participants from the Special Education group. In 1999, the year in
which these tests were taken, the national average of children who achieved at
least level 4 in the English test was 69.7%.
Fishers exact probability test undertaken on data presented in Table 2 found
no statistically signi cant difference ( p 0.525) between the Mainstream
Education group participants and the Special Education group participants,
when comparing the performance of the two on the KS2 English test, relative
to national attainment expectations. Therefore data presented suggest that
English test performance, relative to attainment at level 4, is not necessarily
related to the type of educational placement attended.
Mathematics test. Table 3 illustrates how a higher percentage of the total
sample (n 100) achieved within the expected level on the mathematics test
than on the English test, with 24% of all participants scoring level 4 or above
on the test. As with the English test, the Mainstream Education group
boasted a higher percentage of such achievers at 36%, while 12% of the
Special Education group participants scored at least the expected level.
Table 4 Count and percentage of children who achieved a KS2 science test result
level above or equal to level 4, and below level 4 (including those who did not take
the test), by educational placement group

Count (%)

Score < level 4*


Score level 4
Total

Mainstream
Education group

Special
Education group

Total
count

23 (46)
27 (54)
50

38 (76)
12 (24)
50

61
39
100

*Includes those who did not take the test.

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Meanwhile 68.2% of the national population scored at or above level 4 in the


mathematics test, a considerably higher proportion than that of the present
sample.
Fishers exact probability test performed on data illustrated by Table 3
revealed a statistically signi cant difference between the two educational
placement groups scores ( p < 0.01) relative to the national level of expectation. It was found that the Mainstream Education group performed at a
signi cantly higher level when compared with the Special Education group,
thus suggesting that with reference to the nationally expected attainment level
of 4, the educational placement type of attendance may be a factor relating to
participants performance in the KS2 mathematics test.

Science test. Table 4 illustrates how more of the total sample of participants
(n 100) achieved at least the expected level of 4 in the KS2 science test than
in the other two academic subjects examined. The 39% of such achievers
comprised over half (54%) of the Mainstream Education group and almost a
quarter (24%) of children in the Special Education group. However, 61% of
the total sample failed to achieve at least the nationally expected level 4,
including 76% of Special Education group participants. In addition, the overall
standard remains low when compared to the 77.9% of the national population
who scored at least level 4 in the science test.
Fishers exact probability test conducted on the above data illustrated in
Table 4 produced a statistically signi cant difference in the achievements of
the two educational placement groups ( p < 0.005), relative to level 4. It was
found that the Mainstream Education group again performed at a higher level
when compared with the Special Education group. The results therefore
indicate that in relation to national levels of expected attainment, the educational placement type of attendance may be related to participants performance in the KS2 science test.
In summarizing the ndings presented in Tables 24, it could be concluded
that when the test achievements of both educational placement groups are
measured against the nationally expected standard of attainment for KS2
pupils, the science test is associated with the best overall performance, while
the English test is associated with the poorest performance. In fact, as
illustrated in Figure 1, the pattern of relative attainment between KS2 tests
is similar for both educational placement groups. However, attainment was
statistically higher for the Mainstream Education group in the mathematics
and science tests only, compared with the performance of the Special
Education group.
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Figure 1 Count of participants who achieved above or equal to level 4, and below level 4 in
KS2 tests, across curricular subjects

Special arrangements for the tests. As discussed above, according to


of cial QCA teacher guidelines, pupils taking KS2 tests, in all types of
educational placement, are entitled to receive special arrangements for the
tests. Special testing arrangements are authorized and prepared in accordance
with the of cial QCA test guidelines. Their application is at the discretion of
teachers, who must carefully consider the assessment needs of each individual
pupil and the type of support normally given as part of classroom practice (as
in the case of pupils registered as having special educational needs).
Table 5 details the number of participants for whom special testing
arrangements of the speci ed type were made, in any of the KS2 tests. The
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Child Language Teaching and Therapy

Table 5 Count of participants for whom special testing arrangements of the speci ed type
were made, in any KS2 test, by educational placement group (based only on participants
who took at least one test)

Count

Type of special testing arrangements


Reader for any test

Scribe for any test

Extra time for any test


Other unspeci ed
support for any test
Overall extra
support or not

No reader
Reader
Missing data
No scribe
Scribe
Missing data
No extra time
Extra time
Missing data
No other support
Other support
Missing data
No support
Support
Missing data

Mainstream
Education
group (n 47)

16
10
21
24
2
21
10
16
21
4
22
21
19
26
2

Special
Education
group (n 35)
19
10
6
25
4
6
12
17
6
3
26
6
5
29
1

types of special testing arrangements listed in the table correspond to QCA


guidelines for providing testing modi cations to children with special educational needs, categorized in accordance with the highest frequency responses
as reported by participants teachers. Data presented in Table 5 are based on
participants who took at least one of the three possible subject tests, and the
frequency counts of speci c special arrangement applications may re ect the
fact that more than one type of arrangement may have been made per
participant, per test.
Table 5 presents data that are available regarding the level of special testing
arrangements made in the tests for 79% of total participants. It is immediately
obvious from Table 5 that the number of participants who received special
arrangements for at least one academic subject test exceeds the number of
participants for whom no special arrangements were made in any of their tests,
for both educational placement groups.
Of the 79 participants for whom data is available, 70% received special
arrangements in at least one of their National Curriculum KS2 tests. Of the
children for whom special testing arrangements were made, 47% belonged to
the Mainstream Education group, while the remaining 53% of participants were
attending special education placements. So, where special testing arrangements
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were applied, the distribution of children requiring and receiving additional test
support was generally evenly spread between educational placement types. Of
the 30% of the 79 participants who did not receive any special arrangements in
any of their KS2 tests, 79% were part of the Mainstream Education group,
while the remaining 21% belonged to the Special Education group.
Table 5 indicates that while special arrangements were commonly applied to
the KS2 tests for the present sample children with SLI, among the most
popular types of speci c special arrangements were the utilization of additional time in which to complete the test, and various other arrangements.
Under the heading of other special arrangements, teachers in the present
sample indicated that common modi cations to the testing situation were: to
allow the test to be taken in a separate room from the rest of the childs class;
and to allow the childs regular support assistant to be present in the testing
situation to provide support of morale in a more emotional context.

Discussion
The present study found that the overall performance of participants in all
National Curriculum Key Stage 2 tests was poor, relative to both nationally
expected standards of achievement and the national averages of children
achieving equal to or above level 4 in the 1999 KS2 tests. The breakdown of
percentage comparisons show that in the English test, nationally 58.7% more
pupils achieved equal to or above level 4 than in the present sample; in the
mathematics test, 44.2% more pupils nationally achieved at or above level 4
than in the present sample; and in the science test, 38.9% more achieved equal
to or above level 4 than those pupils in the present study.
When these test outcomes are considered in relation to the ndings of
Conti-Ramsden et al. (1992), it is not particularly surprising to observe the
occurrence of an overall poor level of achievement when compared to both
national standards of achievement and expectation. Indeed, the present
ndings of test outcome provide support for the general ndings of studies
cited earlier (e.g., Conti-Ramsden et al., 1992) that the long-term educational
prognosis for children with SLI is discouraging.
The of cial levels of achievement awarded to each of the sample children as
a result of their performance in National Curriculum KS2 tests are considered
to be signi cant representations of their intellectual and academic abilities in a
variety of contexts in the eld of education. In particular, the of cial awards,
together with other teacher=practitioner-based assessments, have long-term
implications for educational life.
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The fact that the overall level of results was poor suggests that the majority
of the sample risk incurring negative teacher perception regarding their
educational and academic capabilities, especially in the mainstream sector.
This is particularly critical in the transition between primary and secondary
education, and inferences about skills and capabilities made from National
Curriculum KS2 test scores may possibly affect pupils future opportunities
and achievements.
As a group, children with SLI in the current study attending special
educational provision achieved markedly poorer outcomes than those educated
at mainstream placements in two out of the three core curricular subjects
tested. A comparison of the standard of outcomes by academic subject found a
consistent pattern of achievement for both educational placement groups. The
English test was found to yield the poorest outcomes, the science test
produced the best results, with the mathematics test producing a level of
attainment somewhere between the other two. When the importance of the test
results is considered, the difference observed between the attainment levels of
the two educational placement groups becomes increasingly relevant. Since
both groups of participants were originally matched on non-verbal ability,
language and cognitive skills, it would be reasonable to expect the educational
performance of the two groups to be of a similar standard. This therefore
renders the actual difference between their results in the two academic subjects
mentioned both striking and worrying. As such, further examination of all
factors and procedures leading to such outcomes is required.

Literacy
The role that literacy skills play in educational assessment of this type cannot be
underestimated and should be considered as a factor affecting the outcomes of
all three academic subject tests. For example, in assessing mathematical skills
using a test format that places heavy demands on a childs literacy abilities, the
test outcome is not a pure measure of mathematical ability. Therefore, childrens
outcomes in the National Curriculum KS2 mathematics test may be attributable,
in part, to the de cits in their literacy skills, a factor not speci cally addressed
by this study but that is commonly characteristic of pervasive SLI (e.g., Bishop
and Adams, 1990). Differences in literacy skills between groups may indeed be
suf cient to produce the differences in attainments reported. Furthermore, if
such de cits in literacy skills were to be held partially accountable for the
outcomes reported, then there are wider implications for access to curriculum
material in a learning context and not just in the assessment situation.
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Special testing arrangements


This study was able to provide data on the special arrangements made in the
KS2 tests for 79% of the sample. Of this proportion, over two-thirds were
found to have received at least one type of permissible special arrangement for
at least one of the tests taken.
Despite an obvious methodological oversight in the range of options offered
on teacher questionnaires, the very fact that the category of other special
arrangements presented with such high frequency usage among both mainstream and special education placements, even alongside the speci c categories of arrangements, is indicative of the sheer breadth and diversity of the
range of special arrangements applied to support children with SLI in the
National Curriculum tests. Furthermore, there appears to be little difference
between mainstream and special education placements in the distribution of
use of the various special arrangement types, suggesting that their application
may not actually contribute to the differences observed in the attainments of
the two groups. However, it is still a factor of great importance in understanding the overall outcomes and one worthy of discussion.
Given the poor test results relative to national standards of expectation and
achievement despite considerable support during the testing, a question arises
of the level of effect that the special arrangements had on the whole samples
performance. Do the ndings indicate that the special arrangements increased
the standard of outcome the children would have achieved had they not
received any test support? In effect, the question might be: are children with
SLI even less well equipped to cope with National Curriculum tests than is
rst thought, when the test results are looked at independently of data
regarding special testing arrangements?
This is an issue that cannot be resolved by data presented in the current
study. It is nevertheless an important issue of consideration for future
examination of the capabilities of children with SLI in National Curriculum
tests, and the impact that the currently available special arrangements have on
the test results.
On a negative note, the overall poor performance of the total sample in the
National Curriculum KS2 tests may be indicative that the special arrangements
currently available to children with SLI are, in actual fact, relatively ineffectual
when compared with the actual needs of the SLI population in a test situation.
Indeed, a closer examination of the nature of the special arrangements
currently available for use may reveal that they are not meeting the needs of
the SLI population in the National Curriculum test situation.
In taking a middle-ground perspective, in view of the previous two points, it is
also necessary to consider the possibility that some of the special arrangements
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currently available for use are more effective in raising levels of achievement
than others. Thus, many childrens National Curriculum test scores may have
been, to some extent, dependent upon their teachers ability to identify and apply
the special arrangement(s) particularly required. The apparently diverse and
inconsistent use of special testing arrangements across the whole sample may
indicate a heterogeneous requirement of support by the SLI population, while
highlighting a need for teacher knowledge both of pupilsspeci c support needs
in the National Curriculum test situation and of the range of current special
arrangements that are applicable to the SLI population.
Throughout the guidelines referring to the application of special arrangements, references are made to children with a range of special needs (e.g.,
bilingual children, hearing-impaired children, visually-impaired children,
children with motor disabilities, children with attentional dif culties), highlighting the support that may be of most use to them. There is currently,
however, no mention of children with SLI which may affect their access to
these special arrangements.
It is also an assumption made by the guidelines that all children with special
educational needs are receiving the appropriate level of required support in the
everyday classroom setting, yet it is not unreasonable to suggest that some
children with SLI may be taught, for example, by mainstream education teachers
who have little or no knowledge about the nature of their dif culties or the
speci c requirements of a child with SLI relative to National Curriculum tests.
The ndings of the present study therefore indicate that more detailed
research should consider the precise role of special testing arrangements in the
National Curriculum assessment of children with SLI, with a view to
developing the way in which teacher guidance for selection and application
of special arrangements is presented, together with the actual nature of the
special arrangements that are available for use.

Concluding remarks
The present study can provide but the bare beginnings of an investigation into
the full and detailed scale of impact that SLI has on a childs educational
performance in the latter years of primary school. The evidence presented is
suf cient to suggest strongly that curricular dif culties are a predictable effect
of SLI, yet the variation of performance level between different areas of skill
and knowledge demanded by the modern education system requires further
detailed research in order to explain its occurrence. The ndings support
research highlighting the persistent academic dif culties experienced by
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children with SLI throughout educational life (e.g., Davison and Howlin,
1987; Stothard et al., 1998) and complement it by contributing to a wider
perspective of subsequent educational needs. However, there is a limit to
which an understanding of SLI in the educational context can be achieved
simply through examining National Curriculum test results.
Acknowledgement
This work was supported by a Nuf eld Foundation grant (DIR=28) to Gina
Conti-Ramsden.

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