Using nonverbal tests to identify gifted & talented ELLs
English-language learners (ELLs) are often underrepresented in programs that
serve gifted and talented students because of difficulties in identifying the
abilities of these students. Schools increasingly are using nonverbal tests to
evaluate the academic talent of ELLs, but how valid and reliable are these
tests in identifying academically gifted ELLs? asks a recent study in Gifted
Many educators assume that nonverbal reasoning tests level the playing field
for ELL children, but in this study of about 1200 K-6 children, ELL students
scored 8 to 10 points lower than non-ELL children on the 3 nonverbal tests
examined in this study, researchers say.
"These differences are congruent with the conclusion that nonverbal tests do
not see through the veneer of culture, education or language development," the
The study compared the validity of 3 nonverbal tests used in identifying
academically talented ELL students:
- Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test(NNAT),
- Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT, Form 6
- Raven Standard Progressive Matrices (Raven).
"Separating test scores for all ELL and all non-ELL children is no more
difficult than separating the scores for boys and girls or for third-graders and
fourth-graders," the researchers write.
To make inferences about talent or aptitude, educators need to compare
children's performance to that of other children who have had roughly similar
opportunities to develop the abilities measured by the test, the authors write.
This is true not only for verbal and quantitative abilities, but also for
abilities measured by nonverbal tests.
The researchers caution that they did not find the
national norms on the tests to be of comparable quality.
"This controlled comparison of the Raven, the NNAT and the CogAT showed that
the 3 tests differ importantly in the quality of their norms, in the reliability
of the scores they produce, and in their ability to identify the most
academically able ELL and non-ELL students," the researchers write.
"On the NNAT, ELL students were much more likely to receive very low scores.
On the Raven, non-ELL children were much more likely to receive very high
scores. Only the CogAT Nonverbal showed normally distributed scores for both
Participants in the study were 1198 K-6 children in two elementary schools in
a large Southwestern school district. The native language of almost all ELL
students was Spanish. As well as the three nonverbal tests, students also took
an achievement test, the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards Dual Purpose
Assessment (AIMS DPA).
The CogAT consists of three separate batteries that measure verbal,
quantitative and nonverbal reasoning. In this study, the best predictors of
achievement were students' abilities to reason in the most relevant domains.
"For reading comprehension, this was the CogAT Verbal score, whereas for
mathematics it was a weighted combination of the three CogAT scores." Another
issue in the use of nonverbal tests to evaluate the academic talent of ELLs is
whether in minimizing the role of language, these assessments fail to capture
fluid reasoning ability.
"The question…is not whether nonverbal tests should be administered to ELL
children," the authors write. "All would agree that such tests can provide
helpful information. Rather, the issue is whether nonverbal tests should provide
the only estimate of ability or if other measures of ability should be used to
provide additional information about a student's academic aptitude."
Nonverbal test scores should just be one part of a comprehensive
identification approach incorporating a broad range of abilities and teacher
ratings, they say.
"Identifying Academically Gifted English-Language Learners Using Nonverbal
Tests, A Comparison of the Raven, NNAT, and CogAT," by David Lohman et al.,
Gifted Child Quarterly, Volume 52, Number 4, Fall 2008, pp. 275-296.
Published in ERN February 2009, Volume 22, Number 2