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English Language Learners Clinical and Special Education Woodcock-Johnson

Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency & the WJ IV

Beth Varner, M.Ed., NCSP
Written By Beth Varner, M.Ed., NCSP
On Aug 30, 2023
8 minute read

Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency (CALP Score) Applications for English Language Learners and Beyond

Language proficiency is commonly divided into two categories: 

Basic Interpersonal Communication Skill (BICS) is often described as “playground language.” It is the casual, social language that a student uses to navigate their environment and engage with friends, caregivers, and community members. Language skill that can be categorized as BICS emerges naturally through interactions with others.

Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) is proficiency with the language of learning, or “classroom language.” It’s the complex written or verbal language that allows students to learn in an academic setting. CALP is gained through instruction and use in the classroom environment through resources and activities such as textbooks, classroom projects and discussions, and essay writing.

CALP is frequently discussed when assessing English Learners (EL). For those learning a second language, BICS develops first and in a relatively short time while CALP takes much longer. The rate of development of CALP in a second language is significantly influenced by the quality of the available learning opportunities. Sometimes, English Learners are perceived to have well-developed language skills yet still struggle with reading and writing. Tools such as the Woodcock-Johnson IV can be used to assess the student’s CALP level. This is a key strategy for identifying whether limited language proficiency in an EL student is due to a language-based learning disorder or an indication that the student is in an early stage of English language development.

Assessment of English Learners is not the only time that CALP is useful. It can also be a highly informative metric in assessments of monolingual English students. Measuring a student's proficiency in the language utilized for learning in the classroom may be useful for a number of evaluation types, including those for young students and students with intellectual disabilities, learning disabilities, and/or language disorders. CALP measurement allows the evaluation team to determine what access the student has to the instruction they are receiving. If the student's CALP is notably low, they may not have the language proficiency required to effectively engage with grade-level instruction in the classroom. 

Evaluation teams may use this data to determine appropriate placements. It might be the case that a student's CALP levels are low enough that they would be better served in a pullout resource classroom for subjects such as reading and mathematics. For vocabulary-heavy topics in the general education classroom, such as social studies and science, students with low CALP may need modifications in the classroom activities and assignments, pre-teaching of concepts at their language proficiency level, or paraprofessional support in the classroom to assist the student in accessing the instruction. 

Information about the CALP level of students receiving resource room instruction can support the special educator in determining appropriate intervention groupings. Grouping together students with similar CALP levels for intervention activities will allow the students to engage with the instruction at a similar language level as each other, which can support development of comprehension and increase student participation. 

On the Woodcock-Johnson IV, CALP scores can be derived from clusters measuring oral language, comprehension knowledge, acquired knowledge, reading, and writing. Conveniently, many of the clusters that report CALP scores are ones commonly administered in the course of a special education evaluation (e.g. COG: Comprehension-Knowledge; ACH: Basic Reading Skills, Reading Comprehension, Basic Writing Skills, and Written Expression; OL: Listening Comprehension, and Oral Expression). This means that including a CALP analysis in your evaluation report may be as simple as adjusting settings in Riverside Score when running the evaluation report rather than completing additional assessment!

As we discussed above, CALP scores can be calculated for WJ clusters that reflect the cognitive and academic language of the student. The complete list of test clusters that provide CALP scores are as follows:

WJ IV Clusters that Provide CALP ScoresDownload list of Cluster that provide the CALP Score

In order to receive CALP scores on the WJ IV score report, raw scores for all tests in the desired cluster must be entered in the student's test record in Riverside Score. Please reference the Selective Testing Tables in the WJ IV Examiner's Manuals and test easels to identify the individual tests making up the clusters listed above. 

On WJ IV Score Reports, CALP scores are reported in a separate table towards the bottom of the report. This table is only included when running a report using a scoring template that includes CALP. Follow the below instructions to create a new score template and select CALP. 

How to create a new score template and select CALPDownload Instructions PDF


Now that you’ve run a Score Report that includes the student’s CALP scores, let’s discuss the interpretation and instructional implications of these scores.

Below, you will find the CALP Levels and Corresponding Implications table from chapter 5 of the WJ IV Examiner’s Manual. This table lists the possible CALP scores, which are displayed as a number between 1 and 6. The CALP Level column provides a qualitative descriptor of the student’s CALP score, which ranges from Extremely Limited to Very Advanced. In addition, this table includes a column titled “Instructional Implications.” This column indicates the ease with which the student is predicted to be able to engage with grade-level instruction. Score descriptors range from Nearly Impossible to Extremely Easy.
WJ IV Score Interpretation Chart

Download Score Interpretation Chart

On the WJ IV Score Report, look for CALP scores under the table titled “Cognitive-Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) Scores and Interpretation.” Here is a CALP table from a sample student Score Report:

Sample CALP Score from Student Report


Download Sample CALP Table

Refer to chapter 5 of your WJ IV Examiner's Manual for a more thorough description of each score type included in this chart and the Score Report more broadly. 

The sample CALP table included above gives us an opportunity to practice understanding the instructional implications of a student’s CALP scores. For the sample student reported above, the Comprehension-Knowledge (Gc) CALP score is 4, which indicates the level of Fluent. The oral tasks that make up this cluster (WJ IV COG Test 1: Oral Vocabulary and Test 8: General Information) measured the student’s crystallized intelligence, also understood as broad, culturally acquired vocabulary and knowledge. This student performed at the level expected based on their age or grade. 
This student shows slightly lower CALP in the area of Oral Language, with a CALP score of 3.5, which is described as Limited to Fluent. When comparing the task demands of the tests making up this cluster (WJ IV OL Test 1: Picture Vocabulary and Test 2: Oral Comprehension) with those comprising the Comprehension-Knowledge cluster discussed above, we can see that both clusters required the student to provide oral responses to prompts measuring vocabulary and general knowledge. A key difference in the content of these clusters, however, is that for the Oral Language cluster, general knowledge is measured through requiring a student to complete an oral cloze task (the student must supply a missing word after listening to an audio-recorded passage) and in the Comprehension-Knowledge cluster, the student’s general knowledge is demonstrated through the answering of oral “where” and “what” questions. One might infer that this student is able to answer broad questions about the location or purpose of named objects but when asked to use syntactic and semantic clues to provide a specific missing word in a passage, their skills are less developed. (This hypothesis can be confirmed through a task analysis of the student’s performance on each test.) Classroom implications of this difference may include providing the student open-ended opportunities to demonstrate their knowledge and delivering additional instruction on applying their general knowledge to closed-ended questions. 

This student’s Reading and Writing CALP scores demonstrate less developed academic language proficiency in the subject areas of reading and writing. It is clear that this student’s oral cognitive-academic language proficiency is much more developed than their proficiency with written academic language. Assessment and instruction of this student should allow for opportunities to demonstrate  vocabulary and general knowledge abilities through spoken language activities and assignments. Grade-level classroom tasks utilizing written language will be difficult for this student and will likely require some modification and/or support.

In summary, CALP scores provide us an opportunity to examine a student’s ability to understand and use the cognitive-academic language used for instruction in the school environment. These scores can be included on a WJ IV Score Report, typically without conducting any additional assessment. CALP scores are essential in understanding the language proficiency of English Learners but also may offer significant contributions to evaluation of and intervention planning for monolingual English speakers.


Learn More about the WJ IV


Cummins, J. (1984). Bilingualism and Special Education: Issues in assessment and pedagogy. Pro-Ed.
Mather, N., & Wendling, B. J. (2014). Examiner’s Manual. Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Achievement. Riverside.

Mather, N., & Wendling, B. J. (2014). Examiner’s Manual. Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Cognitive Abilities. Riverside.

Mather, N., & Wendling, B. J. (2014). Examiner’s Manual. Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Oral Language. Riverside.




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