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English Language Learners Clinical and Special Education Woodcock-Johnson Dyslexia Case Studies Social Emotional Learning

Impacts of the WJ IV Tests of Oral Language: A Series of Case Studies

Jenny Ponzuric, MA, LEP, ABSNP
Written By Jenny Ponzuric, MA, LEP, ABSNP
On Aug 13, 2021
5 minute read

As a school psychologist, I am always looking for that balance in tests that I select when assessing for special education considerations. I want the tools that I use to be efficient in getting me the information I need, but I also want the tool to be defensible in case there is a question. School districts have a wide variety of tests to choose from when purchasing tools for their assessors, and I want to be able to use one tool with a variety of students. I love learning new tests, but I also love using a tool that I am already comfortable utilizing. With these considerations swirling in our minds, let’s talk about the Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Oral Language.

What is the Woodcock-Johnson?

The Woodcock-Johnson family of assessment tools includes three batteries: the Tests of Cognitive Abilities, Tests of Oral Language, and Tests of Achievement. When used together, the school psychologist and other assessment team members can provide a comprehensive examination of a student’s learning strengths and weaknesses without having to assess beyond the co-normed tests.

As seen in the three hypothetical case studies below, the Woodcock-Johnson® Tests of Oral Language (WJ IV OL) is the newest battery within the Woodcock-Johnson, Fourth Edition (WJ IV) that allows practitioners to gain a complete picture of a student. Similar to the WJ IV Tests of Achievement (WJ ACH) and Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJ COG), the WJ OL is normed for ages 2 through 90+, allowing for a common assessment throughout a person’s lifespan.


Hypothetical Case Study #1 = Language Proficiency & Mariana

Mariana is a 6th grade student referred for an initial evaluation for special education as the school team is concerned about her reading comprehension skills despite attendance in an intervention program. Mariana is also an English Learner who has made small but steady progress on the state’s language proficiency exam. The family speaks Spanish primarily in the home environment and Mariana has been in Structured English Immersion classes since kindergarten. Once the signed assessment plan is received by the team, the school psychologist begins the evaluation process with a language proficiency measure. The school psychologist wants to choose assessment tools that will help to answer the referral question in the language that is most appropriate for this individual student.

Using three subtests in English from the WJ OL (Picture Vocabulary, Oral Comprehension and Understanding Directions) along with the three parallel versions of those tasks in Spanish, the school psychologist can obtain in the moment language proficiency information in Mariana’s primary language as well as her language of instruction. Taking into consideration the Cognitive Academic Language Proficiency (CALP) scores in both languages, the school psychologist also reviews information provided by parents, teachers, and the student interview and determines that English is the more proficient language for this student.

This school psychologist, just like you, wants to ensure that the team is following IDEA requirements and utilizes assessment tools that gathers the most valid information for Mariana. Having the documented data from the WJ OL within the psychoeducational report along with the other data sources will assist the team in an appropriate evaluation and legally defensible report.


Hypothetical Case Study #2 = SLD Evaluations & Steve

Steve is a 4th grader who was referred for an evaluation by the school team due to concerns with his math problem solving skills. Steve is an a native English speaking student who obtained developmental milestones within normal limits; the pre-referral team decided that a speech-language pathologist was not needed as part of this initial evaluation for special education consideration. As the team will be considering the eligibility classification of Specific Learning Disability, the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement will be administered; however, this tool examines six of the eight academic areas outlined within IDEA regulations for SLD.

Therefore, to complete a comprehensive academic assessment for SLD consideration, one of the team members will administer four additional tasks from the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Oral Language to Steve. The individual tests of Picture Vocabulary and Sentence Repetition will be administered to examine Steve’s ability in Oral Expression while individual tests of Oral Comprehension and Understanding Directions will be given to examine his ability in Listening Comprehension.

With the addition of just four additional tasks from the WJ OL, the team can examine all eight academic areas documented within IDEA regulations for SLD, helping to ensure a comprehensive assessment was administered to Steve.


Hypothetical Case Study #3 = Follow-Up & Alex

Alex is a 9th grader who is being evaluated for a triennial review as he was initially placed in special education three years ago. Despite three years of specialized academic instruction, Alex continues to struggle with decoding, and his parents are wondering if dyslexia is the reason. The school psychologist begins their updated cognitive evaluation with the WJ IV COG, which provides several tasks within different Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) broad abilities including Fluid Reasoning, Auditory Processing and Visual Processing. During the evaluation, low scores continue to be found in the Auditory Processing composite; this was found three years ago as well. Difficulties with both the Phonological Processing task as well as the Nonword Repetition task are evident.

With both the parents and the special education teacher interested in knowing why more progress has not been made, the school psychologist decides to delve deeper into these areas. Using the co-normed WJ IV OL, additional tasks are administered to take a more in-depth look. By referring to the Selective Testing Tables published in the test book and also in the manual, the psychologist is able to see that by administering Sound Blending and Segmentation will assess Alex’s phonemic awareness skills which are found to be intact. With the administration of Rapid Picture Naming and Retrieval Fluency the school psychologist gains a better understanding of Alex’s difficulties. Difficulties with both of these tasks allows the school psychologist to share with the team that the underlying difficulties are with Alex’s speed of lexical access. Coupled with lower reading fluency scores on the WJ ACH, the team discusses ways to address these specific concerns at the IEP meeting.

The twelve tasks contained with the WJ IV OL battery enables multiple uses for team members. The language proficiency tasks assist the team in legally defensible assessments for English Learners while other tasks can be useful for comprehensive evaluations for specific learning disabilities. Used alongside the other WJ IV family of batteries, the WJ IV Oral Language battery can be useful with a wide range of student referrals. One tool with many uses – what else could you ask for?

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