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What Your Test Manual Will (and Should) Tell You—Part 3

Clinical Café by Debby Hutchins, MS, CCC-SLP

Since it can be difficult getting back into the school routine after a summer break, we as SLPs need to do what the children do—sharpen our skills on previously learned material. One way we can do this is through reviewing. And what better place to start than by looking at our test manuals.

Manual, according to The New International Webster’s Comprehensive Dictionary of the English Language, is a “compact volume; handbook of instruction or directions; designed to be retained for reference.”

Dust off those test manuals!

Do you know where your test manuals are? When was the last time you took this valuable part of your assessment out of the closet or its fancy bag? Authors and publishers of tests include manuals in their packages for good reasons!

This subject of manuals came to mind when I recently mentored a new, very conscientious SLP. She had just administered the Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation-2 (GFTA-2) to a young child. I was reviewing the information prior to our staff meeting. Many of the phonetic symbols on the protocol seemed to indicate a very unusual pattern.

I asked the SLP, “What did you hear in the child’s speech that led you to use that symbol?” She explained that another SLP told her to use that symbol when a phoneme sounded distorted. I explained that the phonetic symbol she used meant, according to the manual, that the child exhibited nasality. She stopped and thought about it for a minute. Then, she smiled and said, “Now I see why it is so important to read the manual!”

All manuals include in-depth instructions on proper procedures and details on how to enhance the use of the instrument. Think about this. Would you prepare a fancy new dish for dinner without following a recipe? Okay all you gourmet cooks, this example does not include you. However, this story about the new SLP shows how important reading the test manual can be. There are other reasons too:

  • Administration standards—Standards 6.6, 8.1, and 11.3 (CASL p. 67, GFTA-2 p. 15) are spelled out to keep us on the right track when choosing assessments. All AGS Publishing instruments should be administered and interpreted by professionals who are trained to use them, or by students in training who are supervised.
  • Scope and organization of the test—If you read through the GFTA-2 manual, you will see that pages with blue shaded edges (GFTA-2 pp. 16-25) contain helpful information. For instance, did you know that GFTA-2 includes six consonant clusters that were not in the original edition? More clusters were added because many of us out in the field requested them. Also, did you know that if you fold the protocol in the right way, you can compare the same sound across all sections? (GFTA-2 p. 23.) Try it.
  • Research support for item types/constructs—Look at the CASL manual’s gray shaded page edges (pp. 34-66). There you will find a short description of each CASL test. It’s a quick way to locate an easy-to-understand test description. These descriptions are perfect for sharing with parents and others at eligibility meetings. Notice that the word is TEST, not subtest. A distinctive attribute of CASL is that each test stands alone—making CASL so “usable” for SLPs. If you hear someone refer to CASL subtests, politely refer them to the manual!
  • Test construction decisions—One recent SpeechandLanguage.com discussion question concerned basals and ceilings. Guess what? The answer is clearly spelled out in your test manual. But remember, whenever you get a revised edition of a test, it’s important not to assume that the basal, ceiling, and even the administration process will be the same. Again, check the manual.

Before you can administer an assessment, you have to calculate the child’s chronological age. If you are as mathematically challenged as I am, then you will be happy to know that you can find an age calculator right on the Pearson Web site. With this handy little tool, we have no excuse for subtracting incorrectly!

A closing thought—do you ever reread favorite books for pleasure? If so, you know that when you read a book for a second or third time, you almost always find something you missed before. The same goes for all those important books called manuals. So go ahead and take the time to reacquaint yourself with them. It’s well worth it!

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