Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation™ - Screening Test
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Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation™ - Screening Test
(DELV™ - Screening Test)


Overview: Identifies children who speak a variation of Mainstream American English (MAE)

Age Range: Language Variation Status: 4-12 years Diagnostic Risk Status: 4-9 years

Completion Time: 15-20 minutes

Scores/Interpretation: Criterion Referenced Scores, Degree of Language Variation, Degree of risk for a language disorder

Publication Date: 2003


Product Details

Address over-identification of minorities in special education

The Diagnostic Evaluation of Language Variation™—Screening Test is an individually administered screening test to distinguish variations due to normal developmental language changes or to regional and cultural patterns of language difference from true markers of language disorder or delay.

A two-part assessment, both are appropriate for children whose speech varies from Mainstream American English (MAE), as well as speakers of MAE.

Part I

Language Variation Status distinguishes children who are speaking MAE from those who are using a variation and is appropriate for children 4-12 years of age.

Part II

Diagnostic Risk Status distinguishes children who are developing language normally from those who are at risk for a language disorder and is appropriate for children 4-9 years of age.

Customer Testimonial

“Sometimes I’m not sure if it’s African American English (AAE) or a speech disorder that I’m hearing. I’ve been asking others for years, ‘What do you use to test for this?’—And before DELV, nobody had an answer.”

Cynthia Pakula Speech/Language Pathologist Indianapolis, IN

Areas of Assessment

DELV Screening Test Evaluates:

  • Syntax
  • Pragmatics
  • Semantics
  • Phonology

Features & Benefits

  • Assists clinicians in distinguishing normal developmental language changes and patterns of variation from true markers of language disorder or delay.
  • Useful in reducing over-inclusion of minority children in special education due to linguistic and cultural differences rather than actual speech and language disorders.
  • Appropriate for children who are Mainstream American English (MAE) speakers and those who are speaking a variation from MAE, such as those who speak African American English (AAE).
  • Yields two scores, one score for Part I Language Variation Status and one for Part II Diagnostic Risk Status.
  • The DELV Screening Test has been funded in part with Federal funds from the National Institutes on Deafness and Other Communication Disorders, National Institutes of Health, under Contract No. N01-DC-8-2104 and Grant #R01 DC 02172-04.



Frequently asked questions follow. Click on a question to see the response.

Test Content

  • Is this test only for black/African American children?

    No. DELV is a language assessment tool that is sensitive to the linguistic and cultural differences represented by many African American children, but is as effective an assessment tool for children of other races/ethnicities as it is for African American children. The research foundation for the DELV was motivated by funding from the NIH to develop a language assessment test that would be fair to African American children who do not speak Mainstream American English (MAE).

  • Is this an Ebonics test?

    No. DELV focuses on language structures that are common to all children of English speaking backgrounds regardless of the particular variety of English they speak.

  • Does this label a child?

    If a child performs below the specified cut off point on both the DELV-Screening Test and the DELV-Criterion Referenced test, it is appropriate that the child be provided clinical services. The label associated with this special needs assignment is appropriate and unavoidable. An important quality of the DELV is that it reduces the unfortunate mislabeling of children as language disordered when they are not. As for the potential label associated with being designated as speaking a variety of English that is not MAE, the extent to which such a designation is pejorative is directly related to educators’ understanding that non-MAE varieties are not disorders but are legitimate reflections of children’s language communities. The DELV will play an important role in fostering that understanding.

  • What is Mainstream American English (MAE)?

    MAE is more or less an abstract notion about language prestige and is not a specific language entity. It is characteristic of the variety of English most used in the conduct of commerce and that language which is fostered in the schools as most acceptable. It can vary somewhat from one region of the country to another. There is an MAE spoken in Boston that sounds different from the MAE of Mississippi. Yet, both are considered mainstream since they represent the “mainstream” of those respective communities.

  • If a child is screened and it is determined that they do not speak a variation of MAE, but do have a disorder, what test should the Speech Language Pathologist proceed with? DELV or CELF?

    This should not necessarily be an either or decision. Although both the DELV and the CELF are tests of language, they test different language functions. The CELF is a widely used assessment tool for MAE speaking children and is likely to remain so. However, the DELV also has proven to be an effective assessment tool for MAE. A clinician’s choice of one over the other, or even both, should be determined by the clinical information he/she wishes to obtain about a child. CELF provides the user with norms for receptive and expressive language, as well as a total score. The DELV, on the other hand, assesses several domains of language and is one of the few tests of language that integrates pragmatics with syntax, semantics and phonology. Hence, the DELV diagnostic profile of the child can be a comprehensive one.

  • Does this indicate that CELF is not a good test for children who speak a variation of MAE?

    As noted above, it depends on the extent to which children vary from MAE. For example, many African American children speak a variety of English that contrasts sufficiently from MAE in ways that can adversely affect their performance on tests that are normed on a population of primarily MAE speakers. Therefore, DELV would be the preferred instrument.

  • Are children going to be deprived of special education as a result of this test?

    We should reserve limited resources and special educational expertise for those who truly qualify for special education because of a disability. Simply speaking a variety of English other than MAE does not qualify a child as disabled.

  • What do you do with a child who speaks a variation from MAE, but doesn’t have a disability?

    Historically, such children would either be misdiagnosed as special needs or ignored. There are very few programs to transition children to MAE language patterns. Any efforts to support these types of programs should do so provided the children are not made to feel that their home English patterns are deficient and inadequate. In fact, the DELV-Screening Test can be a useful tool for identifying children for whom MAE is not their dominant language profile. Once identified, efforts can be made throughout the curriculum to assure that non-MAE language patterns are not obstacles to progress. An important area for such attention would be reading.


  • How do you determine which children should take DELV?

    There are three versions of the DELV, the DELV-Screening Test and the DELV-Criterion Referenced test and the DELV- Norm Referenced Test. The DELV-Screening Test has two components, a screening for language variation status and a screening for language disorders risk status. It is an excellent tool for screening to determine whether children speak Mainstream American English (MAE) or some variation of MAE, and whether they may be at risk for a language disorder or not. The DELV-Criterion Referenced (Criterion Reference cut scores are provided) and Norm Referenced (Scaled Scores are provided) editions are complete and comprehensive diagnostic language tests. Although any child entering school can be and perhaps should be given the DELV-Screening Test, it is particularly appropriate for English speaking children suspected of having a problem with speech and language, and/or, for gathering information about a child’s MAE status. Children who perform below a specified cut off score on the diagnostic portion of DELV-Screening Test are candidates for the DELV-Criterion Referenced or Norm Referenced test.

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