Child Screening & Assessment

Special Considerations: Developmental Screening of Children Ages Birth to 5 Who Are Dual Language Learners (DLLs)

Tip Sheet LogoIntroduction

Programs are required to complete or obtain developmental screenings for all children. It is important for programs to be thoughtful and intentional in how they screen children who are DLLs. 

Consider the following:

  • There are unique aspects of language and development for children who are learning two languages
  • Growing up with more than one language looks different for each child
  • These differences can affect the way young children develop skills that are part of school readiness assessments


Carefully pick screening tools and apply screening procedures that match children's characteristics. Screen children in the languages they know best.

The following factors affect the way children who are DLLs develop language and literacy:

  • Differences in home language experiences
  • When and why families immigrated
  • The age at which children were first exposed to English
  • The conditions under which they were first exposed to English
  • Family resiliency and strengths

From National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine 2017, 402–406

However, if a valid and reliable tool is not available in the children's home language, programs must:

  • Find another way to screen them
  • Create a plan to gather information about the child's development
  • Include reports from the children's families, as well as at least two or more of the following:
    • Structured observations
    • Checklists
    • Staff reports
    • Portfolio records
    • Work samples

For more information about developmental screening, including tools and procedures, see Developmental Screening for Children Ages Birth to 5.

Identifying Staff to Screen Children Who Are DLLs

Programs must have a qualified bilingual staff member, contractor, or consultant do the screening. If that person is not available, the program must use an interpreter together with a qualified staff member. If a program can show that there is no qualified bilingual staff person or interpreter, then the screening may be conducted in English. However, the program must also gather and use other information, including structured observations over time and information from the family, to help evaluate the child's progress. 

Having someone who speaks the child's language translate an instrument does not make the screening reliable and valid. The information needs to be confirmed by family and staff observations.

Special Considerations in Screening

When screening children who are DLLs, it is important to:

  • Assess the child's language skills in his or her home language and English
  • Allow the child to use knowledge, skills, and abilities in either language
  • Determine if there are any developmental concerns and if further evaluation is needed
  • Screen for domains other than language skills
  • Conduct the screening in the language with which the child feels most comfortable
  • Keep families involved throughout the screening process. Their involvement ensures that results are as reliable as possible

The program must make sure that the staff doing the screening know and understand the child's language and culture. The program must also make sure staff are skilled enough in the child's home language to understand and record the child's responses, interactions, and other communications.

Head Start Program Performance Standards

Child screenings and assessments, 45 CFR §1302.33:

  • (c)(2)–(4) Characteristics of screenings and assessments

Education in home-based programs, 45 CFR §1302.35

  • (f) Screening and assessments 

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