Modern Language Aptitude Test-Elementary: Spanish Version

The Modern Language Aptitude Test – Elementary: Spanish Version (MLAT-ES) was developed by the staff at the non-profit entity Language Learning and Testing Foundation (LLTF), in conjunction with several schools in Latin America and Spain, for native Spanish-speaking children in the United States in grades 3-6. The MLAT-ES is an adaptation of the MLAT-E, which was developed by Drs. John Carroll and Stanley Sapon for the purpose of measuring language aptitude in pupils at the elementary school level. Drs. Charles Stansfield and Daniel Reed developed a framework for the creation of adapted versions of the MLAT for examinees whose first language is not English, and the MLAT-ES sprang from this research. Items for the MLAT-ES were drafted by Dr. Ana Maria Velasco, a distinguished English-Spanish translator and interpreter and professor of Translation and Interpretation at the Monterrey Institute for International Studies, and then reviewed by Stansfield, Reed, and others.

Frequently Asked Questions – And Answers

What are some possible uses of the MLAT-ES?
  • Placing newcomer students into appropriate educational settings.
  • Determining how students perform relative to international norms for Spanish-speaking children.
  • Creating expectancy tables to show the relationship between language aptitude scores and grades in ESL classes.
  • Identifying students with low second language learning aptitude.
  • Identifying students with second language learning disability.
  • Helping to understand why a child is progressing slowly in learning a second language.
  • Helping to identify gifted students, particularly for learning languages.
  • Developing profiles of strengths and weaknesses for all students to inform teaching of English.
  • Developing local norms and developing a placement system after norms are established.
Is the MLAT-ES easy to administer?

The MLAT-ES is readily administered because nearly all of the instructions are on the recording. The timing of the test is automatically controlled by the recording, thus leaving the teacher free to proctor the test. The administrator of the test must speak Spanish, since some introductory instructions are read aloud prior to playing the CD. The administrator’s manual is written in English, but the test administrator is required to read aloud instructions in Spanish.

Time: 60 minutes. The test may be administered in two sessions if desired.

The completed MLAT-ES is hand-score using the Hand-Scoring Stencil Set, a set of transparencies indicating the correct responses on each page of the test booklet. The score for each part is the number of correct responses and no deductions are made for errors or omissions.

When should the test be given?

The MLAT-ES can be used at different points and locations. It can be administered routinely at an intake assessment center or at a newcomers’ school or magnet school for newcomers. It can also be given upon special request if a language learning problem or disability is suspected. The MLAT-ES will be most useful for selection, placement, or guidance if given before or at the time children begin the study of English or a foreign language. However, the MLAT-ES also provides helpful information about the basic language learning abilities of pupils who have already received ESL or FL instruction. Prior language training does not ordinarily affect scores on the MLAT-ES, since the type of content included in the test is not ordinarily included in language curricula.

Who should take the MLAT-ES?

Although intended for grades 3-7, the MLAT-ES can also be given to children near the end of grade 2 and up to grade 8 or 9. However, norms for these grades are not available and the grade 3 and grade 7 norms would have to be used for score interpretation purposes.

Only children who are literate in Spanish should take the MLAT-ES. If the child is not literate in Spanish, but literate in English, the child may take the MLAT-E.

How can the MLAT-ES be used for placement?

In school districts with a high percentage of Spanish-speaking students, development of an appropriate educational program has been increasingly an issue. The MLAT-ES, in its capacity as a diagnostic measure of language aptitude, can be used in conjunction with other measures (such as teacher evaluations, prior academic background, and grades in English and other courses) to effectively place Spanish-speaking students in the appropriate educational setting.

Students who score high on the test should progress rapidly in learning or acquiring English. With initial instruction in English as a second language (ESL), followed by some supplemental instruction in ESL over the long term, they may begin study in mainstream classrooms. These students should become fluent speakers, readers and writers of English in two years. Their general English proficiency will probably be comparable to that of the average monolingual English speaker within two years of their placement in a mainstream English language classroom.

Students who score in the middle of the range (2nd and 3rd quartile) are above the norm. Newcomer students scoring in this range should be placed initially in ESL classes or bilingual education programs that offer a strong ESL component. Students receiving such instruction, as well as instruction in other subjects such as math and social studies, should acquire English at a normal rate, typically attaining native proficiency within two-to-four years, depending on their age at the time they first appear at the school and their exposure to English outside of the classroom. 

Students who score on the low end of the scale should be placed in intensive ESL classes or bilingual education programs. Such students will usually require more than four years to develop full proficiency in English. In cases where the child is progressing slowly toward becoming a fluent speaker, reader, or writer of English, it may be useful to refer the child for to a licensed psychologist for a comprehensive psychoeducational assessment.

Tentative guidance for score interpretation, such as that given above, should be adjusted or revised in light of local norms and local educational programs.

How can the MLAT-ES be used for selection?

The MLAT-ES will help identify children who show promise of rapid learning of another language and the likelihood of attaining a high level of proficiency. Spanish-speaking children who score high (in the 80th percentile or higher) on the MLAT-ES have a high degree of aptitude for learning foreign languages. Therefore, they should be encouraged to enroll in another language in elementary school or in junior high school and to continue the study of that language, as well as English and Spanish, through high school.

It is inappropriate to use the MLAT-ES to screen a student out of a language course that the child wants to take. Given good instructional support, plus enough time and exposure, virtually all children can learn a foreign language. Furthermore, any child can benefit from foreign language study.

How can the MLAT-ES be used for guidance?

Teachers and guidance counselors may use MLAT-ES scores to estimate the child’s probable success in learning English. Nearly all children will learn a second language, but language aptitude affects the speed with which the child will become proficient in the language and the degree of proficiency the child will acquire. The MLAT-ES measures the child’s aptitude or ability; his or her interest or motivation must be appraised separately.

So far as is known, a child’s aptitude for learning one language is about the same as his or her aptitude for learning any other language. The fact that pupils sometimes show different degrees of success in different languages is probably to be accounted for by differences in motivation and interest, in teaching methods, and in other factors not related to basic aptitude. With MLAT-ES scores at hand, the counselor can more readily determine whether a language learning problem is due to lack of basic aptitude or to other factors. Once a lack of language aptitude has been identified, special assistance can be provided according to his or her special needs.

What is a language learning disability, and how can the MLAT-ES be used in diagnosing one?

A language learning disability may be defined as low aptitude for learning languages in comparison with the student’s aptitude for learning other subjects. It is usually established by administering a battery of tests, including a language aptitude test such as the MLAT-E or the MLAT-ES, and examining the pattern of scores. If the student shows normal aptitude for other school subjects but much lower aptitude on measures relating to language, then evidence of a weakness or disability in language aptitude is established. Another aspect of such an assessment is to examine the student’s performance in different subjects. If the student does well in other subjects but poorly in language, then this provides further evidence of a substantial discrepancy in his or her abilities.

A problem with applying this model to the recently arrived monolingual Spanish speaker in the US is that such students may not be enrolled in a bilingual education program; hence they will not have the opportunity to demonstrate their ability to learn other subjects in their native language. Until they acquire a basic competency in English, they will progress slowly in other subjects. Thus, evidence of learning in other subjects will either not be available, or it will appear that the student has below average aptitude in general. Unless valid measures of general and special aptitudes are available in Spanish, the MLAT-ES score may be the only evidence of the student’s language learning ability. In this case, the score on the MLAT-ES will have to be interpreted in isolation, but a low score would still serve as evidence of low language learning aptitude and possibly a disability. Sometimes a cognitive-academic disability is defined as an aptitude score below a certain percentile, such as the 20th percentile, the 10th percentile, or the 5th percentile. Whether the cutoff point is made on a case-by-case basis or set for the purpose of establishing a policy for a particular school, the decision must be made by a qualified professional as part of a comprehensive diagnostic procedure.

The MLAT-ES test can be used in developing a history of difficulty in learning foreign languages. For example, a school psychologist who is doing a diagnostic evaluation of a student who is progressing slowly in acquiring English could use test results from the MLAT-ES in conjunction with input from ESL teachers and data from progress in English language courses to help establish a diagnosis of a foreign language learning disability. It is especially important that such diagnoses be accurate and credible, because other special services and accommodations may be contingent on their outcome.

To read two articles at LD Online about foreign language learning disabilities, click on the following links:

Learning Disabilities and Foreign Language Learning, by Robin L. Schwartz
Foreign Language Learning and Learning Disabilities: Making the College Transition, by Sally S. Scott and Elaine Manglitz

What materials should I order?

Each examinee requires a test booklet (consumable – examinees mark their answers directly in the test booklet) and a score report. Administration of the test requires the test manual, a CD, and a hand-scoring stencil for scoring the answer sheet. Most materials are sold separately, but a Specimen Set (includes Administrator’s Manual, one Test Booklet and one Score Report) can be purchased to preview the materials. Due to the reusable nature of the product, ALL SALES ARE FINAL.

Most psychologists administer the MLAT-ES to only one person at a time. Thus, they can purchase the administration materials for the test and then test booklets and score reports as needed.
Classroom teachers and researchers normally administer the MLAT-ES to groups of people. Thus, they usually purchase test booklets and score reports by the package. If the test is to be administered in different locations, additional test administration materials (one each of Administrator’s Manual, CD, and Hand-Scoring Stencil) for every location must be purchased.

MLAT-ES Sample Items