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Special Education Assessments

An Assessment is the process of gathering information about a child to make decisions about a potential disability, strengths, weaknesses and areas of need.  An assessment can be either formal through standardized tests or informal through observation and includes collecting, recording, scoring, and interpreting information about a child.  Assessments for special education should be administered in all areas of suspected disability.  These areas could include cognitive functioning, academic functioning, speech and language, fine motor, gross motor, auditory processing, sensory processing , visual processing, social emotional, behavior, neuropsychological, memory, attention and development just to name a few.   

promo-iep-kitBefore any assessments are administered by the school an assessment plan must be sent home.  The assessment plan must be a written notice that the parent needs to approve.  Once the assessment plan is signed the school has 60 days, or other amount as determined by State law, to administer the assessments and hold an IEP.

The assessment procedures must:

  • Be provided in the child’s primary language;
  • Be administered by trained and knowledgeable personnel who can also explain the results;
  • Have validity, measuring what it’s supposed to measure, and reliability, accurately measuring what it’s supposed to measure;
  • Include a variety of tools and strategies; and
  • Not be discriminatory.

After the assessments are administered an assessment report must be written which provides a justification for any recommendations made.  The report will include behavior, health and development information and any needs for specialized services.

It is important for a parent to understand the test scores they are shown in the assessment reports.  Unfortunately this normally requires the parents to learn basic statistics.  To best understand this let’s look at the Weschsler Intelligence Scale for Children-IV (WISC-IV) the most widely used children’s cognitive functioning test (IQ test).  The test results on the WISC-IV normally include Standard Scores and Scaled Scores.

Standard Scores are based on a mean (average) of 100 and a standard deviation of 15.  Below is a description of Standard Score intelligence ranges:

<69 Well below average
70 – 79 Borderline
80 – 89 Low Average
90 – 109 Average Range
110 – 119 High Average
120 – 129 Superior
> 130 Very Superior


Scaled Scores are based on a mean (average) of 10 and a standard deviation of 3.  Below is a description of Scaled Score intelligence ranges:

1 – 3 Very low
4 – 5 Low
6 – 7  Low Average
8 – 12 Average
13 – 14  High Average
15 – 16 Superior
17 – 19  Very Superior


So a child might have a full scale IQ of 102 which is average but on some individual sub-tests could have scaled scores that are on the low range of 5 or under.  This is why it’s important to not only look at the full IQ but specific areas that the child might need help in.

The child will most likely also take an academic/achievement test such as the Woodcock-Johnson-III.  Many schools will then compare the child’s intelligence to their academic achievement.  This is called the discrepancy model.  Most School Districts require a 22 point difference between cognitive scores and achievement scores in order to classify a child as having a specific learning disability.  The most recent authorization of IDEA in 2004 does not require the school district to use the discrepancy model and suggests other alternatives be considered such as response to intervention.  So assuming a child has a full scale IQ of 102 but scores a 75 on the reading comprehension portion of the achievement test shows there is a problem with the child accessing the curriculum and needs help in reading comprehension.

While understanding all of these numbers might seem overwhelming they help create a case for your child needing an IEP versus your child just needing a 504 plan.  This is why parents should always try to receive assessments prior to the IEP meeting so that they have time to prepare for the meeting and be an informed participant. 

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