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Assessment in Special Education

Bill Working at DeskIt is sometimes difficult to make sense of all of the data that is collected on a child in a special education program.  The first issue is consistency and standardization.  There is no excepted assessment protocol that is used in ALL schools for ALL children, it varies immensely from school district to school district.  Another issue is that the data is often not presented to the families in a meaningful way and the assessment is often not directly tied to IEP goals, so at times, it is not clear what is being assessed or why.  Similarly, it is not always clear which assessments to use to get meaningful outcome data.

If your child does get assessed, the terminology in these reports can be daunting.  Here is a brief overview of some of the terms you may see:

* A raw score is almost always the number of items that the child answerred puzzleed correctly on the assessment.  By itself, this has no meaning if you are not familiar with the specific assessment.

* A standard score is one that has been calculated from the raw score to fit into a normal distribution.  In most cases, the mean is 100, and the standard deviation is 15.  In special education, children are often at extreme ends of the distribution (either way above or way below the mean) in areas of exceptionality (for instance, a child with autism will likely score below the mean in social communication).

* The z score is the number of standard deviations above and below the mean.  If a z score is -1.9, that means the child scored 1.9 standard deviations below the mean.

* Percentile rank is the percentage of scores in a particular group of people.  Percentile ranks range from 99th (highest) to 1st (lowest).  If your child has a percentile rank of 82, they did better than 82% of the population (could be their class or district, could be the general population for that age group, etc, depends on the assessment).

* Clark WritingThe age equivalent is estimate of the age level that matches how your child did on the assessment.  This is almost always shown in years and months.  If your child is 10 years old and receives an age equivalent score on a language assessment of 6 years, 2 months.  That means that your child’s language (as measured by that assessment) is similar to a typically developing child at the age of 6 years, 2 months.  This is probably one of the more useful pieces of data, as this can help guide your decisions for what content is most appropriate for teaching your child and building her language skills.

* The grade equivalent is similar to age equivalent, but by grade level, rather than a specific age.

* A report card often has a completely different set of scoring than standardized measures.  These vary so much, that it is impossible to review them all here.  The most common (with older kids) is A (highest grade), B, C (pass), D, or F (fail).  Younger grades often use things like S (satisfactory), E (excellent), U (unsatisfactory) or other types of grading.  Report cards are done at a state, district, or sometimes even school level (especially in private schools).  The report card shows how your child is doing compared to other children at that grade level.

* The IEP (see Manya’s Posting) is not really a report of how well the child is doing, but what needs to be worked on to make the child successful, so the IEP is not the outcome measure, per se, but the plan for improving the child’s skills.


Intellectual, Educational:  The purpose of these assessments is to deblue puzzletermine the child’s overall, verbal, or non-language intellectual ability.  Skills that are typically measured include language skills, processing speed, memory, abstract thinking, planning, motor skills, spatial abilities, organization, social understanding and judgment, and common sense.  IQ scores are often (but not always) associated with these assessments.  IQ scores show a child’s intellectual ability compared to other children their age.  IQ scores are more stable for older children than for younger children and change from childhood to adulthood.  Many factors may contribute to IQ, so it is important to take them for what they are and to not make more of them than what they are.  IQ and academic achievement are highly correlated, but success in life is not as highly correlated with high IQs, and many researchers believe that success may relate more to social-emotional intelligence than to IQ.  An IQ score can be very helpful though in determining a child’s ability to do well in a mainstream classroom.  Here is a breakdown of IQ scores, the classification, and the percent included (this is taken from a table in the book THE SPECIAL EDUCATOR’S BOOK OF LISTS: 2nd EDITION by Roger Pierangelo, PhD (Wiley Publishers) on page 219) (great book, btw, I highly recommend it!):

IQ Range                Classification                           % Included

130 and over           Very superior                          2.2

120-129                  Superior                                 6.7

110-119                  High Average                          16.1

90-109                    Average                                 50.0

80-89                      Low Average                          16.1

70-79                      Borderline                               6.7

69 and below            Intellectually deficient               2.2

                               Mentally retarded

                               Developmentally delayed

Some of the most commonly used intelligence assessments include (list from the above referenced book - click on the link above to order the book from Amazon) (the book also gives a nice review of what is included in each of these assessments and the authors insights regarding benefits and weaknesses of each assessment):

1) The Wechsler Scales of Intelligence (WPPSI for Preschool; WISC for school age; WAIS for adults)

2) The Stanford Binet

3) Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC)

4) Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (KBIT)

5) Columbia Mental Maturity Scale (CMMS)

6) McCarthy Scales of Children’s Abilities

7) Slosson Intelligence Test

8) Comprehension Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (CTONI)

9) Woodcock-Johnson Test of Cognitive Ability (WJ)

10) Brigance Diagnostic Inventory of Basic Skills

11) Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (KTEA)

12) Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT)

13) Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT)

14) Wide Range Achievement Test (WRAT)

15) Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement

Bill WritingThere are a few other measures that I have come across when working in schools and clinics that were not listed in the book:

16) The Leiter Non-Verbal Intelligence Scale

17) Developmental Profile 3 (DP-3)

18) Developmental Assessment of Young Children (DAYC)

19) Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales (RIAS)

20) Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test (UNIT)

21) The Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills (ABLLS)


Reading Assessments:  These assessments are excellent for determining a child’s grade level for reading and identifying strengths and limitations for program planning.

1) Gates-MacGinitie Silent Reading Test (GMRT)

2) Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT)

3) Durrell Analysis of Reading Difficulty (DARD)

4) Gates-McKillop-Horowitz Diagnostic Reading Tests

5) Gilmore Oral Reading Test

6) Slosson Oral Reading Test (SORT)

7) Spache Diagnostic Reading Scales

8) Woodcock Reading Mastery Tests (WRMT)

9) Test of Reading Comprehension (TORC)

10) Nelson-Denny Reading Test (NDRT)


Written Language: These assessments refer to the child’s ability to put torange puzzleheir thoughts down on paper and includes the motor act of handwriting and the cognitive ability to put thoughts into writing.

1) Picture Story Language Test (PSLT)

2) Test of Early Written Language (TEWL)

3) Test of Written Language (TOWL)

red pencilMath: These tests measure the child’s abilities to solve problems, interpret results, and apply math skills.

1) Key Math Diagnostic Arithmetic Test (KEY MATH)

2) Test of Early Mathematics Ability (TEMA)

3) Test of Mathematical Abilities (TOMA)


Problem Behaviors: These tests are used to assess the level of problem behaviors exhibited by a child and to measure progress from interventions targeted at reducing these behaviors.   

1) Behavioral Observations (this is the most commonly used measure - often done through a Functional Behavioral Analysis (FBA) on a specific behavior problem)

2) Interview Methods are often used to supplement behavioral observations and help the behavior analyst or psychologist get a better understanding of the environment and possible behavioral triggers surround a particular behavior - can also be used to diagnosis

3) Psychological Tests are administered by the school psychologist and are used to properly place the child in an appropriate classroom and to identify issues to work on with the child in his IEP.  These can include projective drawing, apperception tests, sentence completion tests, and rating scales.


Adaptive Behaviors are the life skills needed for the child to functionpurple puzzle in school, home, and in the community.  These include things like communication, health, safety, self-care, leisure, work, social understanding, fine and gross motor, functional academics, and community knowledge. Here are some popular assessments (also from book referenced above):

1) AAMR Adaptive Behavior Scale - Residential and Community

2) AAMR Adaptive Behavior Scale - School

3) Adaptive Behavior Evaluation Scale (ABES)

4) Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (VABS)


Visual and Auditory Perception: These are extremely important measures for children who may have difficulty responding to the teaching materials typically available in classrooms and to qualify children for assistive technology or other tools to help give them access to the teaching materials.  These are typically administered by an occupational or speech therapist.

1) Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration (VMI)

2) Test of Gross-Motor Development (TGMD)

3) Bender Visual-Motor Gestalt Test (BVMGT)

4) Developmental Test of Visual Perception (DTVP)

5) Motor-Free Visual Perceptual Test (MVPT)

6) Goldman-Fristoe-Woodcock Test of Auditory Discrimination

7) Test of Auditory Perceptual Skills (TAPS)

8) Wepman Test of Auditory Discrimination (ADT)

9) Detroit Tests of Learning Aptitudes (DTLA)

10) Slingerland Screening Tests for Identifying Children with Specific Language Disability


DSCN0540.JPGEarly Childhood Assessments are developed specifically for children under the age of 5 years (often used with a new diagnosis).

1) Bayley Scales of Infant Development

2) Preschool Language Scale (PLS)

3) Metropolitan Readiness Tests (MRT)

4) Boehm Test of Basic Concepts (BTBC)

5) Bracken Basic Concept Scale (BBCS)

6) Preschool Evaluation Scale (PES)

7) Kindergarten Readiness Tests (KRT)

8) Batelle Developmental Inventory (BDI)

9) Communication and Symbolic Behaviors Scale (CSBS)

10) Mullen Scales of Early Learning


eraser 1Motor skills are often assessed to identify the need for an occupational therapist and to develop specific programs to help children with motor skill difficulties.  Gross motor skills include those that require larger movements (e.g. running, dancing, balance, etc.) and fine motor skills include those require more finger movements (e.g. writing, cutting, musical instruments, etc.).  Here are some assessments that are often used (from the book):

1) Milani-Comparetti Motor Development Test

2) Miller Assessment for Preschoolers (MAP)

3) Quick Neurological Screening Test (QNST)

4) Sensory Integration and Praxis Test (SIPT)

5) Purdue Perceptual Motor Survey (PPM)


computer boy.jpgAutism/Asperger Severity measurements are used to make an initial diagnosis, but area also used to confirm the child’s diagnosis at various points in their development.  Here are some of the measurements that I have used personally in my research, clinical, and education work:

1) Childhood Autism Rating Scale (CARS)

2) Gilliam Autism Rating Scale (GARS)

3) Gilliam Asperger’s Disorder Scale (GADS)

4) Autism Diagnostic Observation Scale (ADOS)

5) Autism Diagnostic Interview (ADI)

6) Modified Checklist for Autism in Toddlers (M-CHAT)

7) Asperger Syndrome Diagnostic Scales (ASDS)

8) Autism Screening Instrument for Educational Planning

9) Differential Assessment of Autism and Other Developmental Disorders

10) Pervasive Developmental Disorders Screening Test


There are also a great deal of language assessments thaaqua puzzlet are administered to identify speech, language disorders, and to identify speech-language and behavioral services that might be needed to help the child advance in their language and communication.  These assessments are extremely common with children who have an ASD diagnosis.  I am not a speech therapist, and this list is by no means comprehensive, but here are some of the language measurements that I have used or seen used by speech therapists:

1) Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test

2) Peabody Expressive Vocabulary Test

3) Receptive One-Word Vocabulary Test

4) Expressive One-Word Vocabulary Test

5) Assessment of Sound Awareness and Production (ASAP)

6) Hodson Computerized Analysis of Phonological Patterns (HCAPP)

7) Language Proficiency Test (LPT)

8) Lindamood Auditory Comprehension Test

9) Oral and Written Language Scales (OWLS)

10) Test for Auditory Comprehension of Language (TACL)

11) Test of Pragmatic Language (TOPL)

12) Woodcock Language Proficiency Battery

13) Boehm 3- Preschool

14) Boehm Test of Basic Concepts

15) Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF)

16) MacArthur Communication Development Inventories

17) Preschool Language Scale

18) Reynell Developmental Language Scales

19) Test of Early Language Development (TELD)

20) Test of Narrative Language (TNL)

21) Utah Test of Language Development


3 kids in wagonThere are not a great deal of assessments for testing social skills, but there are a few that I think are great to use with children with ASD:

1) Social Communication Questionnaire (SCQ)

2) Social Responsiveness Scale (SRS)

3) Social Skills Rating System (SSRS)

4) Social-Communication, Emotional Regulation, Transactional Supports Assessments (SCERTS)


There you have it, a not so brief overview of assessment in special education.  If anyone knows of other assessments that they use in their professional work, or that have been used on their children, please share, particularly if you find that one has really helped you.  I am currently looking for good measBill Graduationurements for social skills, if you know of some, please let me know!


Happy New Year Everyone!!!






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