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The Basics of Educational Evaluations: Help for Parents

written by: Tricia Wegman • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 1/16/2014

For many families, choosing to have their child evaluated to dismiss, detect, or confirm a learning disability is an intimidating process. There are various motives for pursuing educational testing and it can be an excellent tool for parents and educators to help a student in need.

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    Frequently parents receive a recommendation from their child’s educators to conduct an evaluation, while other parents opt to test in order to follow up on a difficulty that their child has presented.

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    The Purpose of an Evaluation

    Young girl doing homework Educational testing is beneficial for many reasons, but there are two main purposes for pursuing an evaluation. First, evaluations can provide the necessary diagnosis for special education eligibility. For students that require special assistance and curricular adjustments in the classroom, eligibility is necessary.

    The second purpose for conducting an evaluation is to receive a complete summary of student abilities and difficulties in order to create a remedial plan. Using the strengths and weaknesses that are demonstrated in the various screenings will help parents, external therapists and educators have a more complete understanding of where to meet the child’s specific needs.

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    The Process

    Once a family decides to move forward with an evaluation, it is important for the family to get informed. To learn more about national laws in the education of disabled individuals, an important website to check out is http://idea.ed.gov.

    Since each school district handles the evaluation process differently, it will be necessary to do some research and talk with educational professionals within the district as well. Some schools may have psychologists in the school to conduct testing, while others may make a recommendation for an external professional or neurologist.

    Still other families may decide to contact an independent tester for their purposes. Since each case is different in this sense, this article will focus on the actual evaluation and what parents should be looking for when they have their child evaluated.

    There are endless options when it comes to testing instruments, screenings, and informal evaluations. Some tests are created to give a diagnosis, while others are purposed to detect certain difficulties. Either way, these tests should examine specific skills that the student possesses and in turn give a summary of student strengths and weaknesses.

    While sometimes a child may only need to be screened for a specific disability, it is always a good idea to run a variety of tests. This may seem like a waste of time and money, but in fact, a more complete test is very important. Different disabilities can often come hand in hand.

    For example, many students diagnosed with Dyslexia are also found to have an Attention Deficit Disorder. In order to help the student be successful in every way possible, it is important to have a wide spectrum of tests in order to detect potential weaknesses.

    So what should parents look for in a complete test? The following section will set out specific areas to focus on and examples of tests that evaluate those skills.

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    What to Look for in a Complete Educational Evaluation

    Overall Intelligence: This refers to a child’s ability to reason, solve problems, and use cognitive processing. Common tests used to evaluate overall intelligence are: Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - 4th ed. (WISC-4), Woodcock Johnson III: Test of Cognitive Abilities (WJ-III), Stanford Binet Intelligence Scales - 5th ed. (SB5).

    Overall Achievement: These tests evaluate what the student has already achieved academically. These tests will evaluate reading, writing, math, science, and social studies. Tests used to evaluate overall achievement are: Woodcock Johnson III: Tests of Achievement (WJ-III), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test III (WIAT-III), Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, 2nd ed. (KTEA-II).

    Aptitude: These tests measure a student’s ability to learn. A great test that primarily focuses on aptitude is the Detroit Test of Learning Aptitude - 4th ed. (DTLA-4).

    Language: These tests evaluate language usage and understanding. Some tests that evaluate language abilities are: Illinois Test of Psycho-Linguistic Abilities - 3rd ed. (ITPA-3), Test of Language Development IV (TOLD-4), and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test - 4th ed. (PPVT-4).

    Dyslexia: When testing for Dyslexia, a variety of the aforementioned tests are used to find discrepancies between oral language and written language as well as reading difficulties. Additionally, an excellent screening for Dyslexia is the Dyslexia Screening Test Junior (DST-J).

    ADD/ADHD: Attention Deficit Disorders are frequently diagnosed using rating scales filled out by parents and educators. Observations of the child’s behavior by the evaluator are also considered important. An evaluator will also include memory and concentration tests. Some important rating scales used are: ADHDT: Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder Test, SNAP-IV Teacher and Parent Rating Scales, and the Vanderbilt Assessment Scales for Teachers and Parents.

    Visual/Motor/Auditory Skills: Testing in these areas is extremely helpful and gives great insight into student difficulties. An excellent test for visual/motor integration is the Developmental Test of Visual Perception - 2nd ed. (DTVP-2). When evaluating specific visual and auditory skills, the Wechsler Performance scales and Woodcock-Johnson III Cognitive tests will both detect potential difficulties in these areas.

    Social/Emotional: While social and emotional skills aren’t necessarily a part of academic testing, it is always a good idea to include an evaluation on a child’s adaptive behavior. Like ADD/ADHD testing, assessments are based on rating scales and observations. Some excellent materials are: Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scales-2nd Ed. (Vineland II), the Woodcock Johnson Scales of Independent Behavior-Revised (SIB-R).

    Once again, an educational evaluation may include any or many of these specific assessments. There are hundreds of others tests that can also be used to conduct the evaluation. It is important to find an evaluator that suits each family’s specific needs and one that provides a detailed and well-explained report. Once the evaluation has been conducted and explained, the family can move forward and seek out the support that their child needs to succeed!

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