Understanding IEP Assessments for Students with Disabilities

What Are All These Numbers?

Have you ever opened your child’s IEP, looked at a list of test acronyms and numbers, and asked yourself, “What on earth does all this mean?” I’ve often found myself perplexed by that one aspect of the IEP and have never received sufficiently illuminating answers from the professionals who administer the tests.

Generally when the tests are given, a raw score is taken and then compared to a predetermined standard. For example, the Bruininks-Oseretsky Test is standardized based on a sample of 765 students selected back in 1970. Here are some of the more common assessments and what they test.

Cognitive and Educational Assessments

Cognition refers to the process of gaining and processing knowledge and understanding, in other words, learning. Language plays a big part in this. Some assessments are used to determine a child’s ability to learn, learning needs, memory, and language development.

The Woodcock-Johnson III achievement tests are a battery of tests that look at writing, math, vocabulary, and problem solving to name a few items. The test scores are presented as a scaled (or standard) score along with your child’s age equivalence. This means the raw score (the number of correct responses out of the total) is converted to the assessment’s own scoring range. In the case of WJIII, scores from 80-120 are in the average range; scores over 120 enter into the gifted territory; below 80, scores indicate a deficit area.

Speech and Language Assessments

Some language tests include the Expressive Vocabulary Test (IEVT) – Oral and Written Language Scales (OWLS) and the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (PPVT). These assessments will have scores presented as scaled scores, along with a percentile and age equivalence. The percentile shows the percentage of students with lower scores than your child. So if the score falls in the 55th percentile, your child is doing better then 55% of the rest of the students tested.

Motor Skills Assessments

The Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency (BOT2) is a common test used to assess gross motor skills (i.e. balance, strength, coordination) as well as fine motor skills (hand control and coordination). There are 46 items tested overall, broken into 8 subtests:

  • Fine motor precision
  • Fine motor integration
  • Manual dexterity
  • Bilateral coordination
  • Balance
  • Running speed and agility
  • Upper limb coordination
  • Strength

There is a short form for this assessment, and the standard differs slightly depending on whether the short or complete form is used. Scores are expressed as scaled scores, percentiles, composites (the average of the different scaled results all together) and age equivalents, although the age equivalents are only available if the long form is done.

Comprehensive Testing

The Brigance Revised Comprehensive Inventory of Basic Skills is another battery of tests, which looks at all aspects of your child’s development including language, cognition, math, reading and motor skills. Scores are presented as scaled scores, age/grade equivalents, percentiles or quotients where the range of scores considered average is within one standard deviation of the mean, or average (mean=100; standard deviation=15). This means that any score between 85 and 115 is still within a reasonably normal range. A grade below (or above) one standard deviation may indicate a slight weakness or strength, but a number outside that range would indicate eligibility for special services in a particular area.

Once you have an idea of how the standardization and interpretations of these assessments works, it is a little easier to get a full picture of what they are telling you about your child. Keep in mind that no standardized test is perfect. Even if the images the tests present are flawed, you can use them to gauge whether the goals and services that your child is getting are appropriate.