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Testing Students for a Learning Disability


Having been in school about 2 and 1/2 months, my mailbox at school is getting busier with referrals.  As the school psychologist in an elementary building, there’s been ample time for teachers to identify concerning students, try individualized interventions, and monitor their progress. For some of those students who are still struggling, it’s time for including the school psychologist for some discussion with the parents: should we be considering testing?

How and when should parents and teachers begin to consider a child for testing?

What should you expect if you decide to move forward with testing?

As my well trained teachers know,  lack of sufficient growth to grade level instruction can be an early indication, along with insufficient rate of growth despite individualized intervention. Because of changes in the law that governs special education and testing, most school districts require some period of intensive, individualized interventions either prior to testing  or as part of the evaluation. This is called ‘response to intervention’ or R.T.I.  Throughout this time period, the expectation is that the student’s response to the intervention  (progress) is monitored and documented. This is an important concept to keep in mind and to consider prior to initiating the testing process or, at the very least, to understand once testing is underway.

After the initial step of R.T.I., the second step of evaluating for a learning disability typically includes standardized testing, often to  consider ability and achievement, what is often called ‘discrepancy.’  Discrepancy simply refers to comparing a child’s ability, what he is capable of cognitively, to his achievement, or what he is actually achieving academically. In order to compare a child’s cognitive ability to her academic achievement, two standardized tests are needed. A cognitive measure, or I.Q. test is administered to assess a student’s ability to solve problems, rate of learning, ability to remember what has been seen and heard, and assists in predicting how well a student will do in school. The second test measures academic achievement; current reading, math, written expression levels along with academic readiness skills are determined.

After administering both tests, psychologists use statistical analysis approved by their district &/or the state then compare the child’s ability as reflected through various standard score(s)  with her achievement score(s) to determine if there is a significant difference.  If a child’s ability score is in about the same range as his achievement score, there is a low probability of a learning disability. If a child’s ability score falls in a range that is significantly different than his achievement,  there is – generally –  a higher probability of a learning disability.

Lastly, best practice in psychological testing dictates using multiple measures, from multiple sources, in multiple settings whenever possible. This being the case, we’d want to consider the possible effect of other relevant factors that may be impacting the child’s functioning: medical concerns and family history; attendance; exposure to traumatic events; exposure to adequate instruction; attendance; vision/hearing checked; etc. This information is typically attained through a psycho-social or developmental history, or, with parent permission, a medical record review.

Including a school psychologist or a psychologist trained in psycho-educational testing early on to work as part of the team is often a wise decision. Having a professional working collaboratively with you provides both guidance and support as you begin making decisions – because ultimately it is up to you to decide whether to move forward with testing. Regardless of input from school staff, parents always have the right to request testing for their child.

To learn more about testing for learning disabilities, psycho-educational testing, and other supports for school for your child, contact Amy Folger, CMHC at Wasatch Family Therapy.



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