Educational Testing

What do you do when you suspect that something isn’t quite right with your child’s learning? Educational testing is a good way to pinpoint your child’s strengths and areas where he needs additional help.

How do you know what your child needs?

Maybe she’s passing CRCT, getting good-enough grades and reading “on grade level.” But she’s working so hard just to keep up. The teacher says she’ll catch up over time. You still suspect there’s something wrong; you just have a feeling. Listen to it. Don’t wait. Educate yourself about the different ways children learn and the challenges they can face. Maybe she really is doing fine, or maybe she needs some specialized support for her to reach her potential.

Before You Test…Look at the GPS

Before you ask about testing, look at the characteristics of dyslexia. If your child shows more than half of these, the next step is to look at the Georgia Performance Standards (GPS) for your child’s grade. The GPS is a list of specific tasks a child should be able to accomplish in each subject (reading, phonics, etc.). The standards are designed to help identify children who might have problems. For example, by the end of first grade, a child should be able to read first-grade text correctly at 60 words per minute. A kindergartner should be able to identify ALL (not some) consonant and short-vowel sounds at a rate of 1 per second. The time is important! If your child is not able to do the GPS tasks at the specified rate, then talk with the teacher. Ask how she can help reinforce these specific skills. If your child is falling short in half (or more) of the tasks, he needs intervention (extra learning help). Don’t “wait and see” if the child will outgrow it.

Types of Testing

There are multiple routes you can take to have your child’s learning evaluated: in-school testing, informal testing with a tutor and testing with a psychologist or other learning specialist.

Diagnostic Testing with a Tutor

If you’re having concerns about your child’s reading, you might have a tutor do some basic tests to get a feel for your child’s strengths and weaknesses. This is helpful if you plan to work with a tutor to remediate or reinforce some specific skills. Make sure the tutor is qualified to test and teach kids with reading problems.

School Testing/Eligibility Testing

Your teacher may already be using some tests in the classroom to find out if the child is having difficulties. For example, the Dibels test is an assessment of literacy fundamentals including decoding, sound/symbol relationship, fluency, etc. It’s also a good basic screener for many of the characteristics of dyslexia. Ask the teacher if your child has been assessed with weaknesses in any areas.

If you’re still uncertain, you might choose to have your school evaluate your child for learning problems. An evaluation done by a public school is designed to find out if a child is eligible or “qualifies” to receive special services under a Specific Learning Disability (SLD). Most kids with dyslexia will not qualify for SLD despite the fact that they really struggle. The types of difficulties found by the school eligibility assessment are often substantial and perhaps obvious. It may not uncover the less-obvious weaknesses that are causing your child to struggle in school. It might not tell you if there’s a discrepancy between your child’s potential and how he’s actually performing; this discrepancy is a fundamental aspect of dyslexia.

Even though the testing might not qualify your child for special LD services in public school, you can ask the school/teacher to work with your child in the classroom to help address the specific weaknesses, such as phonics, through the RtI (Response to Intervention) process. Read more about RtI…

Psycho-Educational Testing

Psycho-educational testing is sometimes different from an in-school eligibility assessment. A “psycho-ed” evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of a child’s intelligence, learning processing skills, academic achievement, language functioning and social-emotional development. A psycho-ed gives you a complete picture of your child’s overall strengths and weaknesses. These tests are administered for a fee by specially trained psychlologists. If you strongly suspect a learning difficulty, you might do a psycho-ed with your child.

A psycho-ed eval consists of many different types of tests such as WISC-IV, WJ III ACH, CASL, CTOPP, DAB, TVPS, etc. (yes, it’s a somewhat bewildering array of acronyms for parents). Before the test, the provider will ask the parents and teacher(s) to fill out background info about the child and provide work samples. This allows the provider to choose the correct tests to identify the child’s learning potential and struggles. The questionnaires will include questions about learning, behavior and development. Some of the questions might sound weird! You might have an interview with the provider to gain additional insight into the “big picture.”

The testing will take several hours, and may be spread over more than one day. It’s hard work for the child. He might have fun doing it, but don’t tell him he’s just going to play some games. The final product of a psycho-ed eval is a thick document with lots of info and numbers. Don’t be surprised if it takes a few weeks to get your report, but ideally, you will get a verbal summary right away to tell you the test results so you can plan tutoring or other support services.

The psycho-ed eval will tell you if your child exhibits any psychological or behaviorial issues that may be affecting his learning. It’s possible (though probably atypical) that a child’s school struggles may be caused by worries or other unsuspected causes. The numbers in the report will tell you how your child compares to other children in his academic abilities and cognitive ability. The report will tell you if his performance is consistent with his potential. It will show you areas where your child really shines, and give you a “diagnosis” of any specific, significant weaknesses that need to be addressed. It will give you recommendations for any educational support your child might need.

Things to Consider

Here are some things you need to know about testing.

One: cost. A complete psycho-ed eval is costly. In the Atlanta area, our parents report costs of $2,000 and up. Many parents consider this to be an investment in their child’s future, but still it’s good to know up front about the cost.

Two: timing. It may take some time (weeks or months) to get your psycho-ed scheduled and completed. You can’t just call and get an appointment the next day. The results will take another chunk of time since the reports are complex. If you want to start tutoring right away, have the tutor do some basic tests to use as a starting point for remediation while you wait for the psycho-ed.

Three: private school application. If you’re thinking about sending your child to a private school, you will need a psycho-ed, and you may need it as early as January.

Four: using the test results. It’s possible that your school might challenge the results of a private psycho-ed. This is probably the exception rather than the rule, but it can happen. A more likely scenario is that your report will shows significant weaknesses and probably dyslexia, but the test results aren’t low enough to “qualify” for special services in public school. The laws concerning public education in Georgia no longer consider whether or not a child shows a discrepancy in his performance and his potential. For example, tests may show a child has very high intelligence, but his reading is a year below grade level (and perhaps two years below his peers). This significant discrepancy can’t be used to qualify for SLD in Georgia.

This is where the RtI process comes into play. RtI gives public schools an avenue to provide support to children who might not typically qualify for additional help. Read more about the RtI process…

To summarize, a psycho-ed is a great tool to identify exactly where your child excels and where he struggles. This is very helpful in determining the need for tutoring or even a need for a special private program. If this info is useful to you as a parent, go for it. Just keep in mind that the psycho-ed may or may not help your child get more support in school.

For some really good, succinct info about dyslexia testing, check out Bright Solutions for Dyslexia.