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Special Education Screening: Assessments Educators Might Not (But Should) Be Familiar With

Special Education Screening: Assessments Educators Might Not (But Should) Be Familiar With

The primary purpose of assessment is to improve students' learning and teachers' teaching by providing powerful, consumable information. This is the ultimate goal we look to when talking about ‘assessment for learning’, which refers to the ongoing process that arises from the interaction between teaching and learning. With this approach, assessment can do much more than simply diagnose and identify students’ learning needs; it can be used to drive change across the education system in a cycle of continuous improvement.

However, what happens when a student cannot demonstrate understanding on standard assessments, even after interventions and supports have been put in place? When a child experiences learning challenges, one of the first steps in finding help is to determine which specific areas of strength and weakness are contributing to the struggle. At this point, a special subset of assessments known as Individualized Achievement Tests used to identify different types of special needs can be the solution to jumpstart that virtuous cycle of assessment for learning.

Individualized Achievement Tests

Individualized Achievement Tests are criterion-referenced and standardized tests that help in identifying a baseline for individual students, understanding their unique strengths and needs, and developing an effective Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Grade- and age-equivalent data from these assessments is also often incorporated in the “Present Levels” section of student IEPs.

With the increased focus on special education, universal design for learning, and closing achievement gaps that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) has brought about, knowing when and how to effectively leverage tests like these is going to be more important than ever before for educators. These tests can provide critical information that can empower students, educators, and parents to fully utilize available interventions and maximize achievement. They are without doubt an essential, if often overlooked, component of a broader assessment for learning model of unique populations.

While there are a broad variety of Individualized Achievement Tests available across several broad categories, within those categories the differences between these assessments is often more about preferences of the administrator than the type or accuracy of the results. Educators frequently are limited to a single option that has been adopted by their district. However, tests within the same category provide similar detailed, valid statistical information and a similar testing experience for students taking them.

Let’s take a minute to look at the primary categories these tests can fall into. The assessments listed are the are the most common for each category, but often one assessment can fall into multiple categories. We’ll also dig deeper into one assessment from each category to serve as an example of their purpose and the type of information they provide.

Intellectual Ability Measures

Sometimes referred to as Cognitive Ability Tests, these assessments are intended to measure thinking and problem-solving skills. Rather than pinpointing what a student knows at the time of assessment, these tests focus on evaluating the student’s intellectual potential. Typically, intellectual ability measures are administered by a psychologist or other mental health professional.

Taking a Closer Look: Stanford Binet Intelligence Test

The Stanford-Binet test is designed to gauge intelligence through the five factors of cognitive ability, fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory. Each of these factors is assigned a weight, the exam measures both verbal and nonverbal, and the student’s combined score is typically given as a ratio—the eponymous intelligence quotient or “IQ”. The Stanford-Binet test has been in wide use since the early 1900’s, and has shown to be effective with many different groups. It can be used to identify both giftedness and cognitive disabilities.

Other Common Intellectual Ability Measures:

  • Columbia Mental Maturity Scale (CMMS)
  • Comprehensive Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (CTONI)
  • Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children (K-ABC):
  • Mental Processing Scales
  • Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (K-BIT)
  • McCarthy Scales of Children's Abilities (MSCA)
  • Otis-Lennon School Ability Test COLSAT)
  • Slosson Intelligence Test - Revised (SIT-R)
  • Test of Nonverbal Intelligence - Third Edition (TONI-3)
  • Wechsler Scales of Intelligence

Reading Assessment Measures

As the name suggests, these assessments are intended to measure the holistic components of reading readiness and achievement, including word recognition, comprehension, fluency, and more. Most consider both out-loud and silent reading skills. Reading assessment measures may be administered by a school psychologist or other mental health professional, special education teacher, or general classroom teacher.

Taking a Closer Look: Woodcock Reading Mastery Test – Revised (WRMT-R)

The WRMT-R is one of a family of cognitive abilities test, designed specifically to measure reading and reading readiness skills to help educators and clinicians identify and place struggling readers and monitor progress. The complete WRMT-R is a battery of nine tests: listening comprehension, letter identification, phonological awareness, rapid automatic naming, word identification, nonsense word identification, word comprehension, passage comprehension, and oral reading fluency. These return composite cluster scores for Total Reading, Readiness, Basic Skills, and Reading Comprehension, which educators can use to inform intervention decisions. Not all tests must be given, but they are all quick assessments designed for insight into student abilities.

Other Common Reading Assessment Measures:

  • Decoding Skills Test (DST)
  • Durrell Analysis of Reading Difficulty (DARD)
  • Gates-MacGinitie Silent Reading Test - Third Edition
  • Gates-McKillop-Horowitz Reading Diagnostic Tests
  • Gilmore Oral Reading Test
  • Gray Oral Reading Test - 3 (GORT-3)
  • Nelson-Denny Reading Test (NDRT)
  • Slosson Oral Reading Test - Revised (SORT-R)
  • Spache Diagnostic Reading Scales (DRS)
  • Test of Reading Comprehension - Third Edition (TORC-3)

Arithmetic Assessment Measures

These are assessments intended to measure students overall understanding and application of mathematical concepts and identify deficits. Arithmetic assessment measures may be administered by a school psychologist or other mental health professional, special education teacher, or general classroom teacher.

Taking a Closer Look: Test of Mathematical Ability – Third Edition (TOMA-3)

The TOMA-3 is a norm-referenced mathematics assessment tool used to identify, quantify, and describe mathematical skill deficits in children ages 8 to 18. It focuses measurement on five key areas: mathematical symbols and concepts, computation, mathematics in everyday life, word problems, and attitude toward math (supplemental). The TOMA-3 provides practitioners with a composite Mathematical Ability index, as well raw scores, age/grade equivalents, percentile ranks, and more to help accurately place and monitor student progress.

Other Common Arithmetic Assessment Measures:

  • Enright Diagnostic Inventory of Basic Arithmetic Skills (Enright)
  • Key Math Diagnostic Arithmetic Test - Revised (Key Math-R)
  • The Steenburgen Diagnostic - Prescriptive Math Program and Quick Math
  • Screening Test (Steenburgen)
  • Test of Early Mathematics Ability - 2 (TEMA-2)


Comprehensive Achievement Measures

While Intellectual Ability Measures focus on students’ learning potential, Comprehensive Achievement Measures focus on current achievement level at the time of testing. They measure achievement across core skill sets including reading, mathematics, oral language, and more. They are often used as screeners to identify a broad range of learning disabilities. Comprehensive achievement measures can be administered by a school psychologist or other mental health professional, special education teacher, or classroom teacher.

Taking a Closer Look: Brigance Diagnostic Inventory of Basic Skills

The Brigance Diagnostic Inventory of Basic Skills helps practitioners determine a student’s psychometric skill level at various tasks as compared to other children in their age or demographic group. The assessment can be administered to students in grades pre-K to 6, and is intended to inform academic placement in reading, language, and mathematics, as well as basic readiness for academic learning.

The Brigance Diagnostic Inventory includes the following specific areas: warning signs and safety signs; Labels (warning and otherwise); recognition of words; survey for the analysis of words; vocabulary levels and reading levels; sentence and paragraph comprehension; age-appropriate problem-solving skills; grade-level computing skills; grade-level spelling tests; writing ability; and vocabulary comprehension. Results of the assessment are often used by educators to inform grade placement and to help develop Individualized Education Plans (IEPs).


Other Common Comprehensive Achievement Measures:

  • Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement (KTEA)
  • Norris Educational Achievement Test (NEAT)
  • Peabody Individual Achievement Test - Revised (PIAT-R)
  • Test of Academic Achievement Skills - Reading, Arithmetic, Spelling,
  • and Listening (TAAS-RASLC)
  • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT)
  • Wide Range Achievement Test - 3 (WRAT-4)


Additional Categories of Assessments Commonly Used to Identify and Support Special Education Students

Just as the specific challenges faced by students receiving special education services are very broad, so are the specific assessments available to identify disabilities (both physical, cognitive, and emotional) and monitor progress. Of course, use-cases and availability in specific schools and districts vary widely, but refer to the lists below* to get a general idea of other assessments that can be used to diagnose, place, and monitor students to ensure that they receive the appropriate interventions for academic success.


Tests That Specifically Measure Areas of Visual Perception

(Typically administered by a psychologist or special education teacher)

  • Developmental Test of Visual Motor Integration - Fourth Edition
  • Bender Visual Motor Gestalt Test (BVMGT)
  • Marianne Frostig Developmental Test of Visual Perception (DTVP)
  • Motor Free Perceptual Test - Revised (MVPT-R)


Tests That Specifically Measure Areas of Auditory Perception

(Typically administered by a special education teacher, psychologist, classroom teacher, or speech/language therapist)

  • Goldman-Fristoe-Woodcock Test of Auditory Discrimination (GFW)
  • Lindamood Auditory Conceptualization Test (LACT)
  • Tests of Auditory Perceptual Skills - Revised (TAPS-R)
  • Wepman Test of Auditory Discrimination - 2 (ADT-2)


Comprehensive Measures of Perceptual Abilities

(Typically administered by a special education teacher, psychologist, classroom teacher, speech/language therapist, or occupational therapist)

  • Bruininks-Oseretsky Test of Motor Proficiency
  • Detroit Tests of Learning Aptitudes - Third Edition (DTLA-3)
  • Illinois Test of Psycholinguistic Abilities (ITPA)
  • Slingerland Screening Tests for Identifying Children with Specific Language Disability
  • Test of Gross Motor Development (TGMD)
  • Woodcock-Johnson Psycheducational Battery – Revised (WJ-R)


Expressive and Receptive Language Measures

(Typically administered by a speech/language therapist, special education teacher, or psychologist)

  • Boehm Test of Basic Concepts - Revised (BTBC-R)
  • Comprehensive Receptive and Expressive Vocabulary Test (CREVT)
  • Goldman-Fristoe Test of Articulation
  • Goldman-Fristoe-Woodcock Test of Auditory Discrimination (G-F-WTAD)
  • Kaufman Survey of Early Academic and Language Skills (K-SEALS)
  • Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test - III (PPVT-III)
  • Test for Auditory Comprehension of Language - Revised (TACL-R)
  • Test of Adolescent and Adult Language - Third Edition (TOAL-3)
  • Test of Early Language Development - Second Edition (TELD-2)
  • Test of Language Development - Intermediate (TOLD-I:2)
  • Test of Language Development - Primary-2 (TOLD-P:2)


Psychological Measures

(Typically administered by a psychologist or other mental health professional)

  • Attention Deficit Disorders Evaluation Scale - Revised (ADDES)
  • Children's Apperception Test (CAT)
  • Conners' Parent and Teacher Rating Scales (CRS) - and classroom teacher and parent
  • Draw-A-Person: Screening Procedure for Emotional Disturbance (DAP:SPED)
  • Goodenough-Harris Drawing Test (GHDT) - and special education teacher
  • Kinetic-House-Tree-Person Drawings (K-H-T-P)
  • The Politte Sentence Completion Test (PSCT)
  • Rorschach Psychodiagnostic Test
  • Thematic Apperception Test for Children and Adults (TAT)


Social Maturity and Adaptive Behavior Scales

 (Typically administered by a psychologist or special education teacher)

  • AMRAdaptive Behavior Scale - School (ABS-S:2)
  • AAMR Adaptive Behavior Scales - Residential and Community--2 (ABS-RC-2)
  • Developmental Assessment for the Severely Handicapped (DASH)
  • Light's Retention Scale (LRS)
  • The Adaptive Behavior Evaluation Scale - Revised (ABES-R)
  • Vineland Adaptive Behavior Scale (VABS)


Early Childhood Assessment Measures

(Typically administered by a special education teacher, psychologist, or speech/language therapist)

  • The Battelle Developmental Inventory (BDI)
  • Bayley Scales of Infant Development - Second Edition (BSID-II)-Ages
  • 1-42 months - psychologist only
  • Boehm Test of Basic Concepts - Preschool Version-K-Grade 2
  • Bracken Basic Concept Scale(BBCS) - Ages 2.6-8
  • Child Behavior Checklist (CBCL)


Looking for more ideas and resources to identify and support your special education learners? Watch this recorded webinar on Trends in Special Education!

*These lists were consolidated from this resource from the Down Syndrome Guild of Greater Kansas City