I previously wrote about the need to be knowledgeable about whether school based evaluations are sufficiently comprehensive to capture students’ cognitive and executive functioning deficits. This is particularly the case when the deficits are subtle, but still significant and do not meet the now dated eligibility criteria of the ability/discrepancy model.
The same kind of thinking may be applied to the achievement or learning component of school based evaluations. Usually, child study teams use a Woodcock Johnson to assess learning ability while others use the more current Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT-111). It is important to keep in mind basic assessment principles when constructing an evaluation plan. First, similar to the cognitive evaluation, it is necessary to use multiple data sources in addition to an achievement battery. For example, functional performance information from teachers and parents is integral to any informed evaluation. Similarly, the addition of other learning instruments to further examine specific learning domains can be constructive as well as analyzing the congruence between the cognitive and the learning testing. Second, sweeping generalizations based upon one test or even one subtest should be avoided. For example, many parents and students seek extended time accommodations at school and on standardized tests like the College Board. While the WISC-IV processing speed index can be helpful, it is not a sufficient indication of slow processing speed unless there is congruence with other measures. How did students perform on the WIAT-111 timed measures like the Reading Rate score, the Math Computation and Math Fluency subtests, the Essay Composition task, the Oral Word Fluency subtest, the Word Reading and Pseudoword Decoding tasks? If reading speed is at issue, how did the student fare on other tests like the Nelson Denny in terms of not only reading rate, but also the ability to complete the test under standardized vs. extended time conditions? What was the reading rate on the Gray Oral Reading Test (GORT-5)? Since each of these tasks tap somewhat different skills in addition to processing speed was there a difference when processing different kinds of information? Until these kinds of questions are considered, general statements about processing speed (or any other variable) should not be made.
Congruence with the cognitive findings is constructive and necessary. For instance, I previously wrote about assessing the various kinds of memory using the WISC-IV and the Children’s Memory Scale or Wechsler Memory Test. It is also important to look at measures in the achievement battery like the WIAT-111 Sentence Repetition, Oral Word Fluency, and Oral Discourse Comprehension subtests for immediate recall and the Receptive and Expressive Vocabulary tasks for long term memory as well as the WAIS-IV Information subtest.
These by no means constitute an exhaustive list of things to consider when attempting to understand the comprehensiveness of a school based (or any) evaluation. Of course, an essential component of a good evaluation is the person who “reads” it. Having extensive experience in not only performing, but interpreting the subtle nuances of test data is significant. Without a thorough investigation of presenting issues and a practitioner with expertise, students who are truly eligible for services may be deemed ineligible.