Types of Tests Used in Special Education

By — Pearson Allyn Bacon Prentice Hall
Updated on Jul 20, 2010
  • Developmental assessments
  • Screening tests
  • Individual intelligence tests
  • Individual academic achievement tests
  • Adaptive behavior scales
  • Behavior rating scales
  • Curriculum-based assessments
  • End-of-grade, end-of-course, and alternate assessments

Developmental Assessments  

Developmental assessments are norm-referenced scales designed to assess the development of infants, toddlers, and preschoolers in key areas. These areas include fine- and gross-motor, communication and language, social, cognitive, and self-help skills. If a very young child is thought to be experiencing delays, and especially if the child is going to be served in an infant-toddler program, professionals will use developmental assessment scales to identify strengths and weaknesses. The scales are administered through direct observations of the young child and parent questionnaires. From the results of the assessment, the evaluator can determine how delayed or advanced the child is in the key areas just mentioned.

There are numerous developmental assessment scales. Two that are often used are Developmental Indicators for the Assessment of Learning (3rd ed.)(DIAL-3)(Mardell-Czudnowski & Goldenberg, 1998) and the Denver Developmental Screening Test II (Frankenburg et al., 1990).

Screening Tests  

As we have said, schools often use screening tests to help find children who might be below the norm in different areas. Screening instruments are very easy to administer, contain relatively few items, and can be completed in a relatively brief time, often requiring only a few minutes per child. They may be pencil-and-paper tests, rating scales or checklists used to document certain behaviors, or direct observations of skills or abilities. Their purpose is to alert the school to a potential problem so that more in-depth assessments can be conducted.

Undoubtedly you are familiar with Snellen charts, which schools use to screen for visual acuity. Examples of other relevant screening tests include the Pre-Kindergarten Screen (Webster & Matthews, 2000) designed to identify possible pre-academic weaknesses in 4- and 5-year-olds; the Iowa Test of Basic Skills (Hoover, Dunbar, & Frisbie, 2001) to quickly test basic academic skills with groups of students; the Revised Behavior Problem Checklist (Quay & Peterson, 1993) used to identify children at risk for behavior problems; and the Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test (2nd ed.) (KBIT-2) (Kaufman & Kaufman, 2004), intended to provide a quick estimate of verbal and nonverbal intelligence.

Individual Intelligence Tests  

Although intelligence has been discussed and debated for many years, most experts agree that it can be defined as a capacity for abstract thinking, mental reasoning, good judgment, and sound decision making. Most important, intelligence—at least as measured by most intelligence tests—generally correlates with one's potential to learn academic skills. For this reason, individual tests of intelligence have almost always been used when students have been considered for special education. The outcome of this norm-referenced test will help to determine if the student's learning problems are associated with general subaverage intellectual abilities or if other factors, such as specific learning disabilities or emotional disturbance, may be related to the problem. The diagnosis of mental retardation (or intellectual disabilities) requires a significantly low level of measured intelligence whereas learning special needs and emotional disturbance assume an average or above-average level of intelligence.

Only a psychologist or diagnostician trained and certified in the administration of specific intelligence tests, often called IQ (intelligence quotient) tests, can administer them. This is because, in order for the test to be considered reliable and valid, it must be administered and scored in a very precise manner.

Most intelligence tests report an overall or general IQ score as well as subscores in areas such as verbal skills, motor performance, and visual reasoning. Intelligence tests commonly used in the public schools are the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (3rd ed.) (WISC-III) (Wechsler, 1991), the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (4th ed.) (Thorndike, Hagen, & Sattler, 1986), and the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJ III) (Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather, 2001).

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