Top 5 Things to Know Before Scheduling a Learning Assessment

So your school has recommended you get a “learning assessment” for your child…  What does this mean?

Perhaps your child’s teacher or counselor has concerns about learning, behavioral, or attention problems.  Or maybe testing is required as part of the admissions process for a certain school or program.

Your school recommends a learning assessment... What does this mean?

Your school recommends a learning assessment… What does this mean?

As a parent, you may be feeling unsure what to do next.  After all, a quick internet search will tell you there are lots types of “learning assessments” available – and variety of people who provide them.  But not all learning assessments are the same.

Here are 5 things you should know before scheduling your child for a learning assessment:

1. A learning assessment should be completed by a licensed psychologist.

A licensed psychologist is someone with a doctoral degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.), legal authorization to practice, and specialized experience/training in psychological testing.  Typically, schools (both K-12 and college) will only accept assessments completed by individuals with these qualifications.  In most cases, only a psychologist holds the requisite credentials for diagnosing clinical disorders, such as ADHD, specific learning disorders, autism, developmental delays, and intellectual disabilities.

2. Learning assessments should include a comprehensive evaluation of IQ and academic achievement.  

IQ” (intelligence quotient) testing refers to the evaluation of intellectual and cognitive abilities (i.e., verbal and non-verbal reasoning, working memory, and processing speed).  Academic achievement testing measures acquired procedural knowledge, skills, and facts related to school (i.e., reading, writing, and math). A psychologist should use “gold standard” measures to evaluate these areas.  We recommend the following:

  • IQ: Wechsler intelligence scales (WPPSI-IV for preschool/kindergarten, WISC-V for children and teens, or WAIS-IV for late-teen and adults).
  • Academic achievement: Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Third Edition (WIAT-III).

3. Screeners are insufficient for assessing learning problems.

Screeners are behavioral checklists and/or abbreviated versions of “gold standard” measures, and there are several reasons why they are inadequate for evaluating complex learning problems.  First, they are not generally accepted by schools as evidence of diagnoses or need for classroom accommodations.  Second, while they may be cost effective and a good first step towards identifying possible learning challenges, when used in isolation they do not allow conclusive or differential diagnosing (i.e., teasing out other possible causes).  Third, they do not support identification of strengths.  Fourth, screeners can deliver false positives/negatives for children with significant weakness, advanced abilities, or both (i.e., twice-exceptional learners).  Fifth, unlike “gold standard” measures used by psychologists, screeners can and often are used by professionals with a wide variety of credentials and experience.

4. Insurance does not cover learning assessments.

Learning assessments are classified as “educational” rather than “medical” services.  As such, health insurance policies will not pay for them.  However, policies may cover testing that is provided by a psychologist or physician and results in a diagnosis for specific clinical disorder (e.g., ADHD or anxiety).  The best way to find out what your policy will cover is to call the insurance company and ask.  A psychologist can provide you with detailed invoices (that include clinical billing codes) that you can submit for possible reimbursement.

5. Learning assessments should evaluate strengths – and not just “problems.”

A quality learning assessment should provide insights and guidance that help scaffold a child’s overall happiness and success – not only in school, but across life.  The process should include a survey of strengths, preferences, learning styles, interests, and temperament – all of which impact learning, self-concept, personal relationships, and career choices.

What is the first step you should take?

Some psychologists offer initial consultations for new assessment clients.  During this meeting, they will gather history, ask about your goals for testing, review previous testing or other relevant records, describe their philosophy about assessment, outline the process, explain costs, and discuss other options.  Essentially, clients should leave this session with a clear “road map” of what to do next, and what to expect along the way.  The psychologist should then be able to connect with your child’s school to ensure that the testing they provide is what the school needs.

Above all else, never stop asking questions until you feel confident you’ve chosen the right path for you and your child.

– Dr. Katen

“Live the life you were meant to live!”


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