Not All Learning Assessments are Created Equal

Not All Learning Assessments are Created Equal

A Look at the Different Types of Learning Evaluations

There are many different types of testing available for learning-related issues. 

Where and why you seek testing for your child (or yourself) will determine who evaluates your child, which tests are administered, how results are interpreted and communicated to you, what findings and recommendations follow, and the total amount of time and costs involved in the process.  Discussed below are a few different types of testing, as well as related factors parents should consider when choosing the most appropriate option for their children.

Why are you seeking an assessment?

Not All Learning Assessments are Created Equal

Not All Learning Assessments are Created Equal

Answering this question is the first and most important step in the assessment process.  What are your desired outcomes for testing?   Are you hoping to understand your child’s gifts?  Would you like to help your child understand his or her temperament?  Are concerned about your child’s academic performance? Do you think your child may have a learning or attention disorder?  Are you uneasy about your child’s emotional, social, or behavioral functioning?  Has your school or pediatrician recommended testing?

There are all sorts of reasons that parents consider having their children tested.  By outlining your goals, you will have a clearer idea about what type of testing is most appropriate for your child.

Who should conduct a learning assessment?

There is not a simple answer to this question.  Many types of professionals administer “learning assessments,” but they often have dissimilar qualifications. To complicate the matter, professional credentials and licensure vary by state.  For that matter, so do the ways that schools classify learning issues.

Regardless where you live, a licensed clinical psychologist (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) has the prerequisite education and licensure for conducting psychological testing and issuing clinical diagnoses.  But not all psychologists specialize in testing – some only provide therapy, while others assess mental health rather than educational performance or neuropsychological functioning.  Any professional – psychologist or not – who provides psychoeducational testing should have not only the minimal licensure and credentials, but also specialized training and experience in assessment.

Typically, schools and colleges will only accept diagnoses and recommendations from an evaluation provided by a doctoral-level psychologist.  Furthermore, these institutions require “gold standard” instruments – standardized tests produced by reputable companies and backed by years of scientific research.

What type of learning assessment will you need?

Depending on your goals, there are a variety of assessment options:

  • Comprehensive psychoeducational assessment

    This is a wide-ranging yet in-depth approach to understanding your child as a “whole person.”  Comprehensive psychoeducational assessment evaluates neurological processes and cognitive functioning (IQ, attention, memory, processing speed, executive function, etc.), as well as academic achievement (skills in math, reading, and writing).  Furthermore, the process will assess visual-motor integration, sensory processing, social and emotional functioning, visual and auditory processing, behavior, temperament and personality, gifts and strengths, learning styles, overexcitabilities, interests, life experience, and neurodevelopmental disorders.  A skilled evaluator will be adept not only at administering the actual tests, but also at analyzing and integrating the results (including both quantitative and qualitative data).  Essentially, this process should produce a manual that explains your child’s overall “operating system.”  Since it evaluates multiple facets of your child – and not just learning issues – this process also supports conclusive diagnosis, generates specific recommendations, and guides the referral process.

  • Learning disability (dyslexia) testing

    This type of assessment is recommended for the purpose of evaluating and diagnosing a suspected learning disability.  In these cases, a qualified professional is someone who holds appropriate licensure and can issue a correct and pertinent diagnosis.  The learning assessment will measure and compare a child’s IQ with his or her academic achievement – the traditional method for identifying a learning disability.  If indicated, diagnosis of a specific learning disorder by a clinical psychologist qualifies a child to be considered for learning accommodations at school.  While a “learning specialist” might test for dyslexia, it is important to understand that “dyslexia” is not a clinical diagnosis (per the DSM-V).  By itself, identification of dyslexia may not be sufficient to qualify your child for special services at school.  Furthermore, limited assessments such as these may not reveal or conclusively rule out other causes of learning problems – in fact, sometimes they produce more questions than they answer.

  • ADHD assessment

    Attention-Deficity/Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD) is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder (not a learning disorder). Who can diagnose ADHD?  Generally speaking, only a medical doctor (M.D.), psychiatrist (M.D.), or psychologist (Ph.D. or Psy.D.).  In most cases, diagnosis is based solely upon results of behavioral checklists and interview with the child and parents.  However, there are many reasons for a more in-depth evaluation.  As a result, some psychologists assess ADHD using not just checklists and interviews – but also neuropsychological measures of IQ, attention, memory, and executive function.  Unfortunately, there is no single, decisive test for identifying ADHD.

What are the costs of a learning assessment?

Just as the types and scopes of testing vary, so do the costs. Some learning professionals and tutors provide “learning assessments” for as little as $300 or $400.  These can be completed in a few hours and may (or may not) utilize standardized tests of IQ or achievement, result in diagnoses, or provide individualized recommendations. Unless completed by a doctoral-level clinical psychologist, these evaluations may not qualify a student for accommodations at school.

Evaluations conducted by schools may be more extensive, but schools do not diagnose learning disorders or ADHD.  Schools may assess for learning “issues” like dyslexia and make recommendations for special education services, but only psychologists and doctors diagnose clinical or medical disorders.  Furthermore, school evaluations are not intended to assess your child as a “whole person” – only whether he or she has a condition that affects functioning in the classroom.  Since educational classifications and resultant accommodations are based upon your child’s current grade-level and classroom functioning, they may not be pertinent a year from now.

Finally, comprehensive psychoeducational assessments are conducted by doctoral-level clinical psychologists.  Prices typically range from $1500 to $5000.  The entire process involves 8-15 hours of testing, twenty or more hours of scoring and analysis, an extensive and detailed written report (15-25 pages), a feedback session with parents, and school consultation.  Clinical diagnosis of a learning disorder by a psychologist who utilizes “gold standard” test instruments is often required by schools before they will consider a student for school-based learning services and supports.  Furthermore, a high quality assessment will accurately capture your child’s gifts, strengths, personality, and underlying areas of challenge (the “whole person”) – and stay relevant for years to come.

Want more information?

As a parent, you justifiably want to ensure that whoever evaluates your child can deliver outcomes that support your specific goals for testing.  How do you do this?

One way to find out is simply to call their offices and inquire.  Some will provide basic information over the phone.

Another option is to schedule an initial consultation. During this meeting, you can ask the assessment professional about his or her background and scope of expertise.  Also, find out what specific tests they use, whether they issue clinical diagnoses (as contained in the DSM-V), and if their findings can and will be accepted by your child’s school.  You might also inquire about their overall philosophy towards assessment, learning, and ADHD – in other words, how they approach testing, and why.  While psychologists are unlikely to share client testimonials (due to patient privacy policies), they might offer generic samples of past reports.  Furthermore, consultation with an experienced assessment psychologist sometimes results in immediate referrals that save you time and money.  In any case, this initial step will give you solid information – a “road map” for action – that helps you to be more informed about, and comfortable with, the testing process.

– Dr. Katen

“Live the life you were meant to live!”


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