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Improving Schools:
Teachers Say School Assessments Do Not Provide
Relevant Information

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Before they can provide effective instruction, teachers need accurate, relevant information about their students' abilities and levels of functioning. Yet according to an article published by the Council for Exceptional Children ("Assessments Fail to Give Teachers Relevant Information" in CEC TODAY: Vol. 5 No. 4, November 1998), teachers often do not receive relevant information from evaluations.

In some cases, teachers simply receive overall IQ scores or achievement levels. In other cases, assessments do not provide teachers with relevant information about their students' abilities and needs because the tests used do not provide this information or because the evaluator limited information by restricting the number of tests or subtests given.

Computerization also contributes to the failure to provide teachers with relevant information. Instead of receiving the psychologist's or educational diagnostician’s analysis of student achievement, learning patterns, and other relevant information, teachers often receive a computer printout of scores. These scores may indicate that a student is working at the third grade level, but do not provide an analysis of the student’s abilities, specific problems, or strategies teachers can use.

The article includes an overview of assessments that are often used with students with disabilities, and their strengths and weaknesses.

Intelligence Tests

On intelligence tests, examiners often administer only the first three subtests that assess fluid intelligence (abstract thinking, problem solving), verbal intelligence, and nonverbal intelligence. But most students with disabilities have problems with lower level cognitive processing. These include:

Long-term retrieval - the ability to retrieve information on demand.
Short-term memory - the ability to hold information in one’s immediate awareness long enough to think about it.
Working memory
- the ability to remember information long enough to think about it and use the information to solve a problem.
Processing speed or automaticity
- how rapidly and automatically one can perform simple tasks (affects routine abilities like sigh word knowledge and math facts).
Phonological awareness - how well one understands that words are made up of sounds.
Orthographic ability
- how well one perceives and retains visual letter patterns.
Fine motor ability
- the ability to rapidly perform fine motor tasks, such as handwriting.

Evaluators should administer all subtests and evaluate each subtest to discern patterns, determine where the student is having problems, and what the teacher can do.

Achievement Tests

The Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement and the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test are the two most commonly used achievement tests for students with disabilities. Both tests have weaknesses that limit their usefulness for teachers.

Message to Parents

Parents, get a comprehensive evaluation of your child by an independent evaluator in the private sector. A comprehensive evaluation will give you a roadmap for the future.

This evaluation should identify your child's problems and devise a plan to address these problems. Choose an evaluator who is independent of the school district and who is willing to work with the school staff. (For more information about evaluations, read Chapter 8, Evaluations and Your Child's Disability in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy)

You must also learn about tests and measurements so you can track your child's progress or lack of progress. If do not learn tests and measurements, you will not be an equal participant in planning your child's special education. (For more information about tests and measurements, read Chapters 10 and 11 in Wrightslaw: From Emotions to Advocacy)

In What is Your Bell Curve IQ?, we give you a quiz and a game plan to help you master this information - and have some fun.

To supplement our article about tests and measurements, we created a slide show to show you how to create graphs of educational progress.

Download our Glossary of Assessment Terms