NASP Member Exchange

1.  achievement tests

Posted 08-11-2014 13:26
I have an autistic student and a multiple handicapped student whose parents are wanting achievement testing to see where they are.  Both students are nonverbal and the multiple handicapped child is unable to manipulate things with her hands (she can point some and nod).  How could I do achievement testing with them?  For the autistic child I can manipulate the testing material some, but the other child I'm kind of at a loss with.

Andrew Harvey NCSP
School Psychologist
Rhea Co. Deprt of Ed
Hixson TN

2.  RE: achievement tests

Posted 08-12-2014 09:12
This is a tough question! I work in extremely rural, isolated schools and so it is rare that I see any given low-incidence disorder. I have debated the question of evaluating a very low functioning Down student myself (the only Down Syndrome student I've seen in the past 10 years at work), and ultimately I recommended to the IEP team that he be taken to the state University hospital for a comprehensive evaluation. He was found to be functioning at the 3 month old level on many communication dimensions, and I just don't have those test instruments.

I have often seen the type of student you are asking about evaluated on their objectives and using adaptive behavior scales. I have a preschool achievement scale that gives standard scores which I would consider using as an out-of-level assessment to oblige the parent, if it measured the student's skills. It might be helpful to communicate their child's achievement in terms of grade level benchmarks, if those are available to you.

The other issue that could be involved in this request is the parent attempting to come to terms with their child's disability and future planning regarding the disability. I will note that I have seen this listed as a function for a school social worker, and I have worked with transition coordinators who could be much more help in addressing the planning question. I would try to collect a good amount of information for the parents regarding resources, such as vocational rehabilitation, so that you have that available if that is their question.

I always try to be as helpful and informative to parents as possible, and declining to evaluate this student was a tough call. When the test scores came back, though, I really felt like it was the right position for me to have taken.

Laurie Roberts NCSP
Bureau of Indian Education
Bayfield CO

3.  RE: achievement tests

Posted 08-12-2014 10:34
I agree with the Laurie's points.  A "typical" achievement test will likely yield a standard score of <55, which probably doesn't give the parents the information they are seeking.  Instead, they may be somewhere along the continuum of coming to terms with the disability and planning for the future.  You could assist by conducting repeated observations and descriptions of the child during instruction and during speech therapy, occupational therapy, etc.  Since the child can point and nod, you could also use a nonverbal assessment of school readiness skills such as the Bracken Receptive.   That measure goes up to age 6-11, but even if the child is older you can gather some good information about pre-academic and language skills.  Once you have described the student's present skills, it may also be helpful to actually show the parents what "typical" child of the same age is learning.  Once again, grade-level benchmarks and scores may not yet be meaningful to the parents -- but if the child is of the age to be in second grade you can pick a few books at random from a second grade class bookshelf to show them what those students are reading.  This often opens avenues for further discussion.   

Kathleen Leighton NCSP
School Psychologist
Pinellas County Schools
Palm Harbor FL

4.  RE: achievement tests

Posted 08-13-2014 10:46
I agree with you Laurie 100%.  Being in a rural/remote area also, I have those situations from time to time. (Our Family Dollar store just closed because the population couldn't support it.)  I feel a lot more comfortable referring out instead of talking about test results I don't have confidence in.  Like Dirty Harry  said A man's got to know his limitations.

James Staffnik NCSP
St. Johns USD
Concho AZ

5.  RE: achievement tests

Posted 08-12-2014 10:33
Try to get your hands on the ABLLS (Assessment of Basic Language and Learning Skills - Revised) - it's specifically for kids with autism. It's not the best instrument out there and the way it's organized leaves a bit to be desired, but it should suit your needs. It does lend itself to intervention and progress monitoring. 
Hope that helps!

Becky Siekierski, PhD, NCSP
Licensed Psychologist
Clear Lake Children's Center
Houston, Texas

6.  RE: achievement tests

Posted 08-12-2014 12:34
Take a developmental/descriptive approach to your assessment; don't bother with anything standardized because you'll have to leave the standardized procedures so far behind you won't be able to report scores anyway.

I was asked to do academic testing for a multiply disabled autistic student whose cognitive functioning was at about 8-12 months (give or take, of course). I used the Brigance (full inventory, not the standardized version) to describe what the student was or wasn't (mostly wasn't) doing in several curriculum areas. You could use any organized developmental curriculum. If I wasn't able to get her to perform for me, I asked the teacher and aide if the task was something she had been working on or had been seen to do.

For the student who can nod or point, make the tasks into "show me ..." You can maybe get some useful information for programming by manipulating the size of the visual field. How many choices will overwhelm the student? Say the student likes pretzels. Present one, ask "show me pretzel," and then let the student eat it when she identifies it. Present a pretzel in a field of two things, three things, four things... (probably not all at once, since she might get satiated on pretzels before your trials are done). Try some simple, highly motivating teaching task and see how many trials it takes for the student to learn it, and whether the learning is maintained.

Abby Royston, Ph.D., NCSP
Lead Psychologist
Windward District Office
Honolulu HI

7.  RE: achievement tests

Posted 08-13-2014 10:48
To piggy back on this line of thinking, especially for the multiply handicapped student, I used first a good adaptive behavior measure and then used appropriate criterion referenced measures (whether it's the Brigance or just your own assessment on basic concepts). This would be based on observation and teacher feedback on functioning levels. That is, it might be pointing to body parts, color identification, numeral/letter identification, etc.. This may have to be modified based on the disability to make it a receptive or expressive response. Either it would be point to the red box or what color is this box. In terms of Autism, many times it's the case that the student does not respond to traditional standardized achievement assessment or scores much lower than the behaviors exhibited in the school environment. In this case I typically still administered the assessment and scored it using the appropriate normed tables, then I would go back to items that appeared to be in the child's repertoire and modify or prompt the desired response. This way we don't present data to the parent/teacher that is misleading in terms of normed information, but inform them that when the assessment was modified the student answered correctly given items.

Jon Boes
School Psychologist
Davison MI

8.  RE: achievement tests

Posted 08-14-2014 17:11

I worked with physically disabled kids in the past and had to test some of them for outside services who required "numbers" to determine eligibility. There are a few tests that can be modified for nodding or pointing responses.

Pictorial Test of Intelligence - Revised
Peabody Individual Achievement Test - Revised - certain subtests - Reading comprehension, spelling, math computation, and math concepts and applications offer four response choices the child may choose from by pointing.
Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test- Fourth Edition
Bracken Basic Concept Scales - Third Edition, Receptive
Standardized tests certainly have their limitations and some of these have older norms, but sometimes you must "try" to get a standardized score which really isn't standardized at all since the norm group rarely has multihandicapped kids in it.

You get the best information from the following:

I also give adaptive scales to parent and teacher, look at progress in whatever curriculum is being used in the classroom, classroom based assessments, and numerous observations.


Marilyn Herwig NCSP
School Psychologist
Colonial I.U. #20
Bethlehem PA