Annual Testing considerations for Special Needs Students

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by Kim Jaworski, Homeschool Resource Specialist

If your state has a testing requirement based on age, it can present difficulties for a child who struggles. If your child’s skills haven’t yet developed to at least an early kindergarten level (identifying letters and corresponding sounds, recognizing shapes and starting to work with numbers) there isn’t a test that fits. If your child’s skills are more than a grade level below their age appropriate grade, you’ll want to order the test at the level your child is currently working. If that means that your 6th grader is functioning more in the 2nd grade range, then order the 2nd grade test. If your child is sight-impaired or cannot control a pencil due to motor difficulties, you need a test that allows for some accommodation of these difficulties.

In many cases, accommodations can be made so that some range of assessment can document the child’s current academic level. The Peabody test is more flexible than most. With the typical pencil type test, accommodations are usually limited to extending the time limit for each section by half (if the test taker is typically allowed 40 min, your child will be given 60 min), or by having the test questions read to the child and the score sheet marked according to the child’s response. If the child isn’t reliably verbal yet, this 2nd accommodation isn’t terribly helpful.

Over the years that I have administered the Peabody to homeschoolers, I have worked with children with a wide range of learning challenges. Autism spectrum diagnoses, visual impairment, hearing difficulties, down syndrome, brain injury, developmental delays, speech difficulties, cerebral palsy, and seizure disorders, to name a few.  The Peabody also better accommodates children for whom English is a second language, so it is the better choice if you have adopted an older child from another country. The Peabody Individual Achievement Test is a verbal format test with visual prompts, so we can often modify or accommodate for the individual tester. And the Peabody isn’t timed (for anyone) so that eliminates another hurdle. I also have the flexibility to reschedule an appt if your child isn’t having a good day when the testing appt comes around. Children with challenges can also struggle with frustration or anxiety. As much as possible, we want to give this child the best chance to put ‘best foot forward’ and show what he/she can do on the test. So if circumstance or even a head cold foils our plans to test, we can reschedule. When scheduling, also keep in mind the time of day that is best for your child. Some kids aren’t morning people. Others do better earlier in the day or just after a meal.

In the end, if there are portions of the assessment your child can’t complete due to skill deficits or other factors we can make note of that on the final scoring sheet. That documentation is sufficient to satisfy the testing requirement, and gives us a comparison for measuring progress the next year.

In these cases, I typically also offer parents a skills sheet for additional documentation. This is a generalized listing of grade appropriate skills in a checklist format. I ask parents to go over the list and mark each sill with a rating that sums up their child’s current proficiency.

  • Consistently & Independently-skills the child can perform without help and is consistently successful.
  • Capable with Prompting – skills the child can accomplish with a little nudging or reminding
  • Only with assistance – can only be successful with prompting of each step or additional help.
  • Rarely- child has completed the activity a few times, but also still fails at it often.
  • Not yet able – pretty self-explanatory.

Skills assessments are purely for the parents’ use as a way to documents progress not typically included in an academic test.  It also provides a baseline for comparison the next year to chart improvement more fully.

I should also say that in only one case in 15 yrs of testing were we completely unable to complete any section of the Peabody. In this case, I drafted a letter for his mother that stated we had attempted assessment as required by the state, but were unable to complete any section due to the child’s challenges. This particular child is severely autistic which was further complicated by his agitation with new people in his proximity. His mother completed a skills checklist to further document his skills as demonstrated on a daily basis with familiar people.

So if your child has challenges or delays that you feel would impact testing performance, please talk with me and we can work out specific accommodations. Even if you aren’t able to do your testing with me, I can help with the accommodation plan and refer you to a tester closer to your home.

Yes, it’s possible that your child may not score as well as you believe she/he is able, and that happens to everyone at some time or other. You don’t have to try and retest in an effort to show the highest possible scores. Simply file the scores along with your own notes comparing the scores to the skills you see demonstrated each day.

Consider testing at the beginning or mid-point of your school year. Earlier testing takes the pressure off scores and puts the focus on identifying strengths and weaknesses for planning purposes. You can better layout your homeschooling goals if you have mapped out a baseline and zeroed in on areas of difficulty for improvement in the months to come.

One more tip regarding the testing requirement for Mn Homeschoolers. If your child scores below the 30th percentile on the overall annual test, our statute suggests that you have your child assessed for learning difficulties. If you already know your child has difficulties, this becomes a moot point. But it is in your best interests to document the strategies you are using to best help your child learn. Be sure to keep records of tutoring sessions, special curriculum you’re using, outside therapies that are involved, adaptive equipment used, etc. This will be useful if the district (or someone you know) pushes for proof that you are addressing the child’s difficulties.

Please contact me if you have further questions about testing and your child.