What if….everything that we’re doing, every executive functioning assessment that we’re looking for or asking for…is incorrect? Unfortunately, it’s true. What we’ve been using for executive function assessments or executive function tests is wrong.

Executive functioning skills have been quite a buzzword and trend in special education over the past decade. When a student lacks executive functioning skills, both parents and teachers can identify the behavior.

messy pile of papers

We know what it “looks like” when a child cannot organize themselves, manage time, or initiate tasks.

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IEPs are data-driven documents. Often, anecdotes alone will not result in services. Proper, comprehensive evaluations must be done. And yes, there are assessments that can measure how well a child does with these skills.

I can’t encourage you enough to watch this video. In it, she will go over why what we’re doing to assess executive functioning skills is wrong, and what to do instead.

Which IEP Tests will look for Executive Functioning Deficits?

I never recommend that a parent request specific tests as part of the IEP evaluation process. I do not think that is a good advocacy strategy, and I go into the reasons why in another post.

But, once the evaluations are complete, there are assessment results that you can dig into, specifically, that will indicate your child’s proficiency in these areas.

Executive Functioning Skills Online Questionnaire

The following online questionnaire was developed by, and copyrighted by, Peg Dawson.

You may not recognize her name, but you likely have heard of “Smart But Scattered,” the book she wrote. She has many fantastic materials on all things EF.

While I don’t recommend that parents go around diagnosing their kids or doing their own IEP evaluations, this can be a starting point.

And, it’s widely available online. Depending on how your child scores on this assessment may help you choose how to proceed.

Requesting Executive Functioning Evaluations

Schools must evaluate all areas of suspected disability. If a school team does not see skill deficits, bring it to their attention (in writing). I have a separate post on how to request IEP evaluations.

child writing in a notebook

Executive Dysfunction Disorder

First, a reminder that executive function deficits are just that–deficits. Executive Functioning Disorder, or lack of EF skills, is not an illness, diagnosis, or syndrome.

There isn’t a set of criteria you can use to diagnose someone. It is not in the DSM. But there are tests to gauge how well your executive function works.

Executive dysfunction and executive function disorder aren’t official conditions listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), so a doctor or mental health professional won’t diagnose these conditions specifically. And schools do not diagnose.

Remember that per IDEA, your school is required to provide you with a person who can explain these assessments to you, for executive functioning or anything else. If you do not understand your child’s evaluation report, make an appointment to meet with them and get an explanation.

I also have a post on How to Understand your Child’s IEP Evaluations | Preparing for an IEP Eligibility Meeting.

That includes a video with the President of the Learning Disability Association of America.

Common Executive Function Tests

Below is a list and a summary of common IEP assessments for executive functioning skills. Again, I encourage you to watch the video provided above. While these executive function tests listed below are the ones you’re likely to encounter, it doesn’t mean that using them is best practice.

Once you have your child’s evaluation report in hand, you can look for these results in your report. I put these executive function assessments in alphabetical order. Some of them are subtests of larger evaluations.

Quick Note about Inhibitory Control: Inhibitory control is tied to self-control. Inhibitory control is the ability to suppress a response to irrelevant stimuli. It allows kids to think before they act. It also allows them to assess each new situation and consider the correct or most effective way to respond. You will see inhibitory control come up frequently in these assessments.

child looking at a graphic organizer

BDEFS (Barkley Deficits in Executive Functioning Scale)-This tool helps screen for problems with executive function tasks like organization, self-restraint, motivation, emotional control, and time management. It can provide information on how the person acts over a period of time. Most other tests only provide in-the-moment information.

BRIEF (Behavior Rating Index for Executive Function)-This is probably the most widely-used test for executive functioning skills. It is calibrated for children (ages 5-18 years, preschool version also available) with a range of learning disabilities. This test has components for teachers and parents to answer. The BRIEF test is made to measure eight areas of executive functioning including:

CEFI (Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory)-This scale measures executive function strengths and weaknesses in kids from 5 to 18. Parents, teachers, and kids ages 12-18 can take part in the evaluation

Conners 3-Parent Rating Scale: This assessment is for students aged 6-18. It helps identify learning problems in specific subjects, like reading, spelling, and math, and also in terms of broader concepts like memory. Parents, teachers, and kids themselves can contribute. The Conners 3 is not a specific EF assessment on its own but has components that assess EF skills.

Matrix Analogies Test-Normed for ages 5-18, I believe. The MAT measures a child’s ability to form classes of items based on what they have in common. It also helps determine their ability to figure out patterns or relationships between objects. Concept formation allows kids to see relationships between things and develop ideas based on what they already know about them. It’s important for abstract thinking.

Stroop Color and Word Test-This test measures children’s abilities to restrain their actions and to control themselves by assessing their ability to think before performing an action. In other words, more inhibitory control.

TOVA (Test of Variables of Attention)-This computer-based test is used for children aged 4 and up. The TOVA tests the ability of a child to pay attention while also focusing on inhibition and processing speed. It measures:

  • inattention
  • processing speed
  • inhibitory control (, aka–can you focus on the teacher when the classmate behind you is talking?)

Tower of Hanoi-This test measures: The ability to plan, sequence, and organize information for problem-solving. It also assesses working memory and inhibitory control (hey, there it is again!). Planning, sequencing skills, and organizational skills are key to following directions and completing tasks and assignments efficiently.

Does your child have long, convoluted, and disjointed conversations? Yep, planning, organizing, and sequencing are important conversational skills too. We think of school assignments and projects, but it permeates all aspects of life.

WISC (Wechsler Intelligence Test for Children)-Two subtypes, the digit span and the spatial span of this test is used to test working memory. While the digit (number) span tests spoken working memory i.e. capability to store spoken information, the spatial (position in space) span is used to assess visual working memory i.e. capacity to store what is seen. For digit span, the child has to repeat the digits presented by the assessor in a reverse manner e.g. 1,2,3 as 3,2,1 and for spatial span, the child is required to touch some blocks in reverse order as compared to the assessor.

Wisconsin Card Sorting Test-Not to be confused with the WISC, this assessment is for children aged 7 and above. It tests a child’s ability to shift from one task to another. This test also assesses the formation of ideas and thoughts. This executive function allows kids to shift their attention and move from one task or situation to another. This type of flexible thinking helps kids see new ways of doing things or try something else when the first approach doesn’t work.

Woodcock Johnson-The Woodcock-Johnson has a subtest that focuses on working memory. The WJ is divided into “clusters” so, within the oral language clusters, you will find sections on:

If you asked that your child be evaluated for executive functioning deficits, chances are that one of the above assessments is in your child’s report.

This should give you the foundation of understanding that report and what to look for as far as EF deficits. There is plenty of information on this site about Executive Functioning.

Use the search bar on the right to dig deeper.

How to Improve Executive Function Skills

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