Interpreting IEP Evaluations
For me, both as a Special Education Advocate and a Parent, I find the hardest part of the IEP process to be the IEP eligibility evaluations. For each re-evaluation, my son (or my clients) may receive upward of 10-12 assessments. That’s a dozen protocols I have to look up, read and understand.
Then, by the time another 2-3 years goes by, the IEP team has completely changed. Many evaluators have their favorite evals to do, so the evaluations and reports are different. It makes it darned near impossible to be able to compare apples to apples, and know what your child’s baselines are from one evaluation report to the next.
But, that being said, I love a good IEP evaluation report. The assessments or evaluations provide objective data to determine if a student is eligible to receive special education services and what the areas of need are. The evaluation results should be the driving force in developing a solid Present Levels section of the IEP.
But what are those evaluations? And what evaluations should you ask for?
States are given a lot of flexibility in deciding which assessments to use. The assessment used should:
- be appropriate in determining a suspected area of need
- normed for your child’s condition or culture
- provide objective data relating to your child’s strengths and/or areas of need
Disclaimer: I am not a neuropsychologist, nor do I play one on the internet. I always recommend that you ask the actual person who did the evaluations on your child to sit with you and explain them to you. However, that is not always possible in a timely manner, and parents get curious. That is why I put together this chart. It is for informational purposes only, and the author/publisher owns all copyrights to the linked material. I do not own it, I am only sharing it.
Parent Training is a section of the IEP and you should ask for it if you need it. It is essential to begin to understand these scores if you are going to be a meaningful IEP team participant.
Common Educational Assessments
There are very common evals that are done in schools. Here are some of the most common. I put their nicknames behind them since they are more Special Education Acronyms for all of us to learn.
Wechsler Intelligence Scale (WISC-III)
- aka “the wisc” (note: do not confuse the wisc with the wiat, which is below)
- Measures a student’s cognitive ability; identify and diagnose intellectual and learning disabilities; measure the ability to analyze and synthesize information, quantitative reasoning and induction, and visual working memory; Evaluate cognitive processing strengths and weaknesses; Assess giftedness and the impact of brain injuries
- Who usually conducts: School psychologist.
- Report: It usually looks at three intelligence quotient (IQ) scores: verbal IQ, performance IQ, and full-scale IQ. The subtests within these areas often provide good information about a student’s strengths as well as areas of need. Dig deep into the subtest results as they contain a lot of good information.
- More added weirdness: this is another test that you can have your child take a course and prepare for; yes, many parents treat these like the SAT.
Wechsler Individual Achievement Test-WIAT
- aka “the wiat” pronounced like the boy’s name-Wyatt
- WIAT-4 features new subtests and expanded scoring capabilities, including composites for Phonological Processing, Orthographic Processing, Writing Fluency, and an Orthographic Processing Extended Composite*
- The included Dyslexia Index Scores support efficient, reliable screening.
- New: Phonemic Proficiency – measures speed and accuracy of phonological manipulation
- New: Orthographic Fluency – measures speed of irregular word reading
- New: Decoding Fluency – measures speed of pseudoword reading
- New: Sentence Writing Fluency – measures speed of sentence composition
- New: Orthographic Choice* – measures recognition spelling skills
Woodcock-Johnson Psychoeducational Battery
- aka “woodcook johnson”
- Measures Individual educational achievement; very common test for full IQ score, but not without flaws; Includes diagnostic utility for learning disabilities, giftedness, and non-English speaking populations
- Who conducts: Usually special-education teacher.
- Data: Test includes mandatory sections and optional subtests. The scores are then combined into composite scores. The identified areas help the IEP team look at specific areas of need, which then help create meaningful IEP goals.
- Added weirdness: There are actually courses online and in-person, that parents sign their kids up for, to prepare for this test. In other words, they want their kids to test as gifted.
Behavior Assessment System for Children (BASC)
- aka “the basc”
- Measures a student’s behavior and mental health, including how the student sees him- or herself as well as how parents and school staff view the student
- Can differentiate between hyperactivity and attention problems
- Identify behavior problems as required by IDEA, and for developing FBAs, BIPs, and IEPs.
- Who usually conducts: Parents, classroom teacher, special-education teacher, and sometimes the student. This test requires multiple people filling out a questionnaire to look for patterns and concerns.
- Report: These evaluations do not offer a diagnosis but instead look at life skills, social skills, social concerns, and attention. It may help identify mental-health concerns and/or behavioral issues.
Vineland Adaptive Behavior Rating Scale Scale
- aka “the vineland”
- measures a student’s functional skills, among other areas; Correspond scales to the three broad domains of adaptive functioning specified by the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities and by DSM-5 – Communication, Daily Living Skills, and Socialization.
- Who conducts: this is a multipart test and teachers and caregivers should complete a portion; this test actually has been normed to test ages 0-90!
- Report: this test should identify functional living skills deficits, social skills deficits and other non-academic deficits if they exist
Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals, Third Edition (CELF-3)
- aka “the celf”
- Measures verbal and written language, which may also include articulation, semantics, and pragmatic aspects of speech and language in both expressive and receptive communication; includes Speech subtest and Pragmatics Activities Checklist
- Two new index scores help you determine if a child has the language skills needed to transition to the classroom
- Who conducts: Speech and language therapist (SLP)
- Report: This test can direct the IEP team to develop goals and also accommodations such as books on tape or written (not verbal) instructions as well as for direct therapy with the SLP for both expressive and receptive language.
How to Prepare for an Evaluation Report Meeting
Some districts will hold a separate meeting to go over evaluation results. This most common if it is the child’s first IEP evaluations. It is less common to hold separate meetings for this in subsequent meetings.
- Commit and Take your Time.
Solid baselines and well-identified strengths and areas of need are the foundation of a good IEP. Without good evaluations, you won’t have good goals, and without good IEP goals, you won’t get good supports and services. This part is essential, so commit to it. This takes time. I wish I didn’t have to know it. But I do. And so do you.
- Print the Report.
Particularly if you receive it in a PDF, you should print off a copy.
- Read the Report.
Seems silly that I have to include this, but I do. And by read, I mean READ. Don’t skim. Don’t just jump to IQ scores and then call it a day. Yes, many parents do this. READ the report.
- Read it again. This time with a highlighter.
Highlight areas of concern that you have. Write in the margins, if you have questions. This should all be done before your meeting with the school personnel.
- Read the protocols online.
You want to look at the protocols online. Was this test appropriate for your child? For example, if your child is autistic or non-verbal, was this an appropriate assessment? If you have concerns about reading ability, was this a reading-heavy assessment?
- Ask for the raw data.
I would ask for the raw data. No, not so that you can try and interpret it yourself. But, for some assessments, it is appropriate to pay a third party for their interpretation of the data. This might be a more affordable option if the school refuses an IEE and you cannot afford one.
- Attend the meeting and take notes.
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Try not to let yourself be intimidated or overwhelmed with data. It’s ok to not know this stuff. I’m not a school psychologist or an SLP, so why should I be expected, as a parent, to know how to interpret a WISC or a CELF?
However, if you need to digest the information separately, you can ask for two separate meetings. For the first one, depending on your state, they may not be required to convene the entire IEP team. It might just be the professionals who administered the assessments.
Note that this is NOT an IEP meeting. This is just for going over the evaluation reports. I have addressed preparing for IEP meetings in several other posts.
School staff don’t know how to do your job, so you shouldn’t expect that you can do theirs. You are the expert in your child and what you are seeing every day. But they should be the experts in interpreting this data and they are responsible for explaining it to you.