Language learning differences, such as dyslexia, impact each individual in unique ways. Diagnostic testing provides valuable information toward understanding the level of impact and how to best address or accommodate learning differences.
When facing the potential need for diagnostic testing, it is helpful to understand common terminology and approaches used for testing, evaluation, and accommodations. The explanations below are intended to offer a first step in this process.
- Neuropsychological Testing (“Neuro Psych”)
- Psychoeducational Evaluation (“Ed Psych”)
- Special Education Evaluation
- Individualized Education Program (IEP)
- 504 (Accommodation) Plan
A neuropsychological exam is used to assess overall neurological functioning, including items such as attention span, concentration, general cognition (how one thinks and understands information), memory, perception, problem solving, verbal ability, and decision making.
Neuropsychological testing will typically entail a series of pencil-and-paper or computer-based subtests, as well as an “interview,” in which a neuropsychologist will ask a series of questions in order to gather additional insight into the subject’s neurological functioning. The exam will typically take 3 to 6 hours, depending on how quickly the examiner and examinee can complete the various subtests.
A psychoeducational evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of cognitive functioning, specifically in relation to a subject’s overall academic ability and learning profile. A psychoeducational evaluation assesses both academic skill development and general learning aptitude and can be used to help diagnose specific learning disabilities, as well as to determine whether a disability may be significantly impacting academic performance.
Psychoeducational evaluations will typically consist of an array of tests, both academic assessments of basic and advanced reading, written expression, and mathematics skills and tests designed to measure overall cognitive ability (IQ), verbal-linguistic skills, abstract reasoning, short-term and long-term memory, visual-spatial skills, and visual-motor coordination. In addition, the evaluation may incorporate supplemental exams in order to assess identified “problem” areas, such as attention, auditory or expressive language processing, organization and executive functioning skills, as well as emotional challenges, anxiety, and coping skills.
Psychoeducational evaluations will typically involve several hours of testing and are generally conducted using a series of sessions. They may also include on-site observation of the subject within an educational setting.
A special education evaluation, like a psychoeducational evaluation, is an assessment of cognitive functioning in relation to learning and academic performance, including academic skills and general learning aptitude. However, a special education evaluation is conducted by a public school district’s staff psychologist and is typically targeted at specific academic areas in which a student has demonstrated challenges. They are designed to determine whether a specific learning disability may be significantly impacting academic achievement.
Special education evaluations will typically consist of an array of tests of both academic performance levels and overall learning ability and will typically involve several hours of testing over a series of meetings, including on-site observation. However, since evaluations are limited to identified areas of concern, the extent of testing will vary from student to student.
In order to pursue a special education evaluation, families need to contact the Special Education Department at their local school district. The district will then initiate a determination of qualification, and if qualified, assign a psychologist and set a schedule for the evaluation.
An Individualized Education Program, or IEP, is a written document that is developed by a public school district for a student who qualifies for special education services requiring specialized instruction in one or more academic areas. An IEP is established after a student has undergone a special education evaluation and been determined to qualify for specialized instruction.
The IEP is developed by an IEP team at the student’s public school -- based on the areas in which the student has qualified for services -- and delineates individualized goals for a student determined to have a disability or requiring a specialized level of accommodation (as defined by federal regulations).
IEP support services are the responsibility of the student’s home district and may cover an array of areas, including academic support, but also additional areas of challenge such as speech and language, study and organizational skills, social and behavioral skills, mental and emotional regulation skills, and motor functioning.
As long as a student qualifies for special education, up to the point of high school graduation, the IEP is mandated to be regularly maintained and updated with measurable annual academic and functional goals specific to the student’s developing needs.
A 504 Plan, often referred to as “a 504’” is a formal plan developed by a public school to remove barriers to learning and to provide supports and accommodations that allow a student with special needs to participate in school alongside his or her peers. These plans are authorized under the dictates of section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 -- a federal civil rights law designed to eliminate disability discrimination in programs and activities that receive federal funds.
Unlike an IEP, a 504 Plan does not provide for specialized instruction. Instead, it will typically delineate school-based accommodations, such as extended time on tests, preferential seating, modified assignments, or the allowance of short breaks during school work. A student should not be on both a 504 Plan and an IEP at the same time.