by Amy Vickrey, MSE, MEd


There are many factors to consider when it comes to testing. There are different types of testing, different purposes behind these tests, and how the information can be used. These tests can be useful in different ways to determine your student’s strengths and weaknesses when writing an IEP.


Types of Tests:


Nationally Normed Tests:

Many states require parents to show progress through nationally normed tests, such as IOWA, CAT, or MAP testing. While there are many others, the purpose of these tests is to show how your student is progressing compared to other children the same age or grade. They are also generally based on a set of standards, such as Common Core Standards. It is important to keep in mind that these tests may not show everything your child has learned that school year, especially if your curriculum was not aligned to the same standards as the test they are taking.


Psycho-Educational Assessments

In order to receive a diagnosis for a learning disability, a parent may have a psych-educational assessment completed. This assessment would include Cognitive Testing, along with Achievement Testing. Sometimes Executive Functioning and Behavioral Assessments are also included, depending on the concerns of the parents. 


Cognitive Testing

Common Cognitive tests include the WISC-V, KABC II, or WJ IV – COG. These tests consider how a learner takes in information and processes it. Here are the main areas these tests may consider:


Comprehensive Knowledge (Crystallized Intelligence) – Gc- has to do with an individual’s breadth and depth of knowledge, including verbal communication, general information, and reasoning with previously learned procedures. It may be helpful to think of Gc as the “stuff” or facts stored in long-term memory and the ability to reason with it. Gc develops largely as a function of both formal and informal educational opportunities and experiences and is highly dependent on exposure to mainstream U.S. culture. Classroom skills associated with Motherlized knowledge include use of vocabulary, understanding written and oral language, acquiring knowledge in content areas, and using prior knowledge to understand new concepts. 


Long-Term Memory/Retrieval – Glr – has to do withthe ability to store information in and fluently retrieve new or previously acquired information (concepts, ideas, names, etc.) from long-term memory. Glr, or Rapid Symbolic Naming, involves the rapid naming of digits and letters, and requires students to fluently recall and name letters or digits from long term or permanent memory. Classroom skills associated with Glr include learning and recalling information on tests, retrieving specific words when asked a question, and memorizing and recalling facts. 


Visual Processing – Gv – has to do with the ability to perceive, analyze, store, retrieve, manipulate, transform, and think with visual patterns and stimuli. Classroom skills associated with visual processing include reading maps, graphs, and charts, noting visual detail, using patterns in geometry, geography and art designing, and assembling puzzles. 


Auditory Processing – Ga – has to do with the ability to perceive, analyze, and synthesize patterns among sounds and to discriminate subtle nuances in patterns of sound and speech. Ga or Phonological Awareness, measures a student’s awareness of and access to the sound structure of their oral language, specifically English. Classroom skills associated with auditory processing include phonetic skills, such as the ability to make sound-symbol associations related to reading. Research has also shown that math facts are tied to auditory processing as well.


Fluid Reasoning – Gf – has to do with the ability to reason, form concepts, and problem solve when faced with a relatively novel task or unfamiliar situation. Classroom skills associated with fluid reasoning include perceiving relationships among patterns, drawing inferences, solving abstract problems, thinking conceptually, comprehending implications, generalizing, and reorganizing or transforming information. 


Processing Speed – Gs – has to do with the ability to process visual information quickly and the rate at which a student makes correct decisions quickly and learns new skills. Classroom skills associated with processing speed include the ease and speed at which a student learns new information and fluently performs routine academic tasks, which can affect reading, writing, and math skills.


Short Term Memory (Working Memory– Gsm/Gswm – has to do with the ability to apprehend and hold information in immediate awareness and then use it within a few seconds. Gsm, sometimes called Phonological Memory, refers to coding information phonologically for temporary storage in short-term memory. Gsm is a limited time-capacity system, as most individuals can only retain seven “chunks” of information (plus or minus 2 “chunks”) in the system at one time. Classroom skills associated with short-term memory include reading comprehension, decoding skills, spelling skills, and remembering oral directions. 


Some things to consider when looking at the scores on Cognitive Tests:

  • what do you know your chid’s strengths and weaknesses to be from working with them.
  • what was asked of your child (if your child struggles with writing or letter reversals, some of these tests may be challenging for them and not an accurate assessment of that skill area)
  • if there are any big differences between the individual tests in any of these main areas
  • This kind of assessment is a “snapshot” of how your child performed on one single day.  There are a lot of “factors” that can go into that performance (nervous, tired, etc)
  • Your child can “accidentally” perform badly on a particular test or section, but they do not “accidentally” perform well. Look at the strengths, and take any weaknesses into consideration IF it matches with your own observations about your child’s abilities.


Achievement Testing:

Achievement Testing might be completed by itself by a dyslexia therapist or tutor, or as part of a larger assessment.  Achievement Tests create a picture of about where your child is performing compared to other children your child’s same age or grade (depending on how it is scored). Common Achievement Tests include the WIAT 4, KTEA 3, and WJ IV – ACH.  



Math should include Math Calculation and Math Problem Solving. Math Calculation is generally paper and pencil (so take into consideration any writing challenges or visual challenges your child may have), and Math Problem Solving is often verbal questions (so take into consideration any challenges your child has with verbal directions). Sometimes Math Fact Fluency is also completed, to help determine if your child is able to fluently complete math facts, or if that may be a factor either math calculation or problem solving.



Reading might include areas such as comprehension, fluency, word reading, and phonemic awareness.  The exact tests given will be determined by the needs and concerns regarding your child. Listening comprehension may also be given for younger readers, or to determine the ability of your child to understand stories without having to actually read them.  



Writing and spelling tests are given to determine writing abilities at the letter, word, sentence, and paragraph level. Which tests are given depends on academic concerns and abilities. Writing samples and fine motor skills may also be tested to determine motor abilities that support writing.


Executive Functioning

Executive functioning are the underlying skills to learning. Skills that may be considered include Response Inhibition, Working Memory, Emotional Control, Sustained Attention, Task Intitiation, Planning/Prioritizing, Organization, Time Management, Goal-Directed Persistnece, Flexibility, and Metacognition.



While Executive Functioning and Behavior can overlap, behavior can be assessed when there might be concerns over anxiety, depression, mood, autism, attention and hyperactivity, and more. The concern is whether the behavior is limiting learning, or being caused because the child is already struggling with a learning challenge.  


Reading Scores on a Standardized Test

Most Cognitive and Achievement tests are scored by standardized scores. Generally, this will mean scores above 115 are Above Average or higher, 85-115 are within normal range (90-110 are considered average), and below 85 is considered below average, and a concern. Sometimes a scale of 0-20 is used instead. In this case, 6 and below would be Below Average and a concern, 7-13 would be within normal limits (8-12 would be average), and 14 and above would be considered Above Average or higher.  


A word of caution: These scores are a snapshot of one moment in time,intelligence and abilities are fluid, and for some children can vary‌. Also, some children simply do not test well, or have limitations that affect their scores on certain tests. Trust your judgment and your instincts on your child’s abilities. As a parent, you are the best at determining your child’s abilities and potential.


Amy Vickrey is the Training Manager at SPED Homeschool. To learn more about her, her background, homeschooling journey, and testing/tutoring services, visit her team member page.




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