Different Types of Educational Assessment Tests

and what are those tests REALLY measuring?

The information in this diagnostic section is a composite of information gleaned from diagnosticians, advocates, veteran teachers, and personal experience.

I was amazed to find out that the labels put on diagnostic tests can be rather misleading. For instance, I thought Comprehension measured a child's reading comprehension. Humm. I wonder where I could ever have gotten that idea? It actually measures, among other things, how well a child comprehends the world he lives in and social interactions. It's always wise to ask your diagnostician, before a meeting, to write down a brief summary of what each test is actually measuring. Otherwise it can seem so clear when it's being explained to you and so garbled when you look at it at home.

I am most grateful to "Bob," whom I met at the bulletin board at LDONLINE for the following definitions, put in parent-friendly language. I searched for 3 years for such understandable definitions, and with his help, I can now put this up for all of us to reference.

Tests for Formal Assessments

Formal assessments are norm-referenced and validated with use on 1,000 plus kids (if the tests are any good) who are the same age, but comprised of different ethnic groups. The "norm" is the absolute middle in grades. Usually that "smack-in-the-middle point" will mean a norm or "mean" of 100. Some have a different mean.

What's important for parents to realize is that when you see 100, you aren't thinking: "100%, gosh that means perfect". That's the usual grading reference we saw when we were in school. In this case, 100 really means: half the kids did better than 100 and half the kids did worse. If your child performed within 15-17 points on either side of 100, that's in the "average" range. So if a child had a 85-115, that would still be average.

15 points either way would be called one "deviation". Two deviations is considered serious enough for concern. Of course, if your child is two deviations ABOVE the mean, it means he/she excels in that area. One example of the 100 mean is the I.Q. test. If your child tests out with a composite score of 100, that is smack-in-the-middle-average. If the score is 85-115, that is still average and our one deviation range of 15 points---get it?

If your child's score is 70 or 130 you are looking at two deviations. Below 70 is considered the retardation range, over 130 is considered the gifted range.

Speaking of composite scores---I do not like them and do not go by them. If you are a marvelous swimmer and make a high score in competition say 95, and a lousy runner who makes a score of 15, how can an average of the two scores, (55) have any possible importance? Always look at each subtest score individually, and get help for the low ones and encourage and enrich and build on those unusually high scores. This is where you discover a child's academic strengths, as well as weaknesses.

Some tests, like a lot of subtests I have seen, have a mean of 10. That means the same as the above. Half did better, half did worse. If your child has more than 3 points off of 10, it can be a cause for concern. They go by "deviations". When the "mean" or "norm" is 10, a standard deviation is 3 points. If a child has 2 deviations in a subtest, it's cause for serious concern.

Criterion Referenced Tests

Measures knowledge against certain criteria--such as knowledge of one area of language. These tests usually have more than one version and the tester will change the versions around with a student, so they won't memorize the questions or tasks. These tests are good for planning instructional strategies and measuring progress.

Curriculum Based Measurements

Some of these tests to measure knowledge in the general education curriculum are published by book manufacturers, some by a state's Department of Education. The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is an example.

Curriculum Based Assessment

This is an assessment without the use of formalized tests. The student is measured against the general curriculum to see if the deviation is enough to qualify for special education.

If this testing method is used exclusively, there's lots of missing information. There are no clues as to why the student is not keeping up, as you would get from WISC-III or other testing data. That's why this method should NOT be used as the only qualification method for learning disabilities. Understanding WHY a student is not keeping up is very important, and this type of assessment does not give that information.

Teacher Assessment

All ways of assessing are important in their own way, even teacher observations. However, too much "teacher observation" assessment leaves nothing to show, or prove, achievement of the goals and objectives. Teacher assessment can be subjective and should be only one part of any assessment. I recommend parents not let progress towards the short term goals on the Individual Education Plan (IEP) be measured by "teacher observation" only. While it's an important component, it shouldn't be the sole means of testing. Objective, measurable testing should always be included and is required by law.

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APA Reference
Staff, H. (2007, June 7). Different Types of Educational Assessment Tests, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 15 from

Last Updated: February 13, 2016

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD

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