Admissions & Diagnostic Testing

There are two primary purposes of standardized testing: admission purposes and diagnostic purposes.

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A standardized test is a test that is administered and scored in a consistent, or "standard” manner. These tests are designed in such a way that the conditions for administration, scoring procedures, and interpretations are consistent making it possible to compare the relative performance of test-takers.

Admissions Testing

Admission assessment is designed to measure reasoning and achievement skills at various levels of development for students. 

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Diagnostic Testing

A diagnostic test in education is a formative assessment or evaluation. The purpose of a diagnostic test is to assess the current state of a student's progress or ability in a particular area to determine if a student qualifies for special education services. Each of these evaluations uses standardized assessments and rating scales. All of them also typically include observations of the child and interviews with the parent, child and sometimes the child’s teachers.   

Regardless of which type of evaluation is conducted, when a parent is looking for guidance to develop an appropriate IEP (Individualized Education Program) or 504 Plan for his/her child, it is important to have the child evaluated by a person who has a background working in schools, who will:

  • observe the child in the school setting
  • obtain input from both the child’s family and school personnel
  • review the child’s educational and medical history in detail, and
  • conduct comprehensive assessments of all of the child’s areas of need.
  • Performed by clinical psychologists who typically work outside of schools in hospitals or in private practices. 
  • Psychological Evaluations:
    • can include many of the same formal assessments as Psychoeducational and Neuropsychological Evaluations in order to examine a person’s psychological, emotional, and behavioral functioning. 
    • are typically intended to guide diagnosis and treatment from a medical perspective, not from an educational perspective. 
  • Clinical psychologists typically do not have a background in education and therefore may not be familiar with schools or the specific accommodations or services that support students with disabilities in school settings.
  • Performed by school psychologists or other learning specialists who usually work directly in schools or have a background working in schools. 
  • Psychoeducational Evaluations:
    • typically include formal assessments of a child’s intelligence and a child’s academic achievement in addition to other assessments. 
    • seek to understand a child’s learning style generally, and then guide the development of classroom accommodations and supports from an educational perspective.
    • are generally not as broad in scope as Neuropsychological Evaluations, and usually do not include formal assessments of the specific domains of cognitive functioning (attention, memory, executive functioning, language, etc.). 
    • because they are more limited in scope, may not provide the level of data needed to fully assess, diagnose, and recommend treatment for disabilities involving language, attention, executive functioning, or other more complex social/emotional and learning-related difficulties. 
    • focus more on identifying the child’s difficulties in the classroom (i.e. what is happening) rather than examining the underlying brain origins and neurocognitive processes that are causing the child’s difficulties in the classroom (i.e. why it is happening).
  • Performed by Neuropsychologists who specialize in Neuropsychology, which is a field that focuses on understanding brain-behavior relationships and goes beyond school psychology and clinical psychology. 
  • Neuropsychological Evaluations
    • examine how a child’s brain functions and how that functioning impacts the child’s behavior and learning. 
    • are typically much broader in scope than Psychological or Psychoeducational Evaluations, and thus usually take longer to administer. 
    • typically include assessments of intelligence and academic achievement, but also go even further to include formal assessments of the specific domains of cognitive functioning that are controlled by different regions of the brain, such as executive functioning, visual-perceptual abilities, information processing, attention and concentration, learning and memory, sensory perception, language, adaptive skills, and fine motor skills. 
    • by examining a child’s underlying neurocognitive processes in greater detail, can provide deeper insight into why students are having certain difficulties, what their learning strengths and weaknesses are, and what interventions can be used to successfully address their difficulties both in and outside of school.

For more information, visit the "What Is A Neuropsychological Evaluation?" article by the Columbia University Department of Psychiatry Division of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

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Test Preparation

Many schools require some kind of standardized testing for admissions at different grade levels. Test prep is not obligatory, although some families feel that preparing a child for a standardized test offers them an advantage.