Special Education Frequently Asked Questions

What Do These Test Scores Mean? Part 1

Part 1 of "What Do These Test Scores Mean?" will focus on the cognitive assessment (a.k.a. Intelligence Testing). Check back in the next few weeks for Part 2 and Part 3, which will focus on rating scales and educational testing.

A cognitive assessment provides information about a student's intellectual strengths and weaknesses and as well as insight into her overall cognitive potential. The test gives general information about a student's abilities compared to others her age in several areas. The tests are intended to be a predictor of how well and in what ways a child will learn new information. Remember that other factors must ALWAYS be considered. A high IQ does not guarantee success, just as a low IQ does not guarantee failure.

Here are some of the more commonly used cognitive assessments in schools:

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV)
Differential Ability Scales (DAS-II)
Stanford Binet Intelligence Scale (SB-V)

The cognitive assessment will have an overall IQ score. This score will be considered valid only if testing conditions were adequate and there is minimal variability in scores among the various scales on the assessment. When there is a significant scatter in the different areas, the overall score will not be representative of a child's overall potential and one must look more closely at the scores in the Scales.

In addition to the overall IQ Score, the cognitive assessment will measure various processing areas. For example the WISC-IV measures Verbal ability, Nonverbal ability, Processing Speed, and Working Memory. The score in each area will indicate ability in the various areas measured. For example, the score in Processing Speed on the WISC-IV will indicate a person's ability to quickly and accurately process simple visual information.

The scores are obtained in a complicated and statistical way, not the percentage of questions answered correctly. Thousands of people were given the assessment and the results were standardized to determine various ranges of ability. With the results of the sample population, norms were created. Percentile rankings were correlated with a person's performance level based on the norms created from the standardized sample. Your child's score will be a comparison of how he or she performed compared to the standardized sample. 68 % of the population will perform in the Average range. The farther away from the Average range one performs, the less typical the scores are.

The scores are typically described in Standard Scores. Standard Scores have a mean (Average of 100.) Anything within 10 points from 100 is considered Average. Scores from about 90-110 are considered average. Some assessments will vary slightly. Just outside of that range is the Low Average range (80-89) and the High Average range (110-119). Students performing in either of these ranges are slightly different from the norm, but still within expectations of the general public. High Average scores suggest somewhat stronger cognitive abilities while a person with Low Average scores may struggle somewhat to keep up. The Borderline range is 70-79. Students in this range may significantly struggle in the classroom. However, they often will not qualify for special education services. Remediation or other strategies should be considered. Below 70 would be the Extremely Low range indicating a possibility of an Intellectual Disability or Mental Retardation (the scores alone will not diagnose). Three percent of the population will fall in this range. On the other end three percent of the population is estimated to fall in the gifted or Superior range (130 and above). Scores between 120-129 are considered Above Average.

The scales are comprised of a few individual tasks that measure different aspects of the processing area. The student's performance on the task is measured with a Scaled Score. The Average range on Scaled Score is 8-12.

In summary, scores on the cognitive assessment are actually intended to be a comparison to the general public. Think of the scores in terms of ranges. First look at the overall IQ score and determine if that is a valid estimate of his ability. Second, look at each of the Scales to see how he performed in the various processing areas. Third, look at the individual tasks within the scales. Ask your Psychologist for information as to what each of the tasks and scales measure.

What does it mean to be a struggling learner or slow learner?

A "slow learner" is not a diagnostic category, it is a term people use to describe a student who has the ability to learn necessary academic skills, but at rate and depth below average same age peers. In order to grasp new concepts, a slow learner needs more time, more repetition, and often more resources from teachers to be successful. Reasoning skills are typically delayed, which makes new concepts difficult to learn.

A slow learner has traditionally been identified as anyone with a Full Scale IQ one standard deviation below the mean but not as low as two standard deviations below the mean. If a cognitive assessment (IQ test) has a mean (average) of 100, we expect most students will fall within one standard deviation of 100. That means that most students have an IQ of 85 to 115. Those who fall two standard deviations below the mean are often identified as having an Intellectual Disability (IQ below 70). A slow learner does not meet criteria for an Intellectual Disability(also called mental retardation). However, she learns slower than average students and will need additional help to succeed.

What are some of the challenges educationally for struggling or slow learners?

Typically, a slow learner has difficulty with higher order thinking or reasoning skills. This suggests that it will be more challenging to learn new concepts. New skills need to be based upon already mastered concepts. This can be difficult when the majority of the class has already mastered a concept and is moving on, while the slow learner needs more time. This can lead to gaps in knowledge and basic skills. The more gaps in a content area, the more challenging it is for anyone to learn new concepts.

It's also important to recognize that these students are typically keenly aware they are struggling and self confidence can be an issue. They are prone to anxiety, low self image, and eventually may be quick to give up. They often feel "stupid" and start hating school. They spend all day doing something that is difficult for them, it can be very draining. Finding other activities that the student can be successful in is very important. There should be emphasis on strengths as well.

If these students struggle so much, why do are they often not eligible for Special Education?

Special Education services are provided for students who have a disability. Slow learners typically do not have a disability, even though they need extra support. Cognitive abilities are too high for these learners to be considered for an Intellectual Disability. However, the abilities are usually too low to be considered for a Learning Disability. Consider that a learning disability consists of discrepancies between average abilities and below average academics, coupled with a processing deficit. Schools often look for a discrepancy between a student's ability and where they are performing. Slow learners tend to perform at their ability level, which is below average. To the disappointment of many, slow learners often do not receive special education services.

Although a student does not receive special education services, a student will require additional help, support, and accommodations through regular education!! Parents need to advocate for their child to be included in programs that schools already have available.

What are some classroom recommendations?

Repetition, repetition, repetition. You might feel like you are saying the same thing over and over, but it helps make a concept more concrete.

Encourage other activities in which the child can experience success and keep them connected.

Differentiated Instruction

Tutoring- This helps fill in gaps in basic skills and it helps a student stay caught up.

Teach study skills to help a student become more efficient in studying

Teach the most important concepts and leave out some of the less important details.

Peer tutoring

What about Slow Learners and standardized assessments?

Whether you support the No Child Left Behind act and the additional testing that comes with it, is not going to be argued here. I see positive outcomes and negative outcomes. However, being in the schools, it is my perception that the one group who hands down benefits from these assessments are the slow learners. These students have to take these tests and the teachers are responsible for helping them pass the assessments. Years ago, many teachers would teach to the majority of the class and the slow learners were often left behind. Teachers are now being forced to find a way to teach the slow learners. Parents of slow learners tend to hate these tests, because their children have such difficulties with the assessments, they generate anxiety, and then sometimes still do not do well. While those are valid concerns, consider that globally these laws and assessments are actually positive for the overall outcomes of slow learners. More remedial programs have been created to help these children pass the assessments.

If my child has a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), does he qualify for special education?

A child who has been diagnosed with ADHD or ADD will not automatically receive special education services once the diagnosis is made or be given an Individualized Education Plan (IEP). The diagnosis will be considered as part of the process for determining eligibility for special education services. Many students with ADHD will not need special education support and will learn to compensate within a regular education classroom. However, there are also a good deal of students that need the supports to address organizational issues, inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.

To be eligible for special education services, one must have two things: a disability and a documented need for special education services to be successful. The educational impact must be evident in order to receive special education services. Various methods for determining educational impact are used in schools. Some school systems look to see if the student is performing at his or her expected ability level (they compare cognitive scores with educational scores on testing), while some systems look for below grade level scores or grades.

How do I find out if my child qualifies for special education?

If you suspect your child has a disability or if you want the school to consider if your child should receive special education services to address ADHD, talk to your child's teacher or principal immediately. There is a process within each school that usually begins with a meeting. This meeting will involve teachers, principals, other school personnel (maybe a School Psychologist). At this meeting, interventions to attempt with the child will be decided. If those interventions are unsuccessful, the committee may recommend a full evaluation for special education services. See sped testing for more info

What is OHI?

OHI stands for Other Health Impairment and is a category for special education services. In special education, there are 13 categories in which a student can qualify for special education services. The Other Health Impairment is any medically documented health impairment that adversely affects a child's educational performance. When a student receives special education services for ADHD, it will be under the category of Other Health Impairment or OHI.

If my child receives special education for ADHD, do we have to have him on medication?

No, a child receiving medication is a personal decision made by the parents with the medical provider. A school can not legally recommend medication or insist that a child be on medicine. No school personnel should be making this recommendation. However, it is helpful for a teacher and parent to discuss how a student is doing on or off medication. That information should be provided with the medical provider.

Parent’s Guide to Special Education in Kansas is a publication intended to provide special education information in an easy to understand manner to parents, and other people involved with making decisions for students with exceptionalities. Parents are to share in the responsibility for developing educational plans for their students. This active role requires parents to have information about the special education process and requirements.

This guide reflects federal and state special education law. The guide is available on the KSDE website at

www.ksde.org - click on the parent's guide to special education tab. .

This guide provides resources of interest to parents. Most of the resources can be accessed through the world wide web (Internet). We acknowledge that some parents may not have access to the internet. If you are unable to access a resource that is on the Kansas State Department of Education website, you may contact Special Education Services for this information (800-203-9462).

Making decisions about a student‘s education is very important. We hope this guide continues to be helpful to everyone who is concerned with the education of students in the special education process and to enable a true partnership between parents and educators.