How Achievement Tests Diagnose Learning Disabilities

Learn what these tests are and how results are scored

Children working in school
Children take a test in school. Tim Hall/Cultura/Getty Images

If you're unsure whether your child has a learning disability, achievement testing can play an important role in diagnosis. Learn more about these tests and how the results are scored and used to help children get the academic interventions they need.

While achievement tests may make some parents feel anxious, remember that they can also play a role in identifying a child's strengths.

What Is a Standardized Achievement Test?

Standardized achievement tests may assess any or all of the following: reading, math and written language as well as subject areas such as science and social studies.

These tests are available to assess all grade levels and adults as well.

Achievement testing is typically conducted in a one-on-one assessment session using a standardized test. The test procedures are highly structured so that the testing process is the same for all students who take them.

How Standardized Achievement Tests Scored

Students' answers are analyzed and scored according to specific guidelines required by the test publisher. The results are calculated as a raw score. Raw scores are converted into standard scores using appropriate tables for a child's age and, in some cases, time of school year.

The resulting standard scores provide data to compare the student's abilities to others his age. Scores are interpreted using terms such as average, above average and below average. Your child may be above average in one area and below average in another. On the other hand, your child might be average all around.

Results depend on the specific child and sometimes the circumstances under which the child took the test.

How Achievement Test Results Are Used

Achievement tests are used to determine a student's academic strengths and weaknesses. When compared to intelligence test scores, achievement scores tell whether or not a child has the severe difference in ability and performance that indicates a learning disability.

These scores also provide important information to help develop the child's individual education program, should the test determine that the child indeed suffers from a learning disability.

Achievement testing can also play a role in an alternative means of diagnosis called Response to Intervention. This method of intervention is used to determine the needs of struggling students and give them the focused instruction necessary to help meet their goals. Using this practice, students receive a wide range of support--from assistance in mainstream classrooms to assist in a special education program.

Wrapping Up

An achievement test may not give you all of the answers you seek about your child's ability to learn. If you're dissatisfied with the test results, you can try testing again or speaking with the child's teacher or school administrators about other forms of assessment. Tests alone may not be sufficient enough to identify if a child has a learning disability.

On the other hand, if a test does point in the direction of a learning disability, you'll want to arrange meetings with school officials to discuss the best way to meet your child's needs from this point forward.