What is academic testing?
Academic testing involves an assessment of your child’s level of academic achievement and the extent of their learning within an educational setting. Testing will help to determine whether your child has achieved the age/grade appropriate skills in reading, writing, mathematics, and oral language skills. Upon testing some children perform far above their same age/grade peers (gifted), whereas others underperform which may indicate learning difficulties (Specific Learning Disorder). In some cases gifted children underachieve academically, which can also be identified in this process.
Reasons for testing?
The assessment results can be used as part of an application for special provisions within educational programs (e.g., primary/high school academic special consideration such as access to a scribe, speech to text software, additional time allocated during examinations).
The Wechsler Individual Achievement Test – Third Edition – Australian (WIAT-III) assesses academic achievement skills in children from the age of 4 years through to 19 years. Key subtests include spelling, reading comprehension, and numerical operations.
An assessment for a Specific Learning Disorder would typically include the administration of the WISC-V and WIAT-III tests. These results are combined with various other information sources (e.g., child academic reports, biopsychosocial history, and parent/teacher feedback) to inform the assessment of a Specific Learning Disorder.
What is a Specific Learning Disorder?
According to the DSM-5 (Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition) a Specific Learning Disorder (SLD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder (i.e. the learning difficulties begin during school-age years) with biological origin which affect the brain’s ability to perceive or process verbal or non-verbal information efficiently and accurately. The diagnostic criteria for a SLD are as follows:
- Difficulties learning and using academic skills, as indicated by the presence of at least one of the following symptoms that have persisted for at least 6 months, despite the provision of interventions that target those difficulties:
- Inaccurate or slow and effortful word reading (e.g., reads single words aloud incorrectly or slowly and hesitantly, frequently guesses words, has difficulty sounding out words).
- Difficulty understanding the meaning of what is read (e.g., may read text accurately but not understand the sequence, relationships, inferences, or deeper meanings of what is read).
- Difficulties with spelling (e.g., may add, omit, or substitute vowels or consonants).
- Difficulties with written expression (e.g., makes multiple grammatical or punctuation errors within sentences; employs poor paragraph organization; written expression of ideas lacks clarity).
- Difficulties mastering number sense, number facts, or calculation (e.g., has poor understanding of numbers, their magnitude, and relationships; counts on fingers to add single-digit numbers instead of recalling the math fact as peers do; gets lost in the midst of arithmetic computation and may switch procedures).
- Difficulties with mathematical reasoning (e.g., has severe difficulty applying mathematical concepts, facts, or procedures to solve quantitative problems).
- The affected academic skills are substantially and quantifiably below those expected for the individual’s chronological age, and cause significant interference with academic or occupational performance, or with activities of daily living, as confirmed by individually administered standardized achievement measures and comprehensive clinical assessment. For individuals age 17 years and older, a documented history of impairing learning difficulties may be substituted for the standardized assessment.
- The learning difficulties begin during school-age years but may not become fully manifest until the demands for those affected academic skills exceed the individual’s limited capacities (e.g., as in timed tests, reading or writing lengthy complex reports for a tight deadline, excessively heavy academic loads).
- The learning difficulties are not better accounted for by intellectual disabilities, uncorrected visual or auditory acuity, other mental or neurological disorders, psychosocial adversity, lack of proficiency in the language of academic instruction, or inadequate educational instruction.
(American Psychiatric Association: Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Fifth Edition, 2013)