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Academic Achievement Evaluation Introduction

Achievement assessment is typically included in a full individual evaluation for any student considered for special education services. Careful evaluation of academic strengths and weaknesses can provide helpful information about academic and school success, as well as significant insight into factors (both general and subject-specific) that are having an adverse impact on academic achievement, including identification of learning gaps that have not previously been noted.

Overview of Instruments

The following is a list of assessments that may be used for students who have or are suspected of having autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Included are standardized norm-referenced achievement measures and measures used to determine the level of English language proficiency of students whose native language is not English. This section of the TARGET provides summary information about the following academic achievement assessments: Bilingual Verbal Ability Tests (BVAT-NU); Diagnostic Achievement Battery–Fourth Edition (DAB-4); Gray Oral Reading Test–Fifth Edition (GORT-5); Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement–Third Edition (KTEA-III); KeyMath Diagnostic Assessment–Third Edition (KeyMath 3); Oral and Written Language Scales–Second Edition (OWLS-II); Test of Early Math Ability–Third Edition (TEMA-3); Test of Early Reading Ability–Third Edition (TERA-3); Test of Early Written Language–Second Edition (TEWL-3); Test of Mathematical Abilities–Third Edition (TOMA-3); Test of Reading Comprehension–Fourth Edition (TORC-4); Test of Written Language–Third Edition (TOWL-4); Test of Word Reading Efficiency–Second Edition (TOWRE-2); Test of Written Spelling–Fifth Edition (TWS-5); Wechsler Individual Achievement Test–Third Edition (WIAT-III); Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement–Third Edition/Normative Update (WJ-III ACH/NU); Woodcock-Muñoz Language Survey–Revised Normative Update (WMLS-R NU); and Woodcock Reading Mastery Test–Third Edition (WRMT-III).

Research on Academic Achievement Instruments

Currently, there is little research to support the use of various achievement assessments with individuals with autism spectrum disorder. The sole published article using the WIAT-II found that students with high-functioning autism demonstrate significant deficits in written language (Mayes & Calhoun, 2008). Typical patterns of performance indicate strengths in rote skills such as knowledge of math facts and word recall ability, but deficits in skills involving problem solving, such as reading comprehension and math reasoning. Practitioners are encouraged to use formal and informal assessments based on the individual’s needs (Hagiwara, 2001-2002; Meyer, 2001-2002).

Number of Studies

Age Range

Sample Size

Purpose of Study

Outcome

1

6–14 years

54

To determine if specific neuropsychological and learning profiles emerge

To compare findings with previous research on the WISC-III and WIAT-II

  • Strengths in PRI and VCI (verbal and visual reasoning); Matrix Reasoning highest PRI subtest
  • Weaknesses in PSI and WMI (attention, grapho-motor, processing speed); comprehension lowest VCI subtest (language comprehension and social reasoning); Block Design lowest PRI subtest
  • Weaknesses in written comprehension
  • Findings correlate to previous studies using WISC-III and WIAT-II

Misconceptions

Myth Reality
Formal IQ is more valid than informal data from the classroom. Informal classroom data provide information about how the student functions on a daily basis. Analyzing formal and informal data to determine patterns of skills and learning is a key component of assessment (Hagiwara, 2001-2002). Informal data from the classroom may be more valuable than information gathered in a contrived one-on-one setting when determining programming for a student with ASD.
If students have high abilities in word calling and/or reading fluency, they have good general reading skills. Many students with ASD have good rote skills, but may still have great difficulty with inferencing, sequencing, and comprehension skills. Their lack of understanding of social situations may make gaining meaning from reading very difficult. Formal assessment data and informal data should be analyzed for patterns of deficits in reading.
If a student has a high IQ or high achievement, he/she should be successful in the general education classroom. Because students with ASD have difficulty with language, communication, and social skills, they may struggle in the general education classroom in activities that involve these skills (e.g., group discussions, small group activities, following directions).
If a student has good expressive and receptive language skills, there is no need to refer the student for a comprehensive speech and language evaluation. Autism spectrum disorder, by definition, is a social-communication disorder. It is common for students who have or are suspected of having ASD to perform well on rote language tasks. It is still necessary to conduct a comprehensive speech and language evaluation to determine functioning in pragmatic language, social interaction skills, and understanding of nonverbal language.

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