Special educational needs and disabilities coordinators (Sendcos) need to be able to monitor their students’ progress. But the array of possible assessments can be overwhelming. Before you call in an external specialist such as an educational psychologist, you may want to start in-house.
To minimise the number of tests you need to carry out, use as much whole-school data as possible. Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT) scores are often available. The literacy co-ordinator is also likely to have posted spelling and reading scores on your school’s management information system.
Teacher assessment is obviously useful and can often be the first indicator that a child is not making expected progress. Other logs such as behaviour and history should also be used to build a holistic profile of the learner.
Once you’ve scrutinised this data, you can begin deciding what additional information is required.
Tools of the trade
Standardised tests do not relate to a school cohort but are measured against a large, nationally represented population, and rigorously reviewed to ensure they are valid and reliable. They are a good tool in the assessment process as they often reveal discrepancies between actual and expected progress among your special educational needs and disabilities (Send) students. Just knowing where these discrepancies are might be sufficient for your purposes, or the results may prompt you to make a referral to an external specialist.
Literacy and language assessments are vital, of course: these underpin education and pupils’ ability to access a curriculum. But we know that other skills affect students with Send, such as speed of processing and working memory. Here is a list of tests you may wish to investigate further with a mind to purchasing.
The Renfrew Language Scales assessment can be useful if you have concerns about an expressive language impairment. It’s an action picture test where the pupil describes a picture in one sentence. It must be carried out in a one-to-one environment and is aimed at children aged 3-8.
The British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS) is an excellent assessment of a child’s receptive language. Alongside the Renfrew, this could identify difficulties that may highlight the need for a speech and language referral.
If you want advice on the level pupils should be achieving for their language skills, download speech, language and communication needs (SLCN) checklists from charities such as I CAN, Afasic, The Communication Trust and Talking Point. Each website also has information and resources for informal assessments.
The standard Year 1 phonics screening check can be used diagnostically if you’re savvy. Which ones weren’t the pupils getting? Why? Is their knowledge of phonemes secure? Can they sound out efficiently but don’t seem to be blending? Observations in one-to-one testing can be as useful as the results.
The Salford Reading Test is a very simple but lovely sentence reading test which you can use to make a miscue analysis. It also has basic comprehension questions that can be helpful. There are two tests, A and B, and it’s carried out in a one-to-one setting. It’s standardised for primary age.
York Assessment of Reading for Comprehension (YARC) is an up-to-date reading test that measures reading ability in both primary and secondary. It is supported by an excellent computer package, which will create a score sheet for individual students.
The Diagnostic Test of Word Reading Processes (DTWRP) is a 30-minute assessment for children aged 6-12. It tests for regular words, exception words and non-words.
The Test of Word Reading Efficiency (TOWRE2) has a non-word reading section and a real-word one. The pupil reads for 45 seconds and, depending on how far down the list of words they get, this will give a standardised score of their efficiency. It’s one-to-one but very quick and can be used for both primary and secondary age.
The Hodder Group Reading Test (HGRT) is easy to administer and can be done on a computer. Useful for in-house purposes but not allowed for exam arrangements, it can be used to re-test to monitor the progress of a year group. You can also print the results on a spreadsheet and upload them to management information systems relatively easily.
The Helen Arkell Spelling Test (HAST) allows you to drill down and see where a student is faltering. It also comes with lots of advice on how to alleviate these difficulties. An advantage of the HAST is that it comprises four separate tests, all standardised so you can use them for interventions and to monitor progress. The test can be done in a group or individually, and is for both primary and secondary. It’s also approved by the Joint Council of Qualifications (JCQ).
The Vernon graded word spelling test is another group assessment that’s useful for in-house purposes. It offers specific age-related start points so, again, you can use it to monitor progress of a whole-year group.
Combined reading and spelling
The wide range achievement test, fourth edition (WRAT-4) is old but useful, and popular in secondary schools – primarily because it’s quick and can be used for exam arrangements. It includes a spelling test that can be administered in a group or one-to-one, plus a single word and reading comprehension test.
Alternatively, the Wechlser Individual Achievement Test for teachers, second edition (WIAT-II) also assesses spelling, single-word reading and reading comprehension. The comprehension test is much longer than the WRAT-4’s, so make sure you trial this expensive assessment collection before you buy it.
Literacy Assessment Online by Edukey allows testing of reading and spelling age from 6-14 and includes replica national phonics assessments. Because it’s online you can use this test with multiple students without the administrative burden of marking, making it an ideal tool for screening or general whole-school data collection.
If you’re concerned that a student has a literacy difficulty such as dyslexia, testing their phonological awareness will be helpful. This doesn’t diagnose dyslexia but forms part of the assessment procedure.
The Phonological Assessment Battery (PhAB) is popular. The latest version, PhAB2, tests phonological ability in children aged 5-11, while you can use the original for pupils aged 11-14. It has sub-tests in alliteration, naming speed, rhyme, spoonerisms, fluency and non-word reading. PhAB2 includes extra sub-tests such as blending, phonological working memory, phoneme segmentation and phoneme deletion.
The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP) uses a similar set of tests, although for primary it may not be as useful as the new PhAB2 sections. However, it is on the JCQ list for exam arrangements and can be used to show eligibility for extra time.
The Test of Memory and Learning (TOMAL) and the Test of Auditory Processing Skills (TAPS-3) became popular in schools to show difficulties in working memory. If a pupil isn’t showing below-average processing in the CTOPP test, you can use TOMAL and TAPS-3 to demonstrate the need for extra time in exams.
However, these tests are expensive and not recommended unless you assess in-house – you may be better off asking an external specialist to carry them out. Both require one-to-one testing conditions and can be used in primary and secondary school settings.
The Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) is expensive because the test paper uses carbon for marking. However, it is a quick and simple assessment which can reveal difficulties in students who may not otherwise appear to require extra time in exams.
Treated with caution, the SDMT can also give you some information about students with attention difficulties, because of the correlation between focusing attention and visual processing (as with stroke patients). It certainly doesn’t give you enough information for a diagnosis but it does provide some interesting context.
Some argue that the Detailed Assessment of Speed of Handwriting (DASH) is useful only for secondary schools when testing for extra time. It can be done in a group and assesses how quickly students write per minute; this then is turned into a standardised score. The test is not recommended for internal assessments but the manual includes some diagnostic information about handwriting that is quite interesting.
The Sandwell Early Numeracy Test (SENT) comprises five strands: basic number skills identification, oral counting, value, object counting and language. The Test of Basic Arithmetic and Numeracy Skills (TOBANS), meanwhile, measures children’s fluency in number skills. Both tests are for primary level.
Of course, the above suggestions represent only a fraction of the weapons available for a Sendco’s arsenal – many other equally good products are on the market too. Contact educational test suppliers such as Pearson, Hodder and Ann Arbor for their latest catalogues, which will also indicate any qualifications needed to use the assessments. Your school may offer the opportunity to undertake a qualification in competency of educational testing, or you could consider a university or Real Training course.
Finally, it is important to understand fully the limitations of assessments, what the test is testing and what the results mean. Test results are only ever a measure of how the student performed on the day; they may not be a predictor of future achievement. Other data should always be used to triangulate a profile of student achievement. Confidence Intervals (the margin of error either side of a standardised score) are also important. When considered, CIs might put a student up into the ‘average’ band or down into the ‘below average’ category. Clearly results should be interpreted with caution and other attainment records used to gain a full profile of a student.
Jules Daulby is a senior consultant teacher for The Driver Youth Trust
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