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Psychological testing, what do I need to know?

From the Ontario Coalition for Inclusive Education
A Document for Parents

"Developmental assessment is a process designed to deepen the understanding of a child's competencies and resources and the learning environments most likely to help a child make fullest use of their developmental potential" Source: Zero to Three

There is a lot of talk about psychological testing (the schools may call them intelligence, standardized, norm referenced or educational tests / assessments) to verify or support ISA funding levels. It is important that parents have all the information to understand best practices as it relates to the use of any assessment. There are some tests done by your child's school that assess their achievement. Other tests such as psychological tests require you to give your consent.

The literature clearly states that assessments that offer little more than scores, clinical labels and focus on the negative with little or no connection to recommendations or curriculum strategies are clearly done in vain. Parents need to understand that the real purpose of assessment is to develop hypotheses about and give direction to or for individual education planning. The use for assessment to verify levels of supports with little regard to educational value is clearly not considered to be best practice.

There are six areas to consider:

  1. What is the purpose of the assessment tool - eligibility, educational planning, program evaluation or comparison with peers?
  2. What population was the assessment developed for(norm referenced) - who, where( geographic location, cultural factors ), and when (more than 10 years old)
  3. What is the assessment measuring? Is it a standardized tool? This means …… What is the reliability? Are the scores that the test gives accurate, consistent and not influenced by the environment?
  4. Is the data valid? Meaning, is the tool appropriate, meaningful and as useful as it claims to be? Does it measures what it says it is suppose to measure?
  5. Is it a functional tool? This means it covers how a child interacts with their environment and is not necessarily a standardized tool.
  6. How is the scale administered? Is it done by observation, direct testing or by interview?

With any assessment process if there is confusion about the purpose of the assessment, there is likely a strong potential for results to be inaccurate and lacking real educational value. Assessments to be deemed useful to educational value must encompass the following attributes:

  1. The assessment must be intervention or program based, which means it must be curriculum based or linkable to curriculum objectives.
  2. The assessment must be child relevant and based upon some reputable development orientation.
  3. It must be sensitive to a child's progress.
  4. The assessment must be adaptive and allow for modifications for scoring of children with physical and developmental challenges or with little or no language.
  5. The assessment process should be multiple and complementary. This refers to the use of several instruments used in different settings (e.g. home, school) by different sources (e.g. parent, teacher, professional)

Parents must be very skeptical about the focus on daily living skills and purely self-help adaptive skills, because these assessments provide no relevance to education or curriculum. The use of tools such as the Vineland Adaptive Behaviour Scales for the above reasons makes it an unacceptable assessment tool.

The Canadian Psychological Association states, "In elementary or secondary education, a decision or characterization that will have a major impact on a test taker should not automatically be made on the basis of a single test score. Other relevant information for the decision should also be taken into account by the professionals making the decision. (Primary)


A student should not be placed in special classes or schools, for example, solely on the basis of ability test score. Other information about the student's ability to to learn, such as observations by teachers or parents, should also play a part in such decisions." (Guidelines for Educational and Psychological Testing, First edition 1987 © CPA 1996)

As a parent you have the right to refuse psychological testing. The Coalition has sample letters to support this decision and you can have this letter placed in your child's OSR (Ontario Student Record). You may also ask to have information removed from your child's OSR as stated in the Ministry of Education policy governing the OSR. "If the parent(s) or adult student is (are) of the opinion that the information contained in the student's OSR is inaccurately recorded or that it is not conducive to the improvement of the instruction of the student, the parent(s) or adult student may request in writing that the principal correct the alleged inaccuracy or remove the information from the record." (Ontario Student Record (OSR) Guidelines, 2000, Ministry of Education)

When we know how a child learns we will know how to teach that child.

This should be the focus of any assessment or testing done in the name of education in Ontario.


Ontario Student Record (OSR) Guidelines, 2000, Ministry of Education; www.educ.gov.on.ca

Guidelines for Educational and Psychological Testing; Web site: www.cpa.ca/guide9.html

The National Council on Measurement in Education, Standards for Educational and Psychological Education, 1997

Linking Developmental Assessment and Early Intervention: Curriculum Based Prescriptions, 2nd Ed, Bagnato, Neisworth and Munson Zero to Three The National Centre for Clinical Infant Programs, A New Vision for Assessment

Information compiled for the Coalition for Inclusive Education by Sheryl Ragobar & Susan Howson,

June 2001


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