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Assessing Learners With Exceptionalities

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Discovering every child’s specific learning strengths and needs is important, but it can be tricky. When determining whether or not a child is eligible to receive special education services, collecting information about a child’s specific needs, and selecting appropriate interventions, it is critical that the assessments are reliable and valid and that they are administered with fidelity.

Assessments in special education programs are an ongoing process. Some are formal, normed and standardized. Others, known as formative assessments, are less formal, primarily used for evaluating a student’s progress in meeting their Individualized Education Program (IEP) goals.

Teams that administer and evaluate assessments need the skills to offer accurate, practical, and individualized assessments to students. To assess learners with exceptionalities and determine their educational needs and strengths, special education teachers and administrators must have a thorough understanding of test construction, instrument selection, ethical considerations, interpretation techniques and measurement theories. According to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), assessments must also be aligned with the academic content standards for the state in which assessed children are enrolled. This means that those who administer and interpret assessments should be intimately familiar with their state’s academic content standards.

In order to effectively administer and evaluate formative assessments, the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) suggests that IEP and special education teams understand the need for universal formative assessment design, as well as practices and procedures designed to allow students with a wide range of characteristics to participate. In addition, assessments must be valid, measuring what is intended, to provide useful information regardless of the students’ abilities and strengths.

According to Thompson et al., assessments designed to include all students must fit these specific parameters:

  • They have precisely designed constructs and accessible, nonbiased items.
  • They are amenable to accommodations.
  • They include simple and intuitive instructions and procedures.
  • They employ maximum readability, comprehensibility, and legibility.

The University of Wisconsin-Superior’s Master of Science in Education – Special Education online program provides the necessary qualifications required to administer and evaluate both formal and formative assessments. It offers a specialized certification that includes Assessment of Learners with Exceptionalities to equip special educators with theories, practices and procedures to better understand assessment. During the certification process, K-12 educators explore measurement theory, statistical analysis, test construction, assessment interpretations and IEP preparation.

Not only does this certification program offer generalized knowledge of assessment theory and practice, but it also offers experience in assessment administration, interpretation and reporting. With this certification graduates are thoroughly grounded in their knowledge of assessment, and have authentic examples that they can use when applying for positions in the special education field as intervention specialists, special education program administrators, or IEP teammates.

For those interested in assessing and addressing the needs of learners with exceptionalities, certification programs in special education like that offered by UW-Superior offer the groundwork and hands-on experience they need to confidently enter the field of special education. They will be prepared to administer inclusive assessments to identify student needs and provide appropriate interventions and individually tailored educational programs.

Learn more about the University of Wisconsin-Superior’s MSE – Special Education online program.


Council of Chief State School Officers: Formative Assessment for Students With Disabilities

Special Education Guide: What Early Intervention Specialists Do

ThoughtCo: IEP – Individual Education Program

U.S. Department of Education: Individuals With Disabilities Education Act

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