Tests, Protocols and Related Issues FAQ

Question: Should adult students be assessed even when they decline the service. These are non-conservator kids, but their parents want testing anyway. How do we resolve this?

Answer: Starting in 1997, the parental rights transfer to the student at age 18. The non-conserved student should be treated as though he or she is the parent for purposes of permission for testing and placement. The parents of a 17 year old should be informed of this provision which will take place at age 18.


Question: What is CASP’s policy on parent access to test protocols? And is it appropriate to release test protocols to the family’s psychiatrist?

Answer: Let the parent know the dilemma of releasing the protocol (i.e, that the test becomes invalid for future use with their student). Ask if the psycho-educational report would suffice. However, if the parent insists that the protocol be sent to someone, a release of information must be signed by the parent if the child is under age 18 before releasing it. After 18 the student must sign the release unless there is a conservatory order giving the parents rights after majority.


Question: Does a school psychologist need a parent’s permission to observe a student?

Answer: It depends on the purpose of the observation. If the observation is a part of the process of assessment for special education or determining eligibility in any way, parent permission is required. If the observation is for the purpose of assessing or consulting with staff regarding academic issues, it is generally agreed that a specialist can observe. If you can think of any reasons a parent might object, attempt to secure permission first.


Question: Can parents tape record an assessment and keep a copy?

Although both federal and state laws support giving protocols to parents, tape recording should not be allowed. Protocols do not include the test questions. Having parents tape the assessment not only invalidates the test for future use with the student but for all other students. It would be a violation of copyright laws.


Question: Can a school psychologist refuse to test a child if the parent insists on being in the room while the child is being tested?

Answer: The goal of standardized testing is to see how well a person can respond when given instructions identical to those presented to the individuals in the norming group. Not maintaining a standard administration can impact the validity of the test results. Some of the most common assessments including the WISC-V state that no one other than the child should be in the room during administration of the assessment. The Woodcock Johnson IV Cognitive Assessment also recommends that the only two people in the room should be the examiner and the examinee.
A two-way mirror is the most helpful way to have the parents observe.


Question: When completing a Behavior Intervention Plan should an Assessment Plan be completed?

Answer: The Behavior Intervention Plan should be based on an assessment. An assessment plan should be signed at the time of that assessment. However, if the behavior plan is being updated it may be recorded in the IEP and then no assessment plan would be needed.


Question: Does a Behavior Support Plan need to be implemented if a student has been suspended for a total of 10 days?

Answer: The California Special Education Code does not state that a Behavior Support Plan needs to be implemented if a student has been suspended for a total of 10 days. However, it makes common sense and is good practice. There are parts of the law that strongly imply that it should be done. For example, Section 48900.5 (C-32) states, “suspension shall be imposed only when other means of correction fail to bring about proper conduct.” Section 3052 (A-410) (7) reads, “anytime a ‘behavioral emergency report’ is written regarding an individual who does not have a behavioral intervention plan, the designated responsible administrator shall, within two days, schedule an IEP team meeting to review the emergency report, to determine the necessity for a functional analysis assessment, and to determine the necessity for an interim behavioral intervention plan. The IEP team shall document the reasons for not conducting the assessment and/or not developing an interim plan.” In 1999, a proposed draft was written (Section 56522) that specified that a functional behavior assessment must be conducted if a student has been suspended for more than 10 days and a change of placement is being considered.


Question: Can a school district hire a behavior specialist (who is not a school psychologist) to write behavior plans?

Answer: Title 5 Administrative Regulations approved in 1999 allows the contract of behavior specialists. CASP fought hard against this but was unsuccessful. Qualifications for such as position are in the Composite of Laws.


Question: Should a regression model be used to determine eligibility as LD when employing the severe discrepancy model?

Answer: The state intended 3030 (j) in the Title 5 Regulations to correct for regression. Some districts use the formula found there. The CDE originally developed charts with tests being used at that time to give a numerical discrepancy. Following a lawsuit by the Learning Disabilities Association because of the outdated data provided by CDE, a “simple” discrepancy became an accepted replacement for the charts.

Nowhere in education code is it specified that the discrepancy has to be 23 points. What is required is a difference of 1.5 standard deviations from the mean of the given ability/ achievement tests’ discrepancy scores and the size of the discrepancy required will vary from one ability/achievement test pairing to another. In addition, if the given measures are judged to not be valid estimates of the child’s skills (e.g., the culturally different child whose characteristics are not represented in the standardization sample of the tests available), then the team is directed by education code to use alternative methods to document the ability/ achievement discrepancy.

A regression model based on a publisher’s interpretation is more controversial. Since the publisher’s regression may not be based on a 1.5 standard deviation, its use would best be identified as an alternative means of determining a discrepancy.


Question: What is CASP’s stance regarding unlicensed practitioners (non-psychologists) giving the WISC-III and the WJ-III Cognitive? Has CASP ever supported an organized effort to object to such practice either legally or ethically or both?

Answer: When laws and regulations were written to implement the California Master Plan for Special Education, CASP was instrumental in insuring that school psychologists would be the only professional who could legally administer cognitive (intelligence) tests. The Educational Code contains explicit wording about “school psychologists” administering “tests of intellectual… functioning” [sec. 3029.(a)]. Consequently, when intelligence is part of a decision about special education eligibility, the intelligence evaluator is a school psychologist.

CASP has no direct control over unlicensed practitioners who give cognitive tests. However, when CASP is informed about a person who is illegally administering these tests, a letter is written to the person, and if the person is a public employee, CASP will also inform the employer that the person is violating California law.


Question: When a student is being assessed for their first triennial, does it need to 
be a complete assessment or can it be a file review?

Answer: It can be a file review. Best practice is to consider the age of the child when the initial was conducted and consider whether the student should have a complete assessment.


Question: If it can be a file review, does the family need to give their consent prior 
to conducting the file review?

Answer: The LEA may review the file to determine if a reassessment is necessary. The LEA and the parent must agree in writing that the reassessment is unnecessary if the file review replaces a complete assessment. The SELPA Local Plan would have forms and information re: file review procedures.


Question: As a county office school psychologist, when completing a Triennial Evaluation can the child’s home school district and/or the director of the program dictate what assessment tools will be used and only allow for standardized tools? Can they prevent the psych from using Alternative Assessments if the child is five years old and non-verbal?

Answer: Generally, a county office and a district will have a documented description regarding how the district will interact with county staff. The information would be found in the SELPA Local Plan.

There is a whole process for triennials which may be somewhat different from one SELPA to another. Beyond that, the school psychologist should develop the assessment plan based on the perceived needs of the student. If there is a standardized test available which meets the student’s needs, use that with other tests based on your training,


Question: If gathering data on a child’s need for one-on-one support, should an Assessment Plan be signed?

Answer: It is good practice to have an Assessment Plan to gather base-line data to justify the use of one-on-one support. The data gathered is also helpful when it is time to phase out the one-on-one.


Question: In reviewing a psychoeducational report written by another school psychologist in another district, the report states the student qualifies due to a discrepancy between his abilities and achievement. His cognitive ability is scored at an SS of 94 with a range of (86 to 103). His discrepancies are from Basic Reading SS 85; Written Expression SS 82; and Mathematics (Calculation) SS 78. The report does not reveal a discrepancy for an achievement score of SS 86. Would best practice be to say the student does not qualify on the discrepancy model, but could qualify for SPED due to strengths and weaknesses, etc?
Even with a + 4, the discrepancy model would be for achievement scores of 76 (94-18 = 76) or lower. If you take the 94 cognitive ability score with a qualifying achievement score of 85, they must at least be looking at a cognitive functioning SS of 103. (Again, there are achievement scores of 86 and these areas are not included in the discrepancy model for qualification.) The outside range on the reported Cognitive Ability SS of 94 is 103.

Any such manipulation of the data should be labeled alternative means which is a legal way to identify a student as Learning Disabled. The IEP team ultimately makes the decision regarding qualification.


Question: The WJ-III is the usual testing instrument administered by instructional specialists for a large high school. This provides composite Broad Reading and Broad Math scores, (not Broad Written Language) but not all subtests needed for academic intervention. What is regarded as sufficient/appropriate academic achievement testing for students with suspected learning disabilities for either initial or triennial evaluation purposes?

Answer: The broad scores on the WJ-III do not provide sufficient academic diagnostic information to address all academic areas listed under SLD, but the broad scores are the most stable scores psychometrically compared to individual subtest scores and item analysis. Some of this information can be gathered from materials outside of the WJ-III as part of the comprehensive assessment. Also, the referral concern should dictate the assessment and if some of the academic areas are not listed as a referral concern then it is not necessary to have scores in those areas. If information is needed such as oral comprehension, then a referral to a speech and language specialist would be in order.

The WJ-III is outdated. The district should be using the most recently normed and standardized version of the test, which would be the WJ-4 ACH. It is significantly improved from the WJ-3. It provides much more diagnostic information that can be used for educational programming.


Question: Is there a 5-day prior to IEP legal requirement to get assessment reports to parents?

Answer: The “5-day rule” applies to student records. The district must provide the parents with the records (not new documents) upon request. The psych report must be available at the IEP meeting.


Question: Where is the Education Code reference that supports a district’s right to deny a parent request for special education assessment (when legitimate)? For example, a parent requests a 10th grade student with no prior referral or interventions, and average grades, be assessed. The principal tells the parent to put the request in writing, then does the team has 15 days to develop the assessment plan?

Answer: Ed. Code Section 56303: A pupil shall be referred for special educational instruction and services only after the resources of the regular education program have been considered and, where appropriate, utilized. Code of Federal Regulations 300.503 states that a written notice must be given to the parent before the public agency refuses to initiate or change the identification, evaluation, or educational placement of the child…

It should be noted that a parental request is a higher priority than Section 56303. It is also in conflict with another education code section that states the district is to provide an assessment plan within 15 days of request.

If there is more that can be done in the general education setting and the district choses to not assess, and the parent has not withdrawn the request, the district would need to send a prior written notice letter indicating why they are denying the assessment and what will be happening for the student in-lieu of the assessment.


Question: Can a school principal (former RSP teacher) present a psycho-educational evaluation at a triennial IEP?

Answer: Both Ed. Code and IDEA use the same wording which is as follows: ”The meeting (IEP) …shall be conducted by…(5) An individual  who can interpret the instructional implications of the assessment results”… (California Education Code 56341 (b). Prior to the 2004 reauthorization of IDEA, it stated “interpret the test results.”  When the emphasis shifted to ”instructional implications” it became less clear that a psychologist is mandated to interpret the results. However, it is implied. Most SELPA local plans delineate who should be at the meeting, and perhaps the local plan may be more specific with regards to this issue. Good practice would require that the person who conducted the assessment should make the interpretation of the results.


Question: Does CASP have a position on whether to use age-based or grade-based norms when assessing a student for academic achievement and when the student has been retained?


Here is Pearson’s answer and their link that follows…

“The examiner must decide which score is appropriate for his/her purposes. If the purpose is to determine Ability-Achievement Discrepancy, age-based scores are recommended as “best practice.” If the purpose is to compare the student’s scores with those of peers in the same grade, grade-based scores should be used. We do not recommend one score over another. We provide both sets of scores because some school districts prefer one over the other. It is best practice to discuss decision-making with the examiner’s supervisor or school district diagnostic personnel, as districts have their own criteria for what types of scores are appropriate to report.


This is a common occurrence, as a single age spans 2 grade levels. For example the 8-year-old sample includes children from both 2nd and 3rd grades. In addition, grade norms include children of the same instruction level, but of differing ages. This discrepancy is present in the original WIAT partly because of increased variance in performance that can allow the discrepancy to be larger (particularly with younger children/earlier grades).” http://pearsonassessmentsupport.com/support/index.php?View=entry&EntryID=1440


Therefore, generally speaking we use age based norms as “best practices”. The only time to make the exception would be for those students who have been retained. That is the meaning of, “If the purpose is to compare the student’s scores with those of peers in the same grade, grade-based scores should be used.” How can we be sure? Pearson Assessment Canada is more explicit in its FAQ on the WIAT III


” 15. Should I use age-based or grade-based scoring? The examiner must decide which score is appropriate for his/her purposes. If the purpose is to determine ability-achievement discrepancy, age-based scores are recommended as “best practice.” If the purpose is to compare the student’s scores with those of peers in the same grade, grade-based scores should be used. We do not recommend one score over another. We provide both sets of scores because some school boards prefer one over the other. It is best practice to discuss decision-making with the examiner’s supervisor or your school board’s chief psychologist, as boards have their own criteria for what types of scores are appropriate to report for various purposes. Keep in mind that when a student has been retained in a grade, comparing him or her to same aged peers assumes that the equivalent instructional opportunity has been provided. For this reason, grade-based scores are typically preferred for students with a history of grade retention.” https://www.pearsonclinical.ca/content/dam/school/global/clinical/canada/programs/wiat/wiat-iii-cdn-frequently-asked-questions.pdf


Remember, retention is a horrible general education accommodation as research has proven, but it is used nonetheless. Given that retention is a general education accommodation and that a student retained should no longer be responsible for age level material (as they are no longer exposed academically to what their age mate peers are) grade level norms are more appropriate for that student than age based norms. To use age based norms is penalizing them for information not received and that is an exclusionary factory when considering SLD CCR 3030(b)(10)(B)(4) “4. A severe discrepancy shall not be primarily the result of limited school experience or poor school attendance.” Being held back is limited school experience by a full grade.


Further, Dr. Dawn Flanagan of the XBASS wrote the following “Type of norms used. It is important to take note of the types of norms used when reading test results in a psychological or school assessment report. A student’s performance on a standardized test can be compared to other students of the same age (age norms) or of the same grade (grade norms). Age norms are always used for tests of intellectual ability so that comparisons can be made to same-age peers. The use of grade norms is related to the type of test being utilized or may be dictated by certain situations. For example, grade norms may be most appropriate for achievement tests when a student has repeated a grade and to see how the students’ performance compares to grade-level peers.” https://www.newhtfd.org/cms/lib/CT01000055/Centricity/Domain/181/testscore_rk.html


These “best practices” for when to use age level and grade level norms are not only for use with the discrepancy model. As federal law has eliminated the discrepancy model from IDEA (with the exception that states independently can allow its use, but not require an LEA to use it) these “best practices” for when to use age and grade based norms apply to the PSW model as well.

This is a good reminder in general to be careful in our review of any data we use, because we are often relying on another specialist (education specialist) for standardized academic results for comparison purposes. School psychologists should take care to look at not only the norms that they are using but make sure that the appropriate one is being used. Also, make sure that the dates entered for the child’s date of birth and time of testing are correct or the outcomes can be inflated or deflated respectively.


Question: Who is qualified to determine if a student is ED? The district has a behavior specialist, a school social worker and a principal who contribute to the conversation. What is in Special Education law regarding the school psychologist role in making this decision?

Answer: The Education Code is clear that only a school psychologist can assess in the area of emotional functioning. However, as with all areas of eligibility, it is the IEP team who makes the determination as to whether a student meets an eligibility classification.

It is common practice for the school psychologist to write up the eligibility part of the report and, in this case, indicate whether the student shows characteristics across the 5 sub-areas for ED and whether the behaviors have been noted for a long period of time, to a substantial degree, and impacts education. The school psychologist gathers evidence from a variety of sources, including other professionals who have assessed the student.


Question: Would a school psychologist be required to sign an IEP with which he or she disagrees?

Answer: Signing an IEP by staff does not signify agreement with the outcome of the IEP decisions. It represents that the signatory was at the meeting.


Question: A student is not doing well in his inclusion and is moving to a new placement. He is getting services outside the school but the mother does not want the outside services to be listed in the IEP. Where in Ed Code does it state that all services should be listed?

Answer: No place in the Ed Code requires that all services should be listed. In fact, it implies that if it is listed the LEA is responsible to pay for it. Ed Code 56345(c) states that “it is the intent of the legislature in requiring IEPs, that the LEA is responsible for providing the services delineated in the IEP.”

Question: We recently assessed a student using the WISC and the WIATT.  The student did not qualify for services based on the assessment results and the body of evidence.  Parents are requesting an IEE on the premise that the assessments were done over a period of a few sessions and not done all in one sitting. Both assessments were completed within a two week time frame.
Answer: Pearson, publisher of the WISC and WIAT, or any other major test publisher for that matter, does not require that a test battery be completed in one session.  In addition, it is best practice to ensure an examinee’s most accurate performance (validity) by providing breaks as needed, even over multiple sessions if needed, rather than completing it all in one sitting, subjecting the examinee to fatigue, low motivation, and/or other extrinsic factors that actually could call into question the validity of the results.
Question: Do SLD in oral language and S/LI represent the same underlying disorder? The only difference I can see is in the eligibility criteria. Obviously there will be overlap, but it seems to me that we’re looking at the same disorder through different lenses. Is that correct? If not, how do they differ, clinically speaking?
Answer: Yes, virtually no difference other than a different label for the same thing.
Question: Is it appropriate to use comprehensive language tests like the CELF and the CASL for the language areas of SLD? Achievement tests like the WIAT are more typically used, but if the CELF is used anyway as part of the SLP’s assessment, Flanagan indicates that use of the WIAT is redundant, and I agree. The CELF provides a more complete picture of these areas of learning, so given the choice, I would actually prefer the CELF over the WIAT. Is there any reason why this would be inappropriate?
Answer: It would not be inappropriate if you used one over the other.  Oral language is in language tests like the CELF of course, but oral language is also part of academics, as well as cognitive development and functioning.  In our test instruments there are different ways in which we assess language whether you are a psych or SLP, which may provide different student profiles but will still relate to the language abilities of the student.  Some overlap between language and cognitive tests would be vocabulary, verbal comprehension, short-term memory, long-term memory, verbal fluency, etc.
Question: If both the CELF and WIAT are administered by different disciplines, do both sets of results need to be considered when determining SLD? My understanding is that we need to consider all the information we have about the child, so if we have results from both tests, we must consider both.
Answer: Yes, completely correct.  If as psychologists we are in the search of information, we should never turn down or be scared of receiving more information.  Dawn Flanagan and her colleagues also make a distinction between two separate test batteries that attempt to measure the same construct, but the way they do so is different and thus have the potential of arriving at two very different results.  This is explained in their 3rd edition of their Cross-Battery book.  One brief example is the Visual-Auditory Learning from the WJ and the Rebus from the KABC.  Both assess Associative Memory within Glr, however, the first has ongoing feedback built into the task, the latter does not.  For a child who for whatever reason needs ongoing feedback (such as in ADHD) this will likely make a difference in the results.  Likewise, two oral language tests attempting to measure the same thing may give you two distinct results due to variations in test construction or test purpose.  One example may be an oral comprehension task from a language test versus one from an academic or cognitive test which typically have a higher load of “academic language,” so you are bound to get different results if assessing a student who is lacking academic language due to lack of instruction, lack of a rich vocabulary exposure, English being a second language, etc.  Thus, it is also extremely important to be well versed in whatever assessment tools are being used in order to appropriately interpret and consolidate the results.  One valid difference between the way results may be interpreted may be in whether the student meets educational criteria for Speech/Language Therapy intervention, based on the SLP guidelines they use, and meeting criteria for Specialized Academic Instruction (SAI).  So language limitation may result in different intervention programming depending on the student’s profile.