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Testing to Fail: Exacerbating disability through inappropriate assessment

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Short abstract

Many school-age children with little or no speech are assessed, or labelled, as having IQs less than 50 or as being untestable. Typically in such assessments a test (such as the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children) requiring both fluent reliable speech and normal fine motor skills is administered to a child who has neither. Typically the child without speech provides few if any answers and the assessing psychologist thus estimates their cognitive function as moderately or severely impaired. This guess is then used to determine the appropriate educational placement for that child.

Such assessments commonly affect the provision of both academic and communication programs, not to mention parental expectations. Children placed in programs for students with IQ scores less than 50 are usually restricted to AAC strategies that could never allow them to challenge the psychologist’s estimate.

We have re-assessed some of these children using standardised tests such as the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test (targeting receptive vocabulary and general knowledge) or Raven’s Progressive Matrices (targeting problem-solving skills). Both can be administered to anyone with functional sight and hearing who can point accurately.

Most of those re-assessed scored in the average range for their age on a Peabody or Raven’s test and all scored significantly above the previous assessments based on tests requiring speech.

This presentation will provide more information about the tests we used and include video of students undertaking these tests, together with data from researchers trialling other cognitive assessments with children with minimal speech.


Rosemary Crossley    
Anne McDonald Centre

Leslie Zimmerman    
Anne McDonald Centre


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