Learning disability assessments

Learning Disabilities letter to parents and guardians

I have a learning disability. What sort of assessment should I provide?

Your assessment must be done by a registered psychologist, registered psychological associate or a BC certified school psychologist (if you had it done when you were in the K-12 system). 

A good assessment includes interviews about your developmental and educational history, and the nature of your current learning difficulties.

Your assessment will show the results of testing of your overall cognitive skills, such as verbal and nonverbal reasoning, memory, attention, language, and assessments to examine your current academic skills in reading, writing and math.

The psychologist will write and sign a report that summarizes the results of your assessment, communicates the presence or absence of a DSM-IV or-DSM V diagnosis (e.g., reading disorder, disorder of written expression, etc.) and identifies the academic accommodations that may help you access information.  

What should my learning disability assessment include?

Using results from standardized, norm-referenced tests with appropriate age norms, the psycho-educational assessment report will normally describe your performance in the following areas:

  1. Developmental, educational, and family history (including medical history).
  2. Intellectual functioning, as measured by a comprehensive assessment of intelligence or cognition (such as the WAIS-III or IV; WJ-III Cognitive; SB-IV).
  3. Academic achievement as measured by a comprehensive achievement test (such as the WIAT-II or the WJ-III- Test of Achievement). The following areas will normally be assessed:
    • Word recognition
    • Decoding
    • Reading fluency/reading comprehension
    • Spelling
    • Writing fluency
    • Written expression (direct writing assessment preferred, such as an essay writing task)
    • Math computation/math fluency
    • Problem solving
    • Oral language processing (receptive and expressive)
    • Phonological processing and/ or rapid automatized naming (RAN)
    • Memory processing (short term, long term, working memory) and attention
    • Executive functions
    • Visual-motor skills
    • Processing speed
    • Personality, behavioral, and emotional functioning

A formal statement of a diagnosis is essential. The assessed processing deficits will logically connect to the learning disorder and to the recommendations for accommodations at the post-secondary level.

The criteria for a formal diagnosis of a learning disability will use the DSM-IV-TR, DSM-V or ICD-10 or ICD-11 classification systems. In addition, the type of learning disorder (e.g. reading, math, written expression) will be explicitly stated in the psycho educational report.

If another diagnosis is applicable, it will be explicitly stated in the psycho educational report.

Tests of cognitive functioning

One of the following comprehensive (i.e., no abbreviated or brief measures) tests of cognitive functioning is preferred:

  • Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale: 3rd or 4th edition
  • Stanford Binet-5
  • Woodcock-Johnson-III Tests of Cognitive Abilities
  • Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Intelligence Test (KAIT)
  • Differential Ability Scales: 2nd edition (DAS-II)

Preferred achievement measures

One of the following comprehensive (i.e., no abbreviated or brief measures) achievement measures is preferred to assess academic functioning across reading (word identification, decoding, fluency, comprehension), math (computation, fluency, and problem solving) and written expression (spelling, fluency, and composition):

  • Wechsler Individual Achievement Test: 2nd Edition (WIAT-II)
  • Woodcock-Johnson-III Tests of Achievement (standard battery and extended battery depending on clinical judgment)
  • Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement: 2nd Edition (comprehensive form)

Academic performance as assessed by one of the comprehensive norm-referenced achievement measures will normally fall below the average range for the student's chronological age (i.e., below the 25th percentile or a standard score of 90).

The psycho educational report will normally list the tests administered and report subtest and composite scores (scaled scores, standard scores, and/or percentiles).

The report will explicitly state the score achieved for overall intellectual functioning and the procedures applied to calculate a discrepancy (e.g., standard score difference, predicted difference, based on formal diagnostic criteria (e.g., DSM-IV-TR or DSM-V).

Social-emotional status will be assessed and discussed. Formal assessment instruments and/or clinical interviews are appropriate.

I already have an assessment. Do I need another assessment or update?

If you had an assessment when you were 17 or younger, and it is older than three years, you will need a new assessment.

If your assessment was done at 18 or older, your CAL adviser will let you know if you need a new assessment, or just an update. This is because developmental changes affect individual cognitive and academic abilities throughout your life. The particular demands of post-secondary education are reflected in certain testing.

If the results are still considered a valid indication of current cognitive and academic functioning, you may not need a new assessment.