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Formal & Informal Assessments for Learning Disabilities

Instructor: Sharon Linde
Teachers should use both formal and informal assessments to determine interventions for learning disabilities. This lesson will discuss both informal and formal methods of determining academic skill development and identifying students with special needs.

A Closer Look at Learning Disabilities

Jodie has a student, Matt, in her first grade classroom who struggles with skills and concepts. Matt is a hard worker and is eager to please, but he isn't making progress like the rest of the students. This is Jodie's first year as a teacher, and she isn't sure what's going on with Matt. It's only three months into the school year, but she feels she should do something now before he gets too far behind. How does she know if Matt's struggles are related to maturity, need simple interventions, or are a learning disability?

Learning disabilities are defined as student's inability to make progress on level with peers, which is not the fault of a physical handicap. Students diagnosed with learning disabilities struggle to understand concepts in a typical classroom and through standard instruction. To be diagnosed with a learning disability, the student undergoes a multi-step process that begins with a series of assessments, information gathered through multiple sources such as tests and observations. Let's take a closer look at some of these assessments.

Assessments for Learning Disabilities

The fact that Jodie caught Matt's struggles early is important. Interventions, or establishing systems to help a student in need, should happen as early as possible in the learning process. In order to gather more information about Matt, Jodie will use assessments. Jodie will begin by using informal assessments, a method of collecting information she can use to monitor progress and make decisions about Matt's learning struggles. These include observations, tests, classwork, or projects. More on that in a bit.

Jodie will also make modifications for Matt, small changes in the content, process, or testing methods she uses, to determine if he can find success. By providing these modifications and informally assessing him, Jodie will be able to determine if Matt is able to make progress or if he will need more formal screenings. Let's zoom in on these modifications and assessments.

Making Modifications

Jodie should begin making modifications to see if these changes help Matt. She can use this data when determining academic skill development and identifying if Matt is a student with special needs. Modifications should be made to the content she teaches, the process she uses, and the ways she measures success. She should also consider adaptations to learning activities.

When we talk about making modifications to the content, we mean the material being taught. For example, if the class is learning about counting dimes, nickels, and pennies, Matt may focus on just counting nickels and pennies before adding in dimes. He may have different homework or less work to complete in class.

Jodie can modify the process of teaching for Matt. She may write vocabulary words on the board for him, or accompany instruction with manipulatives. She can work with him one-on-one, and check in with him frequently during instruction.

Finally, Jodie should modify assessment methods, or how she determines whether or not Matt understands. She may require him to answer half the questions on a test or give him the test orally. This way, she can see if he understands the material.

Informal Assessments

Like we said above, Jodie is collecting data about Matt. She will use this to help determine whether or not Matt needs more formal testing for a possible learning disability. It's important that she gather data from multiple sources of differing styles so the data is comprehensive. She will rely on progress monitoring data, information she gathers while keeping an eye on Matt's progress. Jodie will measure how much he improves in response to her modifications so she knows what types of interventions work and which don't. This data will help her find ways for Matt to succeed. Other informal measures she can use are:

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