How to Choose a Qualified Evaluator to Test Your Student for Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
Also available as a PDF download.
When students are applying for accommodations on high stakes tests such as the ACT or at college, the testing from their school will typically be acceptable. Families should not pay for private testing on the assumption that the testing from the school district will be somehow deficient, or that getting students tested privately will put them at a greater advantage when they request accommodations.
However, students with ADHD might find that their situation is different, as some colleges require them to provide proof and testing that they probably did not have to provide to their high school in order to receive accommodations. For an example of what kinds of ADHD documentation is required at some colleges, see Penn State’s guidelines, and for more on this topic, see Step 6 in Elizabeth’s book. Families should know that high schools don’t own some of the tests that guidelines like Penn State’s require, and schools are not obligated to purchase them in order to provide students with the documentation they will need when they get to college.
For information on how to find out what testing students need, see Elizabeth’s advice on how to research documentation guidelines. Also check this page to see what colleges and testing agencies might say about who is qualified to do evaluations.
As in any business, the quality of reports from private evaluators will vary. While most evaluators will utilize the same tests, the amount of useful information they provide in their reports may be very different. For Elizabeth’s thoughts on what makes for a high-quality evaluation, see her advice on what should be included in a good report.
If you find that the testing your student has does not meet the requirements for the agency that administers the college admissions test s/he plans to take (e.g. the College Board) or for the college s/he plans to attend, ask whether your school district will provide the testing your student needs. If the district won’t do it, or if you decide to pursue private testing for other reasons, here are some “shopping” steps and tips to help make sure that your student gets what s/he needs and that the report you receive is worth the money you have paid.
Check the qualifications of evaluators you want to hire to do learning disabilities or ADHD testing
In many states, people with Master’s degrees in School Psychology are considered qualified to conduct psycho-educational testing (which is the name for testing done for learning disabilities). Many of the professionals who conduct testing in schools have this kind of degree, and testing agencies and colleges know this and will likely accept their reports. Any person whom you consider hiring should be licensed by the state to do psycho-educational testing.
Some testing agencies and colleges will also say that the professional has to have training in assessing adults. It is unlikely that a professional’s report would be rejected for this reason (except, perhaps, when a pediatrician’s diagnosis of ADHD is the only supporting documentation a student provides). If the school or agency to which your student is applying for accommodations requires such training, ask the school or agency what it requires as proof of this kind of training (e.g. a special letter or certificate).
Be aware that there are people who offer testing who give themselves a title (like Educational Specialist) that may not correlate with any specific training, graduate degree, or certification. Do not trust that anyone who offers testing is qualified to do it. Make sure for yourself that the person you hire to do the testing is qualified to do it.
Unless they have pursued additional special training, people with Master’s degrees in Social Work or Counseling are not qualified to do any kind of psycho-educational testing. But even if they do have outside training, many testing agencies and colleges will not accept testing from such professionals. Evaluators with Master’s degree or Ph.D.s in Psychology or Psychiatry will not necessarily be qualified – they have to have specialized in a relevant branch of the field (e.g. School Psychology) and have been trained to do this kind of testing.
If someone without the relevant degree in the relevant field says s/he has the proper training to do testing, ask serious questions about what kind of training s/he received and where. Be wary of anyone who says s/he received private training outside of the auspices of a university- or hospital-affiliated program. If you do not see any degree related to special education or school psychology and there is no additional formal training in someone’s résumé, that person is likely not qualified to do testing. Do not take a potential evaluator’s word for it that s/he is qualified to do testing; check her/his credentials with a local college’s disability services office to see if that college would accept them.
Who is qualified to diagnose ADHD
When it comes to who can (or cannot) diagnose ADHD, there is no consensus in the field about this. Pediatricians and medical doctors are qualified to render this diagnosis, but the kind of information they typically provide in a letter or brief report will not meet the documentation requirements of many testing boards or colleges. Neuropsychologists typically have the most relevant training and are trained on some of the tests that more stringent documentation guidelines require, but psychologists who specialize in certain areas (e.g. school psychology) may have the necessary training, too.
Can learning disabilities consultants or specialists do testing?
In most states, learning disabilities specialists or consultants are trained in doing part of the testing students need (called achievement or academic testing), but most are not typically formally trained to do cognitive testing (commonly known as IQ testing). Those who are might have to have a psychologist sign off on their reports. Ask questions and check with your county or state Department of Education to make sure that such people are qualified to do complete testing before they engage them for an evaluation.
Keep in mind that, even if someone’s training meets the state’s requirements, it may not meet the requirements of the entity from which your student plans to request accommodations (like a college or ETS). It is crucial that you check the evaluator qualification requirements for these reviewing bodies before you schedule your student for testing (see this page for how to find this information).
Be Careful About Testing Offered By Centers That Specialize in Treatments
If you decide to seek a report from a private school or center that specializes in providing certain kinds of treatments for different disabilities, be cautious. You can generally trust testing completed at clinics associated with universities or hospitals, but there are also free-standing centers (some are franchise businesses) that do not carry such affiliations. The testing that some of these latter centers administer may use tests of their own design, or tests designed by the creators of the treatment protocol they use (this is common in franchises). These tests have not typically been put through a rigorous scientific process involving norming and standardization, so most testing agencies and colleges will not accept such tests as the sole documentation of a student’s disability. (Widely-accepted tests that many evaluators use are the Stanford-Binet, the Wechsler, the Woodcock-Johnson, the Gray-Oral Reading Test, the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System, and the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing.) Also, some of these schools and testing centers may employ people who do not have the necessary credentials to do psycho-educational testing; these places may have their testers trained by someone who works in the center or school. Testing by individuals who have been trained anywhere but in a university undergraduate or graduate program will be unacceptable to testing agencies and colleges.
Be sure you know whether the testing agency or college requires an evaluator to have a certain kind of training or certification. To learn how to look for such requirements, see Elizabeth’s advice.
Steps to take before you make an appointment:
- Print up the documentation requirements for whichever testing agency or college to which your student is applying. You need to know what tests or other elements are required in order for the report be accepted, and you should not expect an evaluator to know this, as the requirements vary from agency-to-agency and from college-to-college.
- Check with your insurance company to see if it will cover any part of an evaluation. If your insurance does cover evaluation, the company may also have a list of providers from which you must (or can) choose. Make sure that you don’t need pre-approval in order to get coverage, and that you understand what the company requires you to submit in order to get reimbursed.
- Get names of several evaluators. If your friends have used someone for a private evaluation, you may wish to start by speaking with some of these professionals (keep the idea in mind that your friends may not be good judges of a report’s quality). If you don’t know of anyone in your area, you can try contacting the local branch of a group like the Learning Disabilities Association of America, the International Dyslexia Association, or Children and Adults with Attention Deficit Disorder to see whether they keep a list of professionals working in your area. You can also call the disability services office of the local college to see whether they keep a list of such professionals. Most of these groups or schools will tell you that they don’t endorse anyone in particular, but they may at least be able to provide some names you can use to start your search.
- Ask questions before you book an appointment with anyone. Keep in mind that many professionals don’t answer their own phone, so if you get the receptionist or office manager, this person may not have the answers you seek, or at least may not be able to answer them right away. That’s okay. But s/he should be able to respond to your questions in a few days with the answers you seek. If this doesn’t happen, move on to the next person on your list, as you will want to work with someone who has the time to explain things to them, especially after the testing is complete.
What to ask about when you call a potential evaluator
- What are the professional’s credentials? Make sure to ask for a c.v. or résumé.
- Does the evaluating professional have all of the tests required by the testing agency or college? When you call to inquire about making a testing appointment, have handy the printed list of tests your student’s testing agency or college requires. See this page to learn how to find out what testing is needed. If the evaluator does not administer the necessary test, move to the next name on your list.
- Does the testing fee include a post-testing session with the evaluator, where s/he will go over the testing with you and your student to explain your student’s learning profile and review the recommendations? A good evaluator will want to make sure that students understand what the report says about their learning profile.
- Does the office take insurance? Don’t be surprised if many of the offices they call don’t work with insurance companies; many don’t because they don’t have the manpower to do the paperwork. This just means that – if your insurance covers testing – you will have to pay the testing professional yourself and submit the claim to your company afterward.
- Can the office send a redacted report (i.e. a report where any personally identifying information has been deleted or blacked out, to protect the student’s privacy)? Many professionals are unlikely to have such a report readily available, and this does not mean anything except that they might never have been asked for one. However, know that it is worth waiting a few weeks to receive one, as this will give you a good idea of how much information these professionals include in a report aside from the test scores. For more on what a good report should contain, see Elizabeth’s advice.
Once you decide who will do the testing, again have the testing requirements for the testing agency or college handy when you call for an appointment. Tell whoever makes the appointments at the office what testing is necessary, and s/he will tell you how many appointments will be needed, and how long each appointment is likely to last.
Bring a copy of the testing requirements to the first appointment and leave them with the evaluator so that s/he can be sure to administer all of the required tests.
Elizabeth’s additional thoughts about private testing
- A long report does not always equal a good report. Some evaluators use computer programs that simply input an individual’s scores and then generate reports. If most of the redacted report a professional sends you discusses what each subtest asked the student to do and presents the scores in several different ways rather than describing the student’s performance and discussing the student’s strengths and weaknesses, it is not a good report. See Elizabeth’s advice on what a good report should contain.
- The presence of a DSM-V diagnosis does not necessarily mean you have received a good report. The DSM-V codes can be misused by professionals.
- No one should promise that testing will lead to a diagnosis and accommodations that the student can seek. A good evaluator cannot make this promise, as s/he can’t assume anything about what the student’s scores will be or what the testing will indicate. Not everyone who gets tested for a learning disability or ADHD has either condition.
- School systems are required to consider, but not to provide any of the accommodations recommended in a private report, and neither are colleges nor testing boards. The best chance that they will implement the recommendations is if the evaluator has done a good job of supporting the student’s need for them with evidence from the testing.