How College Students Can Be Educated Consumers When They Look For Private Testing for Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
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When students are applying for accommodations on graduate admissions exams (e.g. the GMAT or LSAT) or at their college, they may find that the documentation (i.e. proof of disability) that got them approved for accommodations at college is considered insufficient for various reasons, such as the age of the testing or the absence of certain testing measures. This is especially true for students with ADD, who may find that the testing agencies require them to have testing that they have never had to have before. For information on how to find out what testing students need, see Elizabeth’s advice on how to research documentation guidelines.
As in any business, the quality of reports from private evaluators will vary in their quality. 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.
Here are some “shopping” steps and tips to help make sure that students get what they need and that the report they receive is worth the money they have paid.
Students Should Check the Qualifications of Evaluators They Want to Hire to do Learning Disabilities or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
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 students 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 ADD is the only supporting documentation a student provides). If the school or agency to which students are applying for accommodations requires such training, students should ask the school or agency what they require as proof of this kind of training (e.g. a special letter or certificate).
Students should 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. Students should not trust that anyone who offers testing is qualified to do it. Instead, they need to make sure for themselves that the person they 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, students should ask serious questions about what kind of training s/he received and where. They should be wary of anyone who says s/he received private training outside of the auspices of a university- or hospital-affiliated program. If students do not see any degree related to special education or school psychology and no additional formal training in someone’s résumé, that person is likely not qualified to do testing. Students should not take a potential evaluator’s word for it that s/he is qualified to do testing; they should 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 ADD?
When it comes to who can (or cannot) diagnose ADD, there is no consensus in the field about this. Pediatricians and medical doctors are considered qualified, but the kind of information they typically provide 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 may have the necessary training, too.
Students should note that, 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). Students should ask questions and check with their 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.
Students should keep in mind that, even if someone’s training meets their state’s requirements, it may not meet the requirements of the entity from whom students plan to request accommodations (like a college or ETS). It is crucial that they check the evaluator qualification requirements for these reviewing bodies before they undergo testing (students should see this page for how to find this information).
Students Should Be Careful About Testing Offered By Centers That Specialize in Treatments
If students decide to seek a report from a private school or specialty center that specializes in providing certain kinds of treatments for different disabilities, they should be cautious. The testing that some of these places 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, and the Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing). Also, some of these schools and testing centers may employ people that do not have the necessary credentials to do testing; they may tell students that someone in the center provides the others with their training. Such training will be unacceptable to testing agencies and colleges.
Students should be sure that they know whether their testing agency or college requires their evaluator to have a certain kind of training or certification. To learn how to look for such requirements, students should see Elizabeth’s advice.
Steps Students Should Take Before They Make An Appointment:
- The first step students should take is to print up the documentation requirements for whichever testing agency or college to which students are applying. Students need to know what tests or other elements are required in order for their report be accepted, and they should not expect an evaluator to know this, as the requirements vary from agency-to-agency and from college-to-college.
- Students should check with their insurance company to see if it will cover any part of an evaluation. If their insurance does cover evaluation, their company may also have a list of providers from which students can choose. Students should make sure that they don’t need pre-approval in order to get coverage, and that they understand what the company requires them to submit in order to get reimbursed.
- Students should get the names of several evaluators. If their friends have used someone for a private evaluation, they may wish to start by speaking with some of these professionals (though they should keep in mind that their friends may not be good judges of a report’s quality). If students and their parents don’t know of anyone in their area, they 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 near them. Students 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 students that they don’t endorse anyone in particular, but they may at least be able to provide some names students can use to start their search.
- Students should ask questions before they book an appointment with anyone. They should keep in mind that many professionals don’t answer their own phone, so if they get the receptionist or office manager, this person may not have the answers they 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 students’ questions in a few days with the answers they seek. If this doesn’t happen, students should move on to the next person on their list, as they will want to work with someone who has the time to explain things to them, especially once they complete their testing.
Here’s What Students Should Ask About When They Call To Ask About Testing For Learning Disabilities Or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- What are the professional’s credentials? Students should 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 they call to inquire about making a testing appointment, students should have next to them the printed list of tests their testing agency or college requires. Students should see this page to learn how to find out what testing they will need. If not, students should move to the next evaluator on their list.
- Does the testing fee include a post-testing session with the evaluator, where s/he will go over the testing and explain the 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? Students should not 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 their insurance covers testing, they will have to pay the testing professional themselves and submit their claim to their 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, students should know that it is worth waiting a few weeks to receive one, as this will give them 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 students decide who will do the testing, they should again have the testing requirements for the testing agency or college handy when they call for an appointment. They should tell whoever makes the appointments at the office what testing is necessary, and s/he will tell them how many appointments will be needed, and how long each appointment is likely to last.
Students should 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 to students discusses the tasks or tests itself than the individual who took it, it is not a good report. See Elizabeth’s advice on what a good report should contain.
- The presence of a DSM-IV diagnosis does not necessarily mean that students have received a good report. The DSM-IV 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 ADD has either condition.
- Colleges and testing agencies are not required to provide any of the accommodations recommended in a private report. 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.
For a discussion of what should be included in a good report, see Elizabeth’s advice.