Assessing students with special needs can be tricky. Students with ADHD or autism can struggle with testing. At the very least, being assessed is less comfortable for students who have academic challenges. However, it is important to assess exceptional learners to monitor progress more closely in order to discover challenges as early as possible and tweak your instruction delivery to help your child succeed.

You also want to be able to document evidence of progress so that you can help your child celebrate success. Luckily, there are ways to design assessment of your child with special needs to not only optimize chances for success, but also preserve and improve his/her self-confidence.

One of the many benefits to homeschooling children with special needs is the ability to customize assessment. As a homeschool parent, you can choose among assessment options, individualize and modify assessments to truly measure your child’s abilities, and incorporate self-assessment to build your child’s skills in checking and evaluating his/her own work.

Here are some common methods used to assess exceptional learners:

Assessment Tools for Students with Learning Differences

Standardized testing is a common form of testing in academic settings. These assessments are norm-referenced, which means that they compare results of individual students to same-aged peers.  As you can imagine, standardized testing may not be the most useful type of assessment for your child with special needs.  If you live in a state that requires standardized testing, the best you can do for your child with learning differences is to examine a test’s validity (whether a test measures what it is supposed to measure).

For example, tests in content areas (i.e., science, social studies) that require extensive reading may not accurately assess the content knowledge of students who have reading challenges.

There are several alternate assessments of children with special needs that may create more meaningful data. Here are just a few:

  • Criterion-Referenced: Criterion-referenced tests assess whether students have achieved specific skills or concepts. When choosing criterion-referenced tests, homeschool parents should be especially concerned with whether test items directly reflect the content material, skills, and/or strategies that are to be assessed.
  • Curriculum-Based: Curriculum-based assessments measure knowledge of content specifically included in the curriculum rather than material required for state or other large-scale assessments. Parents of children with special needs may feel more confident using these types of assessments because there is a direct link between what is taught and what is assessed.
  • Portfolio: Portfolio assessment involves the collection and presentation of student work over a period of time. Portfolio assessment may benefit students with learning differences by focusing on progress rather than products and involving students in assessment, revision, and reflection related to their own work.
  • Observation: Daily observation is a powerful method of informal assessment that reduces anxiety, especially for students with learning differences, related to more formal types of assessment. You may track data on strategy use, participation/engagement, behavior, etc., and use that data as a baseline for improvement.
  • Varied Assessment Tasks: In addition to tests and quizzes, other tasks may include essays, interviews, demonstrations, presentations, journals, projects, rating scales, and self-evaluation. Using a variety of tasks that tap into different strengths will benefit all students, especially those with learning differences. Even better, allowing your child with learning differences to choose a form of assessment will provide your child with the best opportunity to demonstrate knowledge using strengths while also increasing involvement in his/her own learning.

Individualizing Assessment for Students with Learning Differences

In addition to choosing an alternate form of assessment, as a homeschool parent, you also can individualize the chosen assessment to benefit your child with special needs. This can be done by setting up the assessment task to maximize your child’s success.

  • Introducing the Assessment: Providing an environment that is most conducive to focus is extremely important during assessment tasks. Your child with learning differences may already have anxiety, so the presentation of the assessment is your first challenge. Make sure that the significance of the assessment is put into perspective. Your child does not need to be thinking about the potential circumstances of an assessment while doing the work. The assessment also must be presented with clear directions, repeated if necessary, so that misunderstanding of the task does not affect your child’s performance.
  • Maximizing the Assessment Setting: Once you have presented the assessment in a positive, supportive way with clear instructions, as a homeschool parent, you also have flexibility to create a setting that will maximize focus. For example, you can remove visual and auditory distractions, create an organized workspace, and maintain appropriate temperature and lighting for your child’s needs. The best gift you can give your child with learning differences is the gift of time. If the assessment does not need to be timed, be generous with the duration of the assessment so that your child has the possibility to show his/her best work.
  • Modifying the Assessment Task: As long as the chosen assessment is not a norm-referenced test, as a homeschool parent, you can modify the length and format of the actual assessment task for your child with learning differences. For example, your child with writing challenges can demonstrate content knowledge through fill in the blank, multiple choice, and/or true/false questions. Word banks and other supports can be included as well. Larger assessment projects can be broken down into smaller tasks, and checklists and rubrics can be provided.

Importance of Self-Assessment for Students with Learning Differences

Students with learning differences often have difficulty evaluating how well they have performed on specific tasks. After a test, students with special needs may say they did well when they didn’t or that they didn’t do well when they did. As a homeschool parent, you are in a unique position to build your child’s ability to self-evaluate. With every task, you can encourage and reward student self-reflection and self-assessment. Students with learning differences may benefit from direct guidance in these processes.

After assigning an assessment task, you can ask how long the task will take and how confident your child feels. Then you can build in reflections with set scales/gradations and even ask your child to score his/her own work prior to submitting it to you.

Still to come are two more articles on homeschooling benefits for children with special needs. Watch for information on providing feedback and on additional content that may help your child with learning differences.

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