Details, Details, Details

Author: Sandy Gauvin

I have a dear friend who, as our Consulting Resource Teacher, does much of the special education testing in our school district. Recently, I asked her what information teachers can give to help her know exactly what to look for in each child she tests.

This is what she told me:

Most of the teachers do a wonderful job with the referral forms. However, it is NOT helpful to me when a teacher writes, "... is below grade level in reading," or "... is not working up to his potential in math." This is too general. I like it when a teacher gives me specifics such as, "The child...

a. ...cannot follow more than a two-step direction."
b. ... seems to know his sight words one day, but then the next day, it's like he's never seen them before."
c. ... is easily distracted."
d. ... has a very short attention span, especially when it comes to his written work, but during show and tell or read-aloud, he's very attentive."
e. ... seems to have a better visual than verbal memory."
f. ... does not know the letter names, but when given the name and asked to point to them, he is able to do so (It could be numbers instead of letters).
g. ... is well liked and has many friends (or the opposite)."
h. ... functions best in the morning (or afternoon)."
i. ... understands what he reads very well."
j. ... contributes a great deal of information during class time."

The more detail the teacher can give me the better.

a. Does he notice number and letter reversals, inversions, etc.?
b. Can she follow print?
c. Does he get mixed up when doing addition or subtraction on an unlined piece of paper?
d. Does she rub her eyes, squint, turn her head to one side or the other?

This is all helpful information.

When I get a referral that says, "Johnny cannot read and is not working up to grade level", with no more information than that, I do the standard battery of tests. Then, when I learn later in conversation with that same teacher that Johnny can't sit still, or Johnny can't attend for anymore than two minutes, or Johnny has missed X number of days of school, or Johnny recently lost an uncle, I realize that perhaps I used the wrong test.

If I had known this information first, I might have given a different test, perhaps one for Attention Deficit Disorder. So I have to go back and do that test afterwards. That information also affects HOW I give the test. Perhaps I could have given it in shorter time spans.

My friend had some excellent points. The more specific information you can give, the better it is for the child. Testing is difficult enough on any child, but when the person doing the testing doesn't have the right information, or not enough information, it can make testing more difficult.

I always found it helpful when teachers would show me as the evaluator, any concrete illustrations of the child's problems, such as written work that shows how he spells, or documentation of specific instances of difficulty in the classroom, like his trouble with being able to copy information from the board. I realize that teachers have a tremendous work load, but any specific information you can give about that child will help the child not just on the testing, but in the future as well. And, after all, isn't that student's success in life what education's all about?

For more plain talk about learning disabilities, please visit us at

About the Author

Sandy Gauvin is a retired educator who has seen learning disabilities from many perspectives - as the parent of a daughter with learning disabilities, as the teacher of children with learning disabilities, and as an advocate for others who have diagnosed and unrecognized learning disabilities. Sandy shares her wisdom and her resources at


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