Do standardized test scores accurately describe children with complex communication needs?
They serve the purpose of confirming that, indeed, the child has complex communication needs. They tell us nothing about "intelligence."
Standardized tests are not standardized on nonverbal children. None of them.
Even the nonverbal intelligence test is standardized on verbal children. It's a good attempt to describe cognition without the complication of verbal language but still, there is no standard for "normal" intelligence for nonverbal individuals. So should we use standard scores for speaking children to accurately describe nonverbal students?
We describe cognition in terms of a person's attention, memory and learning. These are actual functional skills we can measure, practice to improve and compensate for when necessary. If we must describe cognition, we should do it only so that we can determine strategies for improving attention, memory and learning. If we find that a child is struggling with attention we should be looking at sensory skills and needs, understanding of language, motivation and environmental demands. If memory is a concern, let's compensate. If learning is lagging, how about making connections, ensuring understanding with visuals, tactile cues, multimedia and real life experiences?
I've read some truly dismal psychological reports, comparing 16 year olds to 2 month olds. As required by Medicaid, insurance and schools, I've given the tests. I've reported the results as I was trained to, using age equivalences to describe language skills. For almost every patient I've ever seen I've reported that "<55" standard score. I've also heard our parents tell me they don't process anything on test reports except those dismal numbers.
I hear you.
I think I'm done with age equivalences and, since we can't use standardized tests, we will simply use checklists, describe well, listen better and creatively educate.
Here is a parent's perspective that professionals should hear.
Standardized tests are a shortcut to allow professionals to document that they have met an evaluation requirement for a child with complex communication needs and little more.
And watch, listen, watch some more, listen again and then describe.
And then do something to make a difference!