There are many tools that school psychologists can use to help determine eligibility for special education as well as gather information on the whole child to support parents, teachers, and other caregivers in a child’s learning journey. The Woodcock-Johnson® IV is the most comprehensive, with many different tests for specific insights within its family of tools. With 18 tests in the Cognitive Battery, 12 tests in the Oral Language battery and 20 tests in the Achievement battery, there are 50 tests to choose from. And that does not include the 10 tests in their Early Childhood (ECAD) Battery. Navigating sixty tests…where do you even start?
Start with the Basic Battery:
Each of the WJ IV batteries provides a basic battery from which to start. Each of the basic batteries provides a comprehensive examination of cognitive, language and/or achievement skills for an individual battery. For educators new or newer to the WJ IV family, starting with the basic battery is useful. Whether the suspected area of disability is a specific learning disability, other health impairment or emotional/behavioral concerns, the basic battery can provide you with information about:
- Cognition: The first ten tests of the WJ IV COG provide the school psychologist with information about vocabulary knowledge, fluid reasoning skills, short-term memory, phonological skills and more!
- Language: With just eight tests in the main battery, an assessor can obtain information about listening comprehension, oral expression along with skills highly related to reading success including phonemic awareness, rapid naming skills and verbal memory.
- Achievement: The first six tests provide the assessor with information about reading decoding and comprehension, math calculation skills as well as math problem solving skills along with spelling and written language skills.
Consider the Referral Question:
The basic battery can be useful to an assessment team when an overview of cognitive, language, and achievement skills is needed. However, an important aspect of every evaluation is the referral question. Knowing the why behind the assessment can be useful in determining which additional tests to administer.
- What is the reason many students are referred for an evaluation? Reading. The basic batteries provide a great place to start to help the team with an understanding of some of the basic components of reading. However, administering additional achievement tests such as Word Attack, Sentence Reading Fluency, and Word Reading Fluency from the WJ IV ACH will assist the team with an understanding of whether this student is struggling with decoding of real or nonsense words, reading fluency as well as reading comprehension skills. Once the academic area is better identified, determining if the reading concern is due to underlying phonemic awareness concerns can be evaluated using a combination of tasks from the WJ IV COG as well as tasks from the WJ IV OL.
- Another often discussed concern with students is their memory skills. Memory concerns are sometimes part of the discussion for a student with academic difficulties as well as difficulties stemming from medication side effects or after a head trauma. The standard battery of the WJ IV COG provides information about working memory (Verbal Attention and Numbers Reversed) and verbal working memory (Story Recall). However, if the team is concerned about memory, additional tasks that examine different aspects can help the team look at both short-term verbal memory (Memory for Words) along with visual memory (Picture Recognition). Sharing specific information about the different aspects of memory can be useful when determining accommodations and strategies for the school and home settings.
- While some referral questions are specific to a skill deficit such as reading, other referral questions have to do with production. The 2020-2021 school year brought many obstacles for students including the structure and supports typically provided during in-person learning. Having a comprehensive examination of a student’s learning profile can assist the team when the question is skill deficit or production deficit. Does this student require supports due to difficulties with an academic area of concern such as reading or accommodations for a processing area of concern such as memory? Or, does the student needs supports due to difficulties with planning and organization as the comprehensive evaluation revealed no specific academic or processing disorder, but instead difficulties related to executive functioning?
Determine When & How to Dig Deeper:
Graduate school can often paint a picture that students who meet eligibility requirements for special education have specific profiles within their scores. Students with learning disabilities are average in all cognitive and achievement areas except for a single processing and achievement score. Then, educators work in schools with real students, many of whom have complex profiles. The standard batteries of the WJ IV batteries provide a great foundation for understanding students, but for many students, additional assessment is critical to understanding the why behind their score profile.
- A lower score on Letter-Pattern Matching from the WJ IV COG can signal a variety of hypotheses. Does the student have a processing speed difficulty? Was this test score brought down due to the use of letters, part of the orthography of the English language? Was the student not paying attention and this may be due to difficulties with executive functioning? Being able to dive deeper into other processing speed measures, one with (Number-Pattern Matching) and one without orthography (Pair Cancellation) can be useful. The answers to these questions can be useful when discussing how to support this student in the general and perhaps special education settings. The more understanding the team has of the why behind a score profile, the easier it is to determine appropriate next steps.
- Reading comprehension difficulties can be caused by a number of underlying reasons. Understanding why a student is not responding to the evidence-based intervention program provided by the school is an important aspect of the evaluation process. Is the student struggling due to language concerns, memory concerns, or executive functioning concerns? While the standard WJ IV ACH battery provides an examination of reading comprehension through a cloze task, additional tests from the WJ IV ACH tool allows an educator to examine related skills including memory and summarizing skills (Reading Recall) along with vocabulary skills (Reading Vocabulary).
The comprehensive battery of assessments provided by the WJ IV provides several options for evaluators. Having such a high number of tests to choose from can be useful, but overwhelming for newer users, so start by getting comfortable with the standard battery and standardization rules. Then, as new assessment opportunities are provided, incorporate information beyond the standard battery. Consider the reason for referral as well as how the student is performing during the evaluation and dig deeper to better understand the student’s strengths and weaknesses. Ensure that you have practiced any new tests before administering the test to a student for special education consideration so that you can provide the most detailed insights to unlock their learning potential.