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Simplifying Testing Results to Understand the Student’s Difficulties

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Oftentimes explaining testing results in the form of standard scores, percentiles, and charts is labor-intensive for the SLP and confusing for parents and ancillary  professionals. Furthermore, just because you show testing results does not always ensure that the ramifications of testing are fully understood, especially when it comes to performance of high functioning students with deficits in isolated areas, which may significantly impact the student’s functioning in social and academic settings.

So finding an effective method of sharing testing results was fraught with difficulties until recently. In early January, I attended a Sarah Ward executive function conference, where Sarah shared one of her tricks of sharing testing results.  She used a picture of a bell curve and inserted testing results into it. So it looked a little similar to the picture I have below:


As you can see the student’s listening comprehension and expressive language performance fell in the average range as denoted on the bottom of the picture. In contrast, the student’s problem solving and social pragmatic testing abilities fell in the below average range as is denoted by both a red bar as well as the caption underneath the picture.

It is a visually simple way to see what areas need to be worked on in one snapshot.

Charts in Action: Students with Social Skills Deficits 

This system is even more effective for displaying testing results of higher functioning students with select deficit areas. To illustrate, I recently performed a comprehensive language assessment on a 12-year-old adolescent with suspected ASD. The student had a superior IQ, excellent vocabulary, and phenomenal memory.

When tested in school setting she did not qualify to receive language intervention. However, her comprehensive language testing with me showed a number of disparities. While the majority of her testing fell in the above average and superior range, in a number of testing areas she performed within average and below average range (combined SLP, ED, and Psych. testing results below).


When one looked at the student’s overall testing results, they clearly indicated cumulative performance in the average range of functioning. However, after I plotted all of her results on the bell curve her deficit areas became very clearly apparent and her testing discrepancy clearly indicated that intervention in select areas of functioning was needed.

So even though select scores were clearly in the average range of functioning on the bell curve, they were actually BELOW AVERAGE for this student as compared to significant strengths in all other areas.

Many would argue with me pointing out that scores in the average range mean average range. The student doesn’t qualify – end of story!  So let me explain the above scores in REAL-LIFE terms.

Why Students with Average Scores May Still Require Services 

This particular student was referred for a social pragmatic evaluation due to behavioral difficulties in the classroom which included verbal outbursts, difficulty engaging in cooperative group work and verbal confrontations with classmates.

Interactions with the student revealed an engaging adolescent who preferred the company of adults and was very likable. However, throughout testing she made comments indicating cognizance that she was not accepted by typically developing peers. She frustratedly stated that she “doesn’t get” peers, is not interested in the “typical” experiences and has “nothing in common” with peers her age because she “misses the point” of their verbal interchanges.

Due to her exceptional performance on standardized testing, many school-based professionals  believed that because she did so well well she did not have any “true” social learning deficits. In contrast the student’s peer group was able to see her social differences with very little effort.  In school, the student did not qualify for social pragmatic language therapy, on the basis of her challenges being perceived as too “mild” to merit services, however her social deficits were NOT mild as judged by her peers. They were only mild as compared to individuals with severe social learning challenges. Without appropriate intervention, these difficulties would  continue to pervasively impact her academic and social performance, as well as affect future employment and relationship status.

So this is why I now love plotting scores on the bell curve for parents and professionals. A simple picture clearly shows the significance of score distribution, the deficits areas in need of intervention, and is literally worth a 1000 words!

Helpful Resources Related to Social Pragmatic Language Overview, Assessment  and Remediation:

4 thoughts on “Simplifying Testing Results to Understand the Student’s Difficulties

  1. […] and psychological evaluations have much to offer in revealing the students existing deficit areas. Their testing score breakdowns can also reveal  significant discrepancies in functioning  which ma…. Try to make your assessments as targeted as possible especially because children with language […]

  2. […] Firstly, it is a fairly well-known fact that in the absence of age-level peers with similar weaknesses, students with social communication deficits will seek out either much younger or much older children as playmates/friends as these individuals are far less likely to judge them for their perceived social deficits. While this may be a short-term solution to the “friendship problem” it also comes with its own host of challenges.  By maintaining relationships with peers outside of their age group, it is difficult for children with social communication impairments to understand and relate to peers of their age group in school setting. This creates a wider chasm in the classroom and increases the risk of peer isolation and bullying. […]

  3. You are very welcome!
    I am currently working on a similar post explaining how these charts are very useful for showing the need for a Specific Learning Disability (SLD) qualification. So stay tuned!

  4. Thank you so much for this info!!! I work in a small private Special Ed. school where some of our students fit the profile described above. This is great ammunition when arguing for the need for services and the visuals are great for explaining to parents.

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