Written by Dr. Nicole M. Vienna

November 18, 2021

A Neuropsychologist Observes a Child WritingA learning disability is described as a disorder in the basic psychological processes that interfere with a person’s ability to listen, think, speak, read, spell, or do mathematical calculations. Therefore, this definition of a learning disability implicates that it affects a person’s academic ability and may interfere with their progress at school. For example, a student may not comprehend the concepts they learn at school or have difficulty processing and solving a mathematical problem or writing/reading concepts.

Furthermore, a learning disability is most likely identified when a child begins schooling. A sufficient way to have the best possible intervention is to have the proper diagnosis for the individual. The different administered tests range from the paper-pencil type of cognitive and neuropsychological tasks to psychological and behavioral self-report questionnaires. As such, these types of tests can help determine and diagnose a learning disability. These tasks focus on skills such as:

  • Cognitive abilities
  • Academic achievement (arithmetic, reading, writing, etc.)
  • Language
  • Learning
  • Motor skills
  • Visuospatial skills
  • Executive functioning
  • Memory

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is a law that supports special education and specific services and programs for people with disabilities. For example, it can give individuals appropriate interventions and ensure free public education to help with their learning disability. Hence, testing is essential in diagnosing an individual who may have a learning disability. The importance of this law is that IDEA authorizes federal funding to states for people with learning and developmental disabilities, which includes special education and other related services. This highlights how IDEA allows children with disabilities to have the appropriate resources and help to improve their education and way of living.

Testing happens to be included in the rights that people with learning disabilities need. Educational specialists and psychologists are the types of people allowed to administer learning disability tests for individuals. The type of tests that are used to diagnose a learning disability includes

  • Intelligence Tests
  • Achievement Tests
  • Visual-Motor Integration Tests
  • Language Tests

The following information below will describe the tests and why they are used for diagnosis.

Intelligence Tests

An Intelligence Test is a type of test that measures intellectual ability and variability in cognitive functioning. These tests essentially measure one’s capacity to think and solve problems in novel situations (fluid reasoning) and general knowledge, vocabulary, and reasoning based on acquired information (crystalized skills). IQ tests are generally good indicators of an individual’s problem-solving systems and cognitive strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, it helps differentiate global cognitive impairments associated with an intellectual disability from more specific learning disabilities and language disorders. Interpretation of an individual’s performance on these tests provides insight into the underlying processing deficits. The common test used in private practice by psychologists for IQ assessments for children and adolescents is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale (WISC-IV). For adolescents 16-years or older and adults, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS-IV) is commonly used.

There have been decades of debate around the use of intelligence tests in school settings (specifically in the assessment for special education qualification for African American and Latino students) in California. One argument is that intelligence tests are culturally biased and often reference the Larry P. v Riles ruling. However, current literature shows a half standard deviation difference between scores of Caucasian students and their African American peers compared to a full standard deviation in the 1960s. In addition, psychologists are trained to recognize and consider these differences in the totality of their evaluation. Nonetheless, most school psychologists in California will use a cognitive abilities test, such as the Cognitive Assessment System, Second Edition (CAS-2), in place of an intelligence test. Like the WISC-V and WAIS-IV, it does measure cognitive processing abilities. But it does so without providing an overall IQ score. Instead, it yields a standard cognitive abilities score and five supplemental composite scores, including executive function with and without working memory, working memory, verbal content, and nonverbal content.

Achievement Tests

An achievement test is a type of testing used to determine an individual’s academic skill and knowledge in a specific area after a period of learning or training. This may include standardized tests or a comprehensive exam in a specific class. Outside and inside classroom knowledge and skills are beneficial for performance. This information entails that achievement can be defined not only from the student’s performance and score but also from how much knowledge and skills they have attained in studying for the test. Common achievement tests used to diagnose a learning disability (as part of a comprehensive battery) are the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement (WJ), Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, Fourth Edition (WIAT-4), and Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, Third Edition (KTEA-3). These tests provide an in-depth assessment of important academic skills such as reading, math, and written and oral language. These particular tests are important because they can be used to test multiple areas of academic functioning, and the content correlates with specific categories of learning disabilities. These tests also measure progress or response to interventions that they have received during the school year.

Visual-Motor Integration Tests

A visual-motor integration test is a type of test that is designed to assess a person’s ability to integrate visual and motor skills. It shows the student’s ability in handwriting and how they visualize and produce the letters and shapes in their writings. In addition, this test is common when assessing whether or not a student may have a nonverbal learning disorder related to motor functioning like dysgraphia or dyspraxia. A well-known test used for visual-motor integration and commonly used in school-based practices is the Beery-Buktenica Developmental Test of Visual-Motor Integration, Sixth Edition (Beery VMI). This test instructs students to visualize and reproduce a letter or shape and is scored through their fine motor skills, pencil grip, and literacy test scores. It assesses the legibility and speed the student performs when completing many handwriting tasks. Moreover, visual-motor integration tests are important because they allow learning specialists and psychologists to assess and provide interventions for students who may have trouble with their visual and motor skills.

Language Tests

A language test is classified as a type of test that comprehends a student’s oral and written language skills through a series of questions or cues. A common language test administered to students is the Clinical Evaluation of Language Fundamentals (CELF-5). The process of this test evaluates a student’s reading comprehension, word structure, sentence assembly, and formulating sentences in order to conclude whether or not a student may have a learning disability. Language tests can determine whether or not a student may be particularly struggling in their oral and written skills, which correlates with learning disabilities like dyslexia. The importance behind the language test is that it assesses both oral and written language.


Using the appropriate tests as part of a comprehensive evaluation is beneficial when determining whether or not a student may have a learning disability. Through the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), schools and learning centers may provide resources for people with diagnosed learning disabilities. The types of tests to consider as part of a comprehensive learning disorder evaluation include intelligence or cognitive abilities tests, achievement tests, visual-motor integration tests, and language tests. Intelligence and cognitive tests evaluate a student’s overall intellectual or cognitive ability. Achievement tests assess the student’s knowledge and skill in a specific academic area or subject. Visual-motor integration tests appraise a student’s motor skills and visual skills. Lastly, language tests classify a student’s oral and written language skills. The general importance behind these types of tests is that they allow psychologists to evaluate a student’s strengths and weaknesses in academic achievement and cognitive abilities and find the proper interventions they may need to improve their way of learning.

If you need more information about learning disability tests, contact us for more information at (626) 709-3494.

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