Assessing Students with Special Needs

Tips for Teachers of Kids with Learning Disabilities

Autistic adolescent
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Assessing students with learning disabilities can be challenging. Some students, such as those with ADHD and autism, struggle with testing situations and cannot remain at task long enough to complete such assessments. But assessments are important; they provide the child with an opportunity to demonstrate knowledge, skill, and understanding. For most learners with exceptionalities, a paper-and-pencil task should be at the bottom of the list of assessment strategies.

Below are some alternate suggestions that support and enhance assessment of learning disabled students.


A presentation is a verbal demonstration of skill, knowledge, and understanding. The child can narrate or answer questions about her task. Presentation can also take the form of discussion, debate or a purely interrogatory exchange. Some children may require a small group or one-on-one setting; many students with disabilities are intimidated by larger groups. But don't discount the presentation. With ongoing opportunities, students will begin to shine.


A conference is a one-on-one between the teacher and the student. The teacher will prompt and cue the student to determine the level of understanding and knowledge. Again, this takes the pressure away from written tasks. The conference should be somewhat informal to put the student at ease. The focus should be on the student sharing ideas, reasoning or explaining a concept.

This is an extremely useful form of formative assessment.


An interview helps a teacher to clarify the level of understanding for a specific purpose, activity or learning concept. A teacher should have questions in mind to ask the student. A lot can be learned through an interview, but they can be time-consuming.


Observing a student in the learning environment is a very powerful assessment method. It can also be the vehicle for the teacher to change or enhance a specific teaching strategy. Observation can be done in a small group setting while the child is engaged in learning tasks. Things to look for include: Does the child persist? Give up easily? Have a plan in place? Look for assistance? Try alternate strategies? Become impatient? Look for patterns? 

Performance Task

A performance task is a learning task that the child can do while the teacher assesses his performance. For example, a teacher may ask a student to solve a math problem by presenting a word problem and asking the child questions about it. During the task, the teacher is looking for skill and ability as well as the child's attitude toward the task. Does he cling to past strategies or is there evidence of risk-taking in the approach?


It's always positive for students to be able to identify their own strengths and weaknesses. When possible, self-assessment can lead the student to a better sense of understanding of her own learning. The teacher should ask some guiding questions that can lead to this discovery.

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Watson, Sue. "Assessing Students with Special Needs." ThoughtCo, May. 14, 2017, Watson, Sue. (2017, May 14). Assessing Students with Special Needs. Retrieved from Watson, Sue. "Assessing Students with Special Needs." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 17, 2018).