Family-tested solutions
for Special Needs

Toddler and mother playing together

Family-tested solutions
for Special Needs

Toddler and mother playing together

How to listen to test scores effectively


It can be very difficult to sit there, trying to look calm and collected, while other people give you reports on your child’s functioning or behavior. Often those reports are represented in confusing numbers and couched in dense language such as “percentile rank” or “processing speed.” However, it is vital to understand the data that is used to make decisions about your child. That data tells a story that may be used to determine eligibility or appropriate services. As with other parts of your child’s history, you need to have some control over the narrative to make sure it is clear, correct, and relevant to the services your child needs.

What to Say When You Don’t Get It

Here are some useful responses when you experience information overload:

“Sorry, that seems very confusing. Can you run that by me again?”

“I’m not sure I understand these numbers. Are you saying…?”

“What does this mean in terms of my child’s ability to…?”

“Can you explain why…?”

“How would you say these results reflect my child’s overall performance in…?”

[Best question of all] “So, if you had to sum up these results in one sentence…?”

Take your time

Don’t feel rushed if people seem impatient or start to have side conversations. Federal law requires schools to explain test results to you in words you can understand (including interpretation services, if necessary, for non-English speakers). Better still, ask to meet with the school psychologist, behavior specialist, or other evaluator ahead of time to discuss scores. Some parents formally request this when giving permission for an evaluation, by attaching a note or writing their request at the bottom of the form. As with anything you sign, keep a copy.

If you want to dig deeper into the mechanics of test scores, go to the venerable Wright’s Law special education site for a comprehensive overview of the most common tests.

Wendy Lowe Besmann

Wendy Besmann, Founder and Content Director of Get There Project, is the mother of a son with autism and bipolar disorder. She is the author of Family Road Map: A Step-By-Step Guide to Navigating Health, Education, and Insurance Systems for Families with Special Needs, Team Up for Your Child: A Step-By-Step Guide to Working Smarter with Doctors, Schools, Insurers and Agencies, and (with Kimberly Douglass, PhD) Young Adult Road Map: A Step-By-Step Guide to Wellness, Independent Living, and Transition Services for People in Their Teens and Twenties. She founded Get There Project’s primary partner Team Up for Families, an advocacy and training organization for families living with behavioral, developmental, and other special health needs.

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