Assessments and starting school

Frequently asked questions

Q: What is an assessment for?

A: Assessments can:

  • help to clarify areas of learning strengths and needs
  • confirm the diagnosis of a disability

While assessments can provide useful information about a child’s skills and development, it is important to note that assessment scores have limitations.

Assessments do not accurately reflect:

  • the full range of your child’s current skills and abilities
  • what your child may be capable of in the future
  • your child’s personality and temperament
  • progress your child may have made

Although completing a formal assessment is not an essential requirement in order to attend a local public school, it can provide some useful information.

Q: Why might certain assessments be recommended in the year before my child starts school?

A: Your child might be asked to have an assessment to:

  • assist with planning for school
  • assist school staff to plan for your child’s individualised school curriculum and learning environment
  • help you think about the most appropriate learning environment for your child
  • support an application for a school or support class which has eligibility criteria based on a particular diagnosis e.g. moderate intellectual disability
  • provide valuable information about changes in your child’s skills over time
  • provide information on your child’s diagnosis and cognitive level in order to apply for some school options e.g. support classes

Q: What type of assessments are there?

A: Assessments of a child’s development may include a combination of methods such as observation (e.g. watching how your child behaves and relates), and the use of “standardised” testing (e.g.) developmental and intelligence assessments are often used prior to starting school.

Other types of assessments include:

  • speech and language assessments conducted by speech pathologists which identify a child’s expressive and receptive language skills
  • adaptive behaviour assessments usually conducted by psychologists which assess how a child functions in their daily life
  • vision assessments
  • hearing assessments
  • occupational therapy assessments which may identify types of equipment or changes needed in a school environment such as access to toilets, or information about a child’s fine motor development or sensory processing
  • physiotherapy assessments which may identify a child’s mobility skills and any physical changes which may be needed in a specific school setting such as ramps or rails

Q: What does standardised mean?

A: ‘Standardised’ means that the test being used is given to everyone in the same way. The person assessing your child (assessor) cannot adjust or change the assessment in anyway. The reason for doing standardised assessments is so that the results can be compared with children of the same chronological age.

Some of the requirements of standardised tests include:

  • the assessor needs to ask all questions in exactly the same way as the test requires
  • there may be a limited amount of time allowed to complete the test
  • the assessment may only be completed by a professional who is trained to do the test
  • the assessment can only be completed once within a certain period of time e.g. 1 year

Q: I am concerned that the psychologist is assessing my child in an unfamiliar place and that he/she doesn’t know my child well. Will this impact on the assessment results?

A: A psychologist will use a standardised assessment which must be given in the same way to all test takers, so that the results can be compared.

Assessment results are used together with any additional information you can provide so that the school has access to all the information it may need.

Q: What is likely to happen in an assessment?

A: Some time is spent with parents asking questions about areas such as your child’s:

  • history
  • growth
  • physical movement
  • behaviour
  • play
  • interactions with family members

Usually a child is asked to complete some activities and answer some questions with the person who is assessing him or her. The activities and questions vary based on the child’s age.

Parents may not always be able to be in the assessment room with their child during these activities, because of the requirements of the test. The person assessing your child should, however, provide you with detailed feedback about the results of the assessment.

Q: What happens if my child doesn’t do what he or she is asked to do in the assessment?

A: It is useful to the assessor to see how a child has responded to their requests in a standardised assessment, even if they are unable to complete the full test. It is not uncommon for young children to have difficulties with completing an intelligence test if they have difficulties in these areas:

  • comprehension (understanding what is said to them)
  • compliance (following an adult’s requests)
  • joint attention (the capacity to share a focus of interest with someone else)

These areas may also have an affect on your child's ability to complete some activities within a standardised developmental assessment. If this is the case, other types of assessments such as an adaptive behaviour assessment, or other means of gathering information about a child’s skills, such as observation and talking to parents (also known as "parental report") may be used.

Helping assessments to go smoothly

Share your knowledge about your child:

An assessment process is usually conducted in collaboration with the family and any professionals involved with the child. It may help to make some notes beforehand about any questions you may have or points about what you feel are your child’s strengths and needs.

See What do I know about my child?

Seek input from those who know your child well:

  • It is a good idea to ask your child’s early childhood education and care (ECEC) provider (e.g. preschool or day care teacher) to write a brief report providing information about your child at preschool or child care
  • Assessment services also like to read a report from an early childhood intervention (ECI) professional to provide more information about your child’s development.

Reduce any anxiety for yourself and your child:

  • to make your child feel more comfortable, it may help to:
    • talk about what will happen with your child beforehand or
    • take along some snack foods, a drink and a familiar comfort toy or object if this helps your child to feel more relaxed
    • keep in mind that the results of formal assessments do not define your child as a person and do not predict all future learning

Q: Where can I get an assessment?

A: Talk to your ECI, GP, Paediatrician or your local community health service about whether an assessment prior to starting school would be helpful and where to go in your local area.

Some assessments are provided through health services and child development assessment clinics around NSW. These are usually free of charge but often have waiting lists.

It is also possible to access assessments privately through a consultant developmental paediatrician and/or psychologist. However, a referral from your GP or community health service may be required.

Q: When is the best time to have an assessment?

A: Ideally between 6 to 12 months prior to school. This can provide time to think through options and discuss them with your family and team. Due to waiting lists for assessments, it may be necessary to contact the assessment service around 6 months in advance.

Some of the main types of assessments which practitioners may use with young children

When children have a developmental delay, there are two main types of standardised assessments used; developmental tests and intelligence (also known as psychometric) tests.

Question Developmental Assessment Intelligence test (IQ)

What are some examples of these tests?

Griffith's developmental scales

Bayley's scales of infant development

Stanford Binet (SB)

Wechsler (WPPSI)

When and why are these assessments used?

These assessments:

  • are often used with children around the age of 3 years
  • give a profile of abilities which can assist professionals to target areas requiring further development
  • provide an opportunity to observe the child's strengths/relative strengths

These assessments:

  • determine a child's potential for learning and their current level of cognitive functioning
  • can show whether there is a difference between a child's ability (what they could do) and their performance (what they do) or whether their difficulties with learning might be due to lower cognitive skills
How are these assessments carried out? Standardised developmental assessments use some play-based activities, observation, information from parents, and structured assessment tasks These tests are completely standardised
What areas do these assessments measure? Language, gross motor, eye hand co-ordination, self-help and problem solving abilities A range of problem solving skills including verbal and visual-spatial reasoning, memory and knowledge
Who does these assessments? Developmental Paediatrician or Psychologist Psychologist
What do these assessments assess? The rate of development of a young child A child's current level of cognitive functioning and learning potentials