What Do These Numbers Mean?


What Do These Numbers Mean?

Yay! You did it. You successfully advocated for your child to be tested for a learning disability. Congratulations! You have jumped the first hurdle of many.

The next task you must tackle is the monstrous report you just got back filled with charts and numbers.

I know it can seem daunting, but I'm here to help you figure it out. And if you hyperventilate looking at the paperwork, pop me an email. I thrive on charts, graphs, and numbers.

The first thing you should know is that even though it seems like a lot of information with many different numbers, everything can be converted into a percentile rank. If the examiner did not do this for you, grab a pen and take a look at my chart below. Just write in the percentile to every score and sub-score provided. Pro tip: If you are looking for dyslexia or a specific learning disability, the data for that disability is often found in the subscores, NOT the composite score.

If you are unsure why a percentile is so essential, it is because it gives you a measuring stick against other hypothetical students of the same age or grade (should be specified). I'm sure you have heard the analogy that if you are in the 60th percentile and were lined up with 100 hypothetical peers, you would be the 60th in line. Performing above 59 other peers, and not quite as well as the additional 39. Please note percentile is not the same as a PERCENT. The 60th percentile is not a score of 60% on the assessment. It is a comparison to other same-aged peers.

You will find the other scores on your testing report as well, standards scores, scaled scores, and T-scores. Although we could dive into each of these scores and what they mean, it boils down to converting the scores to the percentile.

A few other words you might see on testing are Confidence Interval and Qualitative Description. Sometimes when a student tests, you might hear a teacher or parent say, "Well, he was having an off day." or "All the pistons were firing today." The confidence interval is a range of scores your child would fall into if the test were administered 100 times. For example, a 96% confidence interval means there is a likelihood that your child would score within the given range if tested again.

The qualitative description generally consists of words like "average," "below-average," "deficiency," "severe," "above average," etc. Unfortunately, they tend to be an interpretation according to the company that developed the tests. Therefore, they are not always the most helpful terms when sitting at the IEP table. So again, I prefer the numbers; I prefer the percentile.

But Lisa, Why do you prefer percentile to the descriptors? Here is your answer: not only are the terms arbitrary and flexible, but they are sometimes misleading. For example, on one test, say your child scores a 4 on the scaled score. The examiner says this puts him in the "moderately below average range." But, of course, moderately below average can mean different things to different people. But If I told you --- If you line up 100 hypothetical students of the same age, your child would be number 2 in line, with only one child performing lower than him. Well, that shines a different light on the score, don't you think?

You will frequently find that schools use qualitative descriptors in their reports. I don't know if it is to help with shock value, to make a stronger case for fewer services, or because they don't think parents can decipher the numbers. But if you go in and start asking about percentile, the conversation will change.

Good Luck --- and as always, if you need me, I'm here for you.