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Does My Student Need to be Evaluated for a Learning Difference?

What to look for and what to expect if your student gets tested.

As the school year comes to a close, students are celebrating the freedom of summer…and parents are looking at report cards and wondering if they are an accurate reflection of their students’ ability and potential. When there is a mis-match between a student’s effort and what their grades reflect, that can be a sign of a learning difference.

Ginger Fay, our Director of IEC Engagement, sat down with Jennifer Foster, PhD of the Atlanta Psychology Group to talk about some of the things a family might notice that would suggest a psychoeducational evaluation would be a good idea.

How would a student or parent recognize the need for an evaluation?
Who would be more likely to recognize the need – a parent, a teacher or the student themselves?
As a parent, when should I start to be concerned about my student’s grades?

If a student is earning Ds or Cs, that indicates lack of mastery in 25-33% of the material covered in the curriculum. A significant gap in foundational skills and subject specific content will likely make subsequent courses even more challenging, as our curriculum models build on skills from the previous year in subsequent years across subjects. 

It is important to understand the reasons for poor grades. Some questions to consider: 

  • Is there a discrepancy between the effort a student has put into an assignment or test and the grade received? 
  • Does the student lack the organizational or executive functioning skills to adequately prepare? 
  • Is there a social-emotional issue that is affecting the student’s ability to pay attention in class and complete assignments?

The sooner we can uncover the underlying issues, whether it is an attention deficit, learning disorder, anxiety, or mood disorder, the better able we are to provide remediation (specific instruction techniques), accommodations (alterations in how students complete work and demonstrate mastery), and teach the student strategies to maximize their strengths in order to minimize the impact of areas of weakness.

Every individual has a learning profile with areas of relative strength and weakness. Understanding that profile can be very empowering for an individual student and help guide their course selections and career path for success and fulfilment.

Can you talk about students who are “twice exceptional”?


Why would we do a full psychoeducational evaluation if I am pretty sure it’s “just” ADHD?
Is it “too late” for a high school or college student to be tested for learning differences? How could testing an older student help identify the way forward when so much of their formal education is behind them?

Testing in older students (high school or college) can provide valuable insight into the individual’s inherent strengths and weaknesses and provide valuable feedback regarding career paths. For example, a student with strong visual spatial skills may want to pursue architecture or graphic design work, a student with strong fluid/nonverbal reasoning skills might lean towards engineering, or a student with exceptional language and verbal reasoning skills could be encouraged to consider political science or sociology. 

Processing strengths and weaknesses are also important to consider. For example, a student who has a very slow reading rate may want to steer away from career paths that require copious reading of documents, or a student with poor spelling and grammar may not want to seek a job that requires spontaneous editing or writing. There is a good bit of career counseling embedded in a psychoeducational evaluation.

If a family decides they want to pursue testing, how could/should they go about it?
If a family opts to work with a private psychologist, what credentials or experience should they be looking for?
How does a psychoeducational evaluation help support the request for accommodations on standardized testing?

The standardized testing agencies (College Board for PSAT/SAT/APs and ACT, Inc for ACT) do want to know from the schools that the students have been receiving accommodations. A formal evaluation can be the reason why the student is receiving accommodations in school and provide documentation to support the request with the testing agency. They are looking for significant discrepancies between ability and performance on certain tasks. Extended time is the classic example. If the testing demonstrates that the student has a slower processing speed or retrieval rate, then we can use it as evidence to support the request for extended time on standardized testing.

What would you say to a student or parent who is concerned that using accommodations is a “crutch”?


If your student is applying for accommodations on the ACT, SAT, or any other College Board exam, Applerouth’s free Guide to Securing Testing Accommodations provides helpful resources and step-by-step guidance. Click here to request your free digital copy of the Guide.


Dr. Jennifer Foster is a licensed psychologist in Georgia and Florida and has been in practice for over fifteen years. She is the co-founder and managing partner of The Atlanta Psychology Group. Dr. Foster primarily focuses on evaluation of developmental learning disabilities such as dyslexia, ADHD, processing issues, and behavioral/social issues in children and adolescents.

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