Psychoeducational and Intelligence Assessments

A Psychoeducational Assessment identifies factors that may have an impact on any aspect of an individual's learning. This assessment is used to determine the individual's learning profile. Factors that can affect an individual's profile includes their ability to process, retain, or output information. These factors can either have a positive impact (in the case of giftedness) or a negative impact (in the case of a learning disorder or intellectual disability).

When do you order a psychoeducational assessment?

A psychoeducational assessment should be done when: an individual has considerable academic difficulties, unreasonable efforts are needed to maintain school grades, there are questions about diagnoses, a patient's behavioural and social functioning is significantly impaired, or a choice of intervention best suited for a patient's learning profile needs to be identified.

A psychoeducational assessment consists of multiple components as described here:

Cognitive Abilities, popularly referred to as the intelligence quotient (IQ), is one measurement in the psychoeducational assessment. There are many different standardized tests that measure IQ, with one of the most common being the Wechsler Intelligence Scales (described below).

Tests such as the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT) are a common measure of academic achievement. Academic achievement is the individual's academic abilities in the following areas:

  1. Reading
    • Basic reading (decoding and reading fluency)
    • Reading comprehension (understanding words and meaning)
  2. Writing
    • Basic writing (spelling and writing mechanics)
    • Sentence construction and essay writing
  3. Mathematics
    • Basic computational skills
    • Mathematical concepts and problem solving
  4. Oral Language

IQ ≠ Academic Achievement

Although generally predictive, an individual's IQ does not always predict academic achievement.

Other cognitive factors that can impact learning include:

  • Memory
  • Phonological processing (if this is impaired, it results in a reading disability, also known as dyslexia)
  • Fine motor skills (if this is impaired, it results in a writing disability)
  • Language (if this is impaired, it can cause an aphasia, affecting the expressive and/or receptive aspects of speech)
  • Executive functioning

Adaptive functioning is how well an individual manages the common demands of day-to-day life, and how independent they are compared to others with a similar age and background. Areas assessed include communication, community function, functional academics, home living, health and safety, leisure activities, self-care, self-direction, social interactions, and work place interactions. These factors are usually assessed by questionnaires completed by teachers, family, or caregivers.

Other non-cognitive factors that can impact learning include:

Standardized and normed educational assessment measures are the mainstay of psychoeducational assessments and testing. The individual's response to teaching, collateral information from self-report, parents, and teachers are also considered. The different Wechsler scales and tests are briefly described here.

The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) measures intelligence in children between ages 6 to 16, in two areas (verbal intelligence and performance intelligence), across 4 domains (perceptual, verbal, working memory, processing speed. Verbal intelligence measures include vocabulary and comprehension. Performance intelligence includes picture completion and reasoning. The exam is administered in 60-80 minutes, with 100 being the average score. The adult version of this test is the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS).

WISC does not assess for reading!

The WISC does not assess reading skills, which is needed to assess for academic performance. Thus, the WIAT needs to be used if assessing for a specific learning disorder.

The Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) is an intelligence quotient (IQ) test that measures intelligence and cognitive ability in adolescents and adults. It is the most widely used IQ test. It can be thought of the adult version of the WISC (which is for children). The WAIS consists of 4 components that can be grouped into 1 of 2 categories (reasoning abilities and supportive processes of the brain):

  1. Verbal Reasoning - How does an individual think about and solve problems using language? (tests reasoning abilities)
  2. Non-Verbal Reasoning - A universal test of intelligence (tests reasoning abilities)
  3. Working-Memory - How good is the individual at multitasking? (tests supportive processes of the brain)
  4. Processing Speed - How fast is information processed by this individual? (tests supportive processes of the brain)

By understanding an individual’s IQ alone, one can determine if they meet the criteria of giftedness (the top 2 percentile of the population, by age and sex). If an individual's IQ and adaptive functioning (see below) is below the 2nd percentile (i.e. - IQ < 70), they are considered to have an intellectual disability.

The Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT) is an achievement test that measures how an individual (age 4 to 19 years) performs in academic school work. It assesses basic reading, mathematics reasoning, numerical operations, spelling, listening comprehension, reading comprehension, oral expression, and written expression. Similar to the WISC, an average score is 100.

Comparing the Wechsler Tests

Guideline Age range Measures When to order Average score Notes
Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WAIS) Adolescents to Adults Intelligence For assessing intellectual disability or giftedness 100 -
Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) 6 to 16 years Intelligence For assessing intellectual disability or giftedness 100 WISC assesses intelligence and does not assess school performance!
Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT) 4 to 19 years Academic school performance Assessing for learning disorders 100 WIAT assesses academic performance and does not predict intelligence

You Cannot Have Both a Learning Disorder/Disability and Intellectual Disability

A learning disability (i.e. - learning disorder) and intellectual disability are two mutually exclusive diagnoses. You can have one or the other, but never both!

A learning disability is when an individual's academic achievement does not meet their expected level of function for their given IQ score. By identifying the IQ-academic achievement gap with a psychoeducational assessment, the gap/discrepancy can be narrowed and the individual will be able to function better academically as a result. Methods to address this gap include proper access to special education resources, educational accommodations (e.g. - extended examination time) or more appropriate academic placements (e.g. - gifted classes).