Functional assessment screening helps to identify tasks and skills that students cannot do because of a disability. Since a single assessment might show only one dimension of a student's abilities, it's better to use a wide range of assessments and tools to gather valid information and the most comprehensive picture of an individual student.

Diagnostic Standardized Tests

Some standardized tests, such as the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, can provide insight into what a student can and can't do in relation to an area of concern. For example, if a student struggles with reading, diagnostic tests can help to identify whether the difficulty relates to decoding words, sight reading or general comprehension. Conversely, the tests also may identify areas of particular strength. Other such tests include the Key Math test and the Six Traits of Writing test.

In-Class Assessments

Many screening tools may be developed by individual teachers. Difficulties with skills related to core content areas, such as math, science and language arts, may be uncovered through curriculum based assessments. Many teachers may use story starters, for instance, to prompt creative writing. How struggling students respond to such prompts when compared to their peers can help identify disabilities that need an individualized approach. Other everyday activities can be used to the same end, such as simple math equations as a warm-up at the beginning of class or reviewing basic concepts in science that were taught the previous day.

Play-Based Assessment

Play-based assessments can be particularly valuable because students are more likely to exhibit their true abilities. By examining how children play by themselves or interact with other children, aspects of the child's social-emotional development can be observed. Observing these scenarios either informally or in a formal, structured setting can allow parents and professionals to gather data related to appropriate interventions. If more data is required, structured observations can be created that involve a student's interaction with adults, objects or even imaginative and pretend scenarios.


Because assessments from several sources should be used to gain a complete picture of a student's needs, it makes sense to interview specialists, teachers and parents. The Functional Assessment Screening Tool includes 18 questions that are used to compile and categorize data from the individual rater's perspective. Other interview-based assessments, such as the Student-Directed Functional Assessment Interview, allow the child to answer questions about himself and have been shown to be a reliable reporter of behavior.

Life Skills Assessment

For students of high school age or older, some states offer an assessment of basic life skills. This helps the assessor to catalog the skill level of the student in important areas of general life preparedness, such as basic job skills, personal hygiene and pregnancy prevention. For example, the state of Washington offers a test completed by a person who knows the student well and can check off basic or advanced items that the student can complete in a variety of areas. In the area of food management, for instance, a student might have a basic level of competency if he can wash his hands before preparing food, and a more advanced skill level if he can buy a week's worth of food within a predetermined budget.

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