There are 22 HLPs for K-12 Special Education Teachers. In this chapter the focus is on HLPs (4-6), related to assessment,

  • HLP 4: Use multiple sources of information to develop a comprehensive understanding of a student’s strengths and needs.
  • HLP 5: Interpret and communicate assessment information with stakeholders to collaboratively design and implement educational programs.
  • HLP 6: After special education teachers develop instructional goals, they evaluate and make ongoing adjustments to students’ instructional programs.

Table of Contexts

  • Summary of HLPs 4-6 related to Assessment
  • Common types of assessment used in the classroom
  • Baseline/ Preassessment for daily lesson planning
  • Clinical Teaching Requirements

Adapted from McLeskey, J., Barringer, M-D., Billingsley, B., Brownell, M., Jackson, D., Kennedy, M., Lewis, T., Maheady, L., Rodriguez, J., Scheeler, M. C., Winn, J., & Ziegler, D. (2017, January). High-leverage practices in special education. Arlington, VA: Council for Exceptional Children & CEEDAR Center.   (Permission is granted to reproduce and adapt any portion of this publication with acknowledgement)

Assessment plays a foundational role in special education. Students with disabilities are complex learners who have unique needs that exist alongside their strengths. Effective special education teachers have to fully understand those strengths and needs. Thus, these teachers are knowledgeable regarding assessment and are skilled in using and interpreting data. This includes formal, standardized assessments that are used in identifying students for special education services, developing students’ IEPs, and informing ongoing services. Formal assessments such as statewide exams also provide data regarding whether students with disabilities are achieving state content standards and how their academic progress compares to students without disabilities. Teachers are also knowledgeable about and skillful in using informal assessments, such as those used to evaluate students’ academic, behavioral, and functional strengths and needs. These assessments are used to develop students’ IEPs, design and evaluate instruction, and monitor student progress. As reflective practitioners, special educators also continuously analyze the effect and effectiveness of their own instruction. Finally, these teachers are knowledgeable regarding how context, culture, language, and poverty might influence student performance; navigating conversations with families and other stakeholders; and choosing appropriate assessments given each student’s profile.

This is an especially important consideration, given the overrepresentation of culturally and linguistically diverse students and those from high poverty backgrounds in special education (see Linn & Hemmer, 2011; U.S. Department of Education, 2016; Zhang & Katisyannis, 2002).

HLP 4: Use multiple sources of information to develop a comprehensive understanding of a student’s strengths and needs.

To develop a deep understanding of a student’s learning needs, special educators compile a comprehensive learner profile through the use of a variety of assessment measures and other sources (e.g., information from parents, general educators, other stakeholders) that are sensitive to language and culture, to (a) analyze and describe students’ strengths and needs and (b) analyze the school-based learning environments to determine potential supports and barriers to students’ academic progress. Teachers should collect, aggregate, and interpret data from multiple sources (e.g., informal and formal observations, work samples, curriculum-based measures, functional behavior assessment [FBA], school files, analysis of curriculum, information from families, other data sources). This information is used to create an individualized profile of the student’s strengths and needs.

Students with disabilities present a wide range of both strengths and needs, in a variety of areas (e.g., academic, social, emotional, adaptive and organizational, communication)—which must be understood in order to develop instruction specially designed to meet their needs. Their varied needs are most often the result of problems with attention, memory, language, emotional regulation, social regulation, and motivation due to repeated failure (Vaughn & Bos, 2014), and these underlying needs can interfere with their ability to achieve successful outcomes. There is evidence in the field of learning disabilities that perform­ance on specific language and cognitive variables (e.g., phonological awareness, rapid letter naming, oral language skills, morphological awareness) can be used to identify students who need the most intensive, ongoing intervention (e.g., Al Otaiba & Fuchs, 2006; Fletcher et al., 2011; D. Fuchs et al., 2012). Further, response to instruction in reading and mathematics remains one of the strongest predictors of future performance (Katz, Stone, Carlisle, Corey, & Zeng, 2008; Vaughn, Linan-Thompson, & Hickman, 2003).

Environmental factors can play a role in student learning and behavior. Culture, language, and family poverty (along with the teachers’ response to these factors) can influence students’ behavior and learning (Hammer et al., 2012; Judge & Bell, 2010; Samson & Lesaux, 2009). The instructional environment also can affect what students are learning. Well organized environments where student needs are supported positively influences students’ learning and behavior (Murray & Greenburg, 2006).

Findings from research on individual learner characteristics, response to instruc­tion, and the role of environmental factors in student learning suggest that special education teachers need to develop comprehensive learner profiles. These profiles should delineate students’ strengths and needs, describe how culture and language might be influencing a student’s performance, contain information about students’ instructional environments, and show how students are responding to instruction. A comprehensive learner profile, continually revised based on instructional and behavioral data, is essential to develop, implement, evaluate, and revise instruction in ways that are sensitive to the individual students’ strengths and needs.

To develop a learner profile, special education teachers need to collect, over time, information from a variety of sources and synthesize that information in order to develop a comprehensive understanding of the student. These sources include, but are not limited to:

  • Comprehensive, multidisciplinary assessments that produce information about cognitive and language variables;
  • Discussions with students’ family members that provide information about students’ interests and motivations and how they adapt to their home and community environment;
  • Curriculum-based measurement data that can be used to provide information about student progress in different curricular areas (Deno, Fuchs, Marston, & Shin, 2001);
  • Student interviews and surveys that generate data about students’ interests in an academic area and their strategic approach to tasks (Montague, 1996);
  • Inventories, classroom checklists, and student work samples that can be used to help teachers understand the students’ strengths and needs in an academic area (e.g., Leslie & Caldwell, 2015); and
  • Direct observation of classroom performance and behavior (e.g., functional behavioral assessment) that can be used to help teachers gather information such as how students perform a task and how students respond to different behavior and learning supports.

As special education teachers collect information, they need to look for and interpret patterns in the data, as this will help them to synthesize the information they are collecting and to use the collected data for educational decision making. The synthesis of information can be used to develop a comprehensive profile of the individual student’s strengths, needs, interests, and motivation in different areas, both academic and nonacademic. Understandings gained from these individual profiles can be used to communicate with professionals and parents in order to develop a team-based approach to the education of students with disabilities—one where information is used continually to design, evaluate, and revise instruction.

*In each clinical course, teacher candidates will develop one or more student profiles and develop lessons to address the learning needs of the PreK-12 student.

HLP 5: Interpret and communicate assessment information with stakeholders to collaboratively design and implement educational programs.

Teachers interpret assessment information for stakeholders (i.e., other professionals, families, students) and involve them in the assessment, goal development, and goal implementation process.”] Special educators must understand each assessment’s purpose, help key stakeholders understand how culture and language influence interpretation of data generated, and use data to collaboratively develop and implement individualized education and transition plans that include goals that are standards-based, appropriate accommodations and modifications, and fair grading practices, and transition goals that are aligned with student need.

IDEA recognizes the important role that a team plays in the evaluation of students and their ongoing education. One of the central components of providing services for students with disabilities is convening a team of stakeholders that includes key professionals and family members to collaboratively create an IEP (Council for Exceptional Children, n.d.). A high-quality IEP is the primary mechanism to individualize and assist students with disabilities in making progress. The special education teacher’s role as a team member is to consider the student’s strengths and needs based on assessment information and work collaboratively with the entire team to design an educational plan that, when implemented, will produce maximum benefit for the student. Because implementation and assessment of the educational plan are ongoing, special education teachers need to be able to interpret and communicate assessment results regularly with other teachers, staff, and families as part of the effort to monitor a student’s response to instruction.

The first step in this process is to gather the assessment information and make it available to the IEP team, communicating the results in a format that is easily understood by all team members.

For some team members, the assessment data may need to be interpreted with regard to its importance to developing goals, choosing appropriate accommodations and modifications, and identifying fair grading practices. Research indicates that parents often feel overwhelmed and anxious at IEP meetings, and family members have reported they understand none or only some of the information presented at the IEP meeting (Hammond, Ingalls, & Trussell, 2008). When parents are involved in the assessment process from the start they are better able to understand the purposes of the assessments and the results. In addition, parental involvement in the assessment process encourages consideration of culture and language factors and the role they may play in interpreting assessment results. Understanding the assessment challenges of students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds is vital because this population of students is disproportionately represented in special education (see Abedi, 2006; Chu & Flores, 2011; Linn & Hemmer, 2011; U.S. Department of Education, 2016; Zhang & Katisyannis, 2002). Special education teachers must take an active role in communicating assessment data and gauging the understanding of all team members, paying particular attention to families’ understandings.

Assessment results that are based on parental input encourage respectful treatment of families and values their expertise (Fish, 2008; Wolfe & Duran, 2013). Parents provide insights about their child, as well as discuss the goals they have for their child and what they hope the school can do to best support their child. Providing families with information about assessment data prior to eligibility and IEP meetings can help families prepare for team meetings, allowing them to generate questions they may have and alleviating feelings of being overwhelmed and having too much information to understand (Lo, 2008; Wolfe & Duran, 2013). The special education teacher may also serve as an advocate for the family. During meetings with the team, it is often the special education teacher’s responsibility to make sure that assessment data are presented in clear and understandable terms and that all team members have time to ask questions and describe supports that they believe would be important for the student.

Finally, special education teachers are tasked with communicating initial and ongoing assessment data with other teachers and support staff. Students’ IEPs are continually revised based on assessment data. Teachers and staff use assessment data to understand if interventions are effective and adjust instruction accordingly.

*This aspect of assessment will be further addressed in the IEP and Transition Planning and Assessment of Students with Disabilities courses.

HLP 6: After special education teachers develop instructional goals, they evaluate and make ongoing adjustments to students’ instructional programs.

Once instruction and other supports are designed and implemented, special education teachers have the skill to manage and engage in ongoing data collection using curriculum-based measures, informal classroom assessments, observations of student academic performance and behavior, self-assessment of classroom instruction, and discussions with key stakeholders (i.e., students, families, other professionals). Teachers study their practice to improve student learning, validate reasoned hypotheses about salient instructional features, and enhance instructional decision making. Effective teachers retain, reuse, and extend practices that improve student learning and adjust or discard those that do not.

Special education teachers identify effective instructional and behavioral practices to address the needs of individual students. Although these practices may be evidence based or widely considered effective, the special education teacher recognizes that no single practice will be effective for every student. To determine the effect of instructional practices, special education teachers make instructional decisions based on data related to student progress toward well-defined goals. This type of formative assessment is “a process used by teachers and students during instruction that provides feedback to adjust ongoing teaching and learning to improve students’ achievement of intended instructional outcomes” (McManus, 2008, p. 3).

Formative assessment requires collecting data from a range of sources

(e.g., curriculum-based measures, informal classroom assessments, observation of classroom performance, self-assessment of classroom instruction; Popham, 2008)—and using these data to inform a cycle of continuous improvement (What Works Clearinghouse [WWC], 2009b). This cycle includes;

(a) collecting a variety of data regarding student learning from valid sources,

(b) interpreting the data to determine the effectiveness of instruction,

(c) developing alternative instructional approaches as necessary,

(d) modifying instruction, and

(f) continuing the cycle by collecting additional data to determine the effectiveness of the instructional change.

To improve student achievement, formative assessment data may be used to make instructional changes such as:

  • Prioritizing the use of instructional time to increase student opportunities to learn,
  • Providing additional instruction for students who are struggling to learn particular content,
  • Modifying delivery strategies,
  •  Refining instruction, and
  • Determining if the curriculum needs to be adapted based on student strengths and weaknesses after examining grade level or school-wide data (WWC, 2009b).

*Formative assessment is a required component of lesson planning and teaching, in all clinical courses that include field-based teaching.

Assessments and Lesson Planning

This section is a concise overview of the more common assessments used in schools.

Assessment. Authored by: S. Abbot (Ed.). Provided by: Great Schools Partnership. Located at: Project: The Glossary of Education Reform. License: CC BY-NC-SA: Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike

Assessments also are used to identify individual student weaknesses and strengths so that educators can provide specialized academic support, educational programming, and/or social services. While assessment can take a wide variety of forms in education, the following descriptions provide a representative overview of a few major forms of educational assessment;

  • Pre-assessments are administered before students begin a lesson, unit, course, or academic program. Students are not necessarily expected to know most, or even any, of the material evaluated by pre-assessments—they are generally used to (1) establish a baseline against which educators measure learning progress over the duration of a program, course, or instructional period, or (2) determine general academic readiness for a course, program, grade level, or new academic program that student may be transferring into.
  • Formative assessments are in-process evaluations of student learning that are typically administered multiple times during a unit, course, or academic program. The general purpose of formative assessment is to give educators in-process feedback about what students are learning or not learning so that instructional approaches, teaching materials, and academic support can be modified accordingly. Formative assessments are not always scored or graded, and they may take a variety of forms, from more formal quizzes and assignments to informal questioning techniques and in-class discussions with students.  (In this course, formative assessments will be  “data points” in each lesson and will either provide quantitative or qualitative” data)
  • Summative assessments are used to evaluate student learning at the conclusion of a specific instructional period—typically at the end of a unit, course, semester, program, or school year. Summative assessments are typically scored and graded tests, assignments, or projects that are used to determine whether students have learned what they were expected to learn during the defined instructional period.
  • Performance assessments typically require students to complete a complex task, such as a writing assignment, science experiment, speech, presentation, performance, or long-term project, for example. Educators will often use collaboratively developed common assessments, scoring guides, rubrics, and other methods to evaluate whether the work produced by students shows that they have learned what they were expected to learn. Performance assessments may also be called “authentic assessments,” since they are considered by some educators to be more accurate and meaningful evaluations of learning achievement than traditional tests.
  • Portfolio-based assessments are collections of academic work—for example, assignments, lab results, writing samples, speeches, student-created films, or art projects—that are compiled by students and assessed by teachers in consistent ways. Portfolio-based assessments are often used to evaluate a “body of knowledge”—i.e., the acquisition of diverse knowledge and skills over a period of time. Portfolio materials can be collected in physical or digital formats, and they are often evaluated to determine whether students have met required learning standards.
  • Learning-needs identification: Educators use a wide range of assessments and assessment methods to identify specific student learning needs, diagnose learning disabilities (such as autism, dyslexia, or nonverbal learning disabilities), evaluate language ability, or determine eligibility for specialized educational services. In recent years, the early identification of specialized learning needs and disabilities, and the proactive provision of educational support services to students, has been a major focus of numerous educational reform strategies.

The purpose of an assessment generally drives the way it is designed, and there are many ways in which assessments can be used.  A portfolio of student work can be a used as both a “formative” and “summative” form of assessment. Teacher-created assessments, which may also be created by teams of teachers, are commonly used in a single course or grade level in a school.  In short, assessments are usually created for highly specialized purposes.

Assessment that enhances motivation and student confidence

Studies on testing and learning conducted more than 20 years ago demonstrated that tests promote learning and that more frequent tests are more effective than less frequent tests (Dempster & Perkins, 1993). Frequent smaller tests encourage continuous effort rather than last minute cramming and may also reduce test anxiety because the consequences of errors are reduced. More recent research indicates that teachers’ assessment purpose and beliefs, the type of assessment selected, and the feedback given contributes to the assessment climate in the classroom which influences students’ confidence and motivation. The use of self-assessment is also important in establishing a positive assessment climate.   (Seifert and Sutton, 2009)

In this general special education, entry level clinical teaching course, the focus in your lesson planning will be on pre-assessment and formative assessment. 

Baseline/ Pre-Assessment

The purpose of pre-assessment is to find out what the students know and don’t know to help plan your lessons for your specific students. For example, if you are going to be starting a new unit in math, how to add and subtract. Just by asking the students “What does addition mean?”, “What does subtraction mean” and, “Do they relate to each other?”, the teacher would be able to know that the students had a good basic knowledge of the information and could start on application-based activities. Doing a pre-assessment before each unit or lesson will help teachers use their time teaching student’s new information and save time by not teaching them what they may already know.  (Wikipedia, n.d.)

The pre assessment data will also help teachers tailor their teaching to the needs of the class and individual students. This data can further explain areas of weakness, and reduce time spend in areas where students already understand the concepts.  Even though their knowledge may be partial or incorrect, finding out what their understandings are and adjusting teaching strategies to build on or correct misconceptions will enhance their learning.  (CDIP Community Commons, n.d).

After the pre-assessment is complete teachers need to evaluate and organize that data and create or adjust their lesson plan. Once students are taught and are ready to be assessed again the teacher may make a new test or use the pre-assessment again. Pre-assessment can be used in many ways and can be effective in any classroom if used properly. (Wikipedia, n.d.)

Watch this short video overview of Pre Assessments

*In this video measurable learning objectives (MLOs) are referred to as specific learning objectives (SLOs).

[Online Learning],(2016, May 24). Introduction to Pre-Assessments. [Video File]. Retrieved from

Clinical Teaching Requirements

Before developing lesson and unit plans, the teacher candidate will collect baseline data related to the content area standard of the planned instruction. This is the starting point for learning. Baseline data will be collected through a lesson or unit pre-assessment.  This baseline data may include data from other sources that inform the student’s ability level of other skills that are prerequisite to the planned instruction.

The pre-assessment will inform the teacher regarding the students prior knowledge of the content area focus, target skill or concept. This will help to avoid teaching a skill the student has already mastered or inform the teacher that the student as not yet acquired the prerequisite skills need for the entry point of instruction that the teacher anticipated.

The pre-assessment does not need to be lengthy. However, it should include a mix of simple and more complex questions to enable students to respond at their level of understanding and to provide the teacher with information regarding each student’s prior knowledge and current entry point or baseline knowledge of the target skill.




Image citation

Bar graph Image by Mudassar Iqbal from Pixabay


CDIP Community Commons, Modes of Assessment by Dr. Robin D. Marion is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

Educational Psychology. Authored by: Kelvin Seifert and Rosemary Sutton. (2009) Located at:  LicenseCC BY: Attribution, Chapter: Selecting appropriate assessment techniques II: types of teacher-made assessments

Wikipedia, (n.d.) Pre-Assessment. Retrieved from