Audience: Youth Service Professional

Defined as “the process of collecting data for the purpose of making decisions” (Salvia & Ysseldyke, 2004), assessment is a major component of high-quality career planning for youth in transition. Youth service professionals are the critical link between services and customers and therefore need a thorough understanding of assessment dynamics and the ability to access additional resources and other professional input when appropriate. Specific skills for working with youth with disabilities are needed to ensure that the disability is considered as a factor in their career plan, not as a barrier to achieving desired goals.

In addition to the principles of assessment, youth service professionals should understand

  • the types of assessment activities used in transition and workforce development;
  • what the four assessment domains measure or discover;
  • the factors involved in selecting and using assessment tools, both formal and informal;
  • commonly used published assessment and testing instruments;
  • legal and ethical considerations in testing, including confidentiality;
  • policies and practices of the educational agencies and workforce development organizations for whom they work; and
  • accommodations and how they impact assessment and academic and career planning for youth with disabilities.

Assessment activities are the same for all youth whether they have disabilities or not. They include observation, interviews, record reviews, and testing/performance reviews PDF icon (view Assessment Activities list in MS Word Document is in Microsoft Word format). A thorough, well-planned assessment includes all of these activities.

Tests or performance reviews of transition-age youth fall into four major domains: educational, vocational, psychological, and medical. There is quite a bit of overlap across these domains, and assessment in one domain will often lead to useful information or understanding in another. No assessment outcome stands alone—data from all four domains are needed to have complete and well-documented plans in place for the individual.

The scores or results of testing or performance reviews provide information about an individual in one (or sometimes two) of the four assessment domains. Testing and performance reviews measure academic performance or achievement; cognitive abilities; behavioral, social, and emotional factors; vocational interests; job aptitudes and skills; occupation-specific qualifications; and physical and functional capacities. For more information on what tests measure, see Table 1.3: Formal Testing Areas PDF icon (view Table 1.3 in MS Word Document is in Microsoft Word format).

Youth service professionals who work with youth with disabilities need an understanding of reasonable accommodations, including assessment accommodations, that can be provided in educational and work settings. Accommodations are changes made in a classroom, work site, or assessment procedure that help people with disabilities learn, work, or receive services. Accommodations are designed not to lower expectations for performance in school or work but rather to minimize the effects of a disability. Provisions of ADA and IDEA promote the use of testing accommodations for youth with disabilities for the purpose of increasing access to and participation in public education and employment. Accommodations are of particular concern when using criterion-referenced or norm-referenced instruments. The goal of accommodations should be to change the way that a test is taken without changing the validity of the test results.


1. What factors must be considered when selecting tests for individuals?

Commercially prepared and published tests should be chosen with the ultimate goal of helping the individual; this includes considering the effects of the individual’s disability on the validity of the testing process. The ideal assessment instrument has several attributes, which may be difficult to balance.

  • Reliability (provides consistent results over time)
  • Fairness (free from bias; conforms to recognized test administration standards and ethics)
  • Validity (measures what it says it measures)
  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Appropriate length
  • Well-matched to the qualifications of the test administrator
  • Easy administration
  • Easy-to-understand results
  • Appropriateness for the individual’s needs

In addition to having criteria for assessing quality in tests, youth service professionals should choose tests that fulfill specific needs of the individual young person. After reviewing available records and conducting interviews and observations, the youth service professional should work with the young person to determine some short term, and possibly longer-term goals. Individual youth may need assessment in a few or several areas. Older youth with established academic credentials or clear vocational goals may not need extensive testing to measure achievement or uncover vocational interests. Others may have complicated situations requiring an extended process of supported planning and implementation.

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2. When should I refer a young person for further assessment?

Assessment instruments are used to help determine students’ specific abilities, strengths, and challenges. The results of assessments should not be used merely to categorize a student but rather as tools to develop strategies to help the young person reach desired goals. Assessments also help identify areas to probe in order to understand an individual’s potential strengths and abilities in educational or community settings.

When test results indicate a need or potential limitation, logical next steps may include reviewing additional school records, talking further with the student and his or her family to obtain additional information, or consulting with a professional. This information-gathering process may lead to referral to an appropriate agency for additional testing or services, or to conversations with schools or workplaces about education, training, or the need for accommodations.

Test publishers usually (1) provide information on the qualifications required to administer and interpret the results of their assessments, and (2) restrict the sale of assessments to those who meet their qualifications. Youth service professionals without training in the use of formal assessments should have access to professionals who can administer and interpret results of complicated testing materials. Publisher websites should also be consulted regularly for the latest supporting information on any given test instrument.

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3. How can I get more information about published tests?

Because assessment can affect students’ lives in both good and bad ways, administering or interpreting tests given to young people carries a great deal of responsibility. This code of fair testing practices describes in detail the obligations that professionals must meet in order to assess youth fairly and ethically. Youth service professionals must be familiar with and knowledgeable about any assessment instrument they use with youth.

Most commercially available tests have marketing information on publisher websites. These sites describe how to purchase tests, what they measure, their cost, and who is eligible to administer them. Some sites provide more information than others and may include data on reliability and validity. Most tests have print manuals that provide greater detail than the website. These manuals may be free, available for a fee, or come with test packages. NCWD/Youth has compiled a directory of over sixty published assessments commonly used with youth in transition. This directory provides basic information about each instrument along with the publisher’s website, address, and phone number.

Several texts also have extensive information about published tests; these texts are listed under references.

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4. What should I do if I suspect a youth has a disability but he or she has not disclosed one?

Adult systems may be a particular challenge for youth with hidden or non-apparent disabilities. Because of the nature of these disabilities, identification and assignment of needed interventions and supports are more difficult. Parents and professionals often have inadequate understanding of the nature of hidden disabilities or of useful accommodations. Most importantly, youth with hidden disabilities are less likely than others to disclose their disability because they wish to avoid being stigmatized or labeled. This means that youth with these disabilities may enroll and enter educational, training, and employment programs without communicating their disability and needs for accommodations and special assistance—and without understanding the advantages of disclosure. These advantages include protection from discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act; accommodations and modifications to testing, training, and employment; and, in some cases, eligibility for additional services and supports such as assistive technology. Remember, too, some youth may have hidden disabilities that have never been diagnosed.

If youth service professionals suspect that a youth has a disability during the assessment and career planning process, they may refer him or her to a professional for testing to determine the presence of a disability. Screening tools may be used as a preliminary step to determine the need for referral for additional testing. For example, Learning Needs Assessment Tool PDF icon (view Asessment Tool in MS Word Document is in Microsoft Word format) may be used to screen for possible learning disabilities. However, it is the youth’s decision to disclose his or her disability—and to accept or refuse the disability assessment.

The Learning Needs Assessment Tool recommends that all of the following be put into place before using the tool: criteria for implementation and standards for services; appropriate referrals and resources; protocols for confidentiality and disclosure of information; and protocols for proper training, implementation, and evaluation. These steps are necessary for the protection of the client and the entity considering referring a youth for additional testing. Youth service professionals should also be familiar with nondiscriminatory practices for interviewing and testing under the Americans with Disabilities Act, Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act, and other legislation.

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Americans with Disabilities Act, U.S. Department of Justice (ADA)
Contains ADA standards, technical assistance, information on Section 508 technology accessibility, and more.

Association on Higher Education and Disability (AHEAD)
Membership organization for promoting access of people with disabilities to higher education. Contains information on testing accommodations, disability documentation, code of ethics, resource links, and training information.

The Center for Mental Health Services (CMHS)
The primary information resource for federal mental health programs and topical publications; also has a telephone information center.

Center for Substance Abuse Research (CESAR)
Provides information to policymakers, professionals, and the general public about substance abuse, including its prevention and treatment and its relation to other problems.

The Commission on Certification of Work Adjustment and Vocational Evaluation Specialists
Certifying body that sets, maintains, and promotes high standards consistently and responsively for persons who practice vocational evaluation, work adjustment, and career assessment. Contains code of ethics, guiding principles, certification information, training and scholarship information, a list of certified profesionals, and other resources.

Council on Prevention and Education: Substances, Inc.
Provides consultation, education, and training services on substance abuse prevention.

Internet Mental Health
A free Internet-based encyclopedia of mental health information.

Job Accommodation Network
Free consulting service that provides information for employers and people with disabilities about workplace accommodations, the ADA, and the employability of people with disabilities. A major feature of the network is the Searchable Online Accommodation Resource

Learning Disabilities Association of America
Research, resources, support, and information about learning disabilities, for parents, teachers, and professionals.

National Center for Learning Disabilities
Provides background information, resources, and referral services for people with learning disabilities.

National Center on Educational Outcomes
Contains information on the participation of students with disabilities in national and state assessments, standards-setting efforts, and graduation requirements, including test accommodations and other issues.

National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities
Contains information on autism, behavior, learning disabilities, testing and accommodations, health-related information, mental health services, and more.

National Mental Health Association
A national public education, training, and technical assistance resource for information on mental illnesses and treatments, including a resource center for referrals to local Mental Health Associations.

National Resource Center on AD/HD
A national resource center containing information on the diagnosis and treatment of Attention Deficit Disorder and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder; legal, insurance, and public benefit issues; educational rights; and state resources.

National Resource Center for Traumatic Brain Injury
Provides practical information for professionals, persons with brain injury, and family members.

Section 188 Disability Checklist
Checklist developed by the Office of Disability Employment Policy in the U.S. Department of Labor to assist WIA-funded entities in complying with Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities. The checklist includes the areas of conducting initial interviews, administering subsequent assessments, pre-employment interviews, and confidentiality of records and medical information.

Traumatic Brain Injury National Data Center (and Models Systems)
Contains a registry of centers that specialize in traumatic brain injury, as well as research and publications.

Vocational Rehabilitation State Offices
Provides links to state vocational rehabilitation offices, commissions for the blind, and other client assistance programs that vary by state, including self-employment options.

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James Madison University. (2003). Guidelines for documentation of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Retrieved November 26, 2003, from

Maddox, T. (2002). Tests: A comprehensive reference for assessments in psychology, education, and business. Austin, TX: Pro-Ed.

Maryland State Department of Education. (2001, June). Identifying specific learning disabilities: Maryland’s technical assistance guide. Baltimore, MD: Author. Retrieved August 10, 2004, from .

Minnesota Department of Human Services. (2003). Continuing care: Chemical health. Retrieved November 26, 2003, from

Salvia, J. & Ysseldyke, J. (2004). Assessment in special and inclusive education. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin.

Thurlow, M., House, A., Boys, C., Scott, D., & Ysseldyke, J. (2000). State participation and accommodation policies for students with disabilities: 1999 update (Synthesis Report No. 33). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota, National Center on Educational Outcomes. Retrieved July 16, 2004, from

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