By: Ann Helmus, Ph.D.
NESCA Founder/Director; Clinical Neuropsychologist
In the world of assessment, “testing the limits” means essentially bending the rules of test administration in order to see if the change in administration allows the test-taker to demonstrate their knowledge more effectively. For example, some children and adolescents respond impulsively to multiple-choice tests, picking the first choice that appears to be correct without looking at all of the choices. Standardized test administration dictates that the evaluator accepts that impulsive response and, as such, impulsivity will compromise the client’s score.
In the example above, the student was unable to demonstrate their knowledge or skills effectively on tests because of the standardized administration procedures. While it is important to generate these scores, it is also important to gain an understanding of what the student actually knows, and this is where testing the limits comes in. For the impulsive student, the evaluator would test the limits by reminding the student to slow down and look at all the choices before responding. This is non-standard test administration, and so the score is not considered valid but the results give us a great deal of information about the student’s strengths and weaknesses. There is a big difference between the student who is able to achieve the correct score when cued to slow down and the student who still answers incorrectly, even with reminders to slow down. The former student can be said to have much higher potential than the latter student. However, their ability to demonstrate their potential is hampered by impulsivity, a problem that needs to be addressed.
In the course of most neuropsychological evaluations, we are trying to understand the student’s profile of strengths and weaknesses, which often requires testing the limits. This raises the question of the value of the standardized scores. The standardized scores likely reflect the level at which the child or adolescent is functioning in the “real world.” Impulsive test-takers are almost certainly impulsive students; just as they don’t demonstrate their true potential in testing, they are not doing so in school.
Many students are able to fully demonstrate their skills and knowledge with standardized testing and don’t require “testing the limits.” However, at NESCA, we also see many highly complex students whose ability to access their potential is limited by issues of attention, executive functioning, communication, or emotional/behavioral regulation. In these cases, we routinely “test the limits” and report both standardized administration and non-standardized (“testing the limits”) scores and explain what these scores mean for the individual, what the scores tell us about daily functioning as well as untapped potential.
About the Author
NESCA Founder/Director Ann Helmus, Ph.D. is a licensed clinical neuropsychologist who has been practicing for almost 20 years. In 1996, she jointly founded the Children’s Evaluation Center (CEC) in Newton, Massachusetts, serving as co-director there for almost ten years. During that time, CEC emerged as a leading regional center for the diagnosis and remediation of both learning disabilities and Autism Spectrum Disorders.
In September of 2007, Dr. Helmus established NESCA (Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents), a client and family-centered group of seasoned neuropsychologists and allied staff, many of whom she trained, striving to create and refine innovative clinical protocols and dedicated to setting new standards of care in the field.
Dr. Helmus specializes in the evaluation of children with learning disabilities, attention and executive function deficits and primary neurological disorders. In addition to assessing children, she also provides consultation and training to both public and private school systems. She frequently makes presentations to groups of parents, particularly on the topics of non-verbal learning disability and executive functioning.
To book an evaluation with Dr. Helmus, NESCA Founder and Director, or one of our many other expert neuropsychologists, complete NESCA’s online intake form.
Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton and Plainville, Massachusetts, as well as Londonderry, New Hampshire. NESCA serves clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 617-658-9800.