What is the Peabody Individual Achievement Test (PIAT)?

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The Peabody Individual Achievement Test is a widely used, individually administered achievement test for children and adolescents from kindergarten through high school. It provides overall age-equivalent and grade-equivalent scores and subtest scores. It is used in many educational and assessment settings.
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The Peabody Individual Achievement Test is a widely used, individually administered achievement test. Developed in 1970 by Lloyd M. Dunn and Frederick C. Markwardt, it was revised in 1989 by Markwardt. The original version, often called the PIAT, and the revision, often called the PIAT-R, are for children aged five through eighteen. In 1997, the test's normative scores were updated to reflect changes in average level of performance, resulting in the PIAT-R/NU, which is for children aged five through twenty-two. The PIAT measures widely expected educational outcomes, not specific to any particular curriculum.

The PIAT measures achievement in five areas: general information, reading recognition, reading comprehension, mathematics, and spelling. The revision added one more area, written expression. For the general information portion, the examiner reads questions aloud, and the child answers aloud. For reading recognition, the child reads aloud. For reading comprehension, the child reads a sentence silently and then chooses a picture that best illustrates the sentence. For mathematics, the child answers multiple-choice questions on topics ranging from recognizing numbers to solving geometry and trigonometry problems. For spelling, the child chooses the correct spelling of the word that the examiner speaks. For written expression, depending on the child’s level, the child either copies and writes words or writes a story in response to a picture.

The items are arranged in increasing order of difficulty. For each child, the examiner starts with some sample items and then obtains basal and ceiling levels. The basal level is the point where the child correctly answers five items in a row. The ceiling level is the point where the child misses five items out of seven. The number of items answered correctly between the basal and ceiling levels determines the child’s score. The child’s score is matched with scores of children of the same chronological age. The PIAT provides an overall score, percentile ranks, and age-equivalent, grade-equivalent, and standard scores for the overall score and for each portion.

An adult, who is typically an educator or a psychologist or someone working under supervision, administers the PIAT to one child at a time. No formal training is required, but the adult must be able to follow the instructions precisely. Typically, testing occurs in a private, quiet, well-lit room and takes about an hour to complete. The items are not timed, except for written expression. Although it is typically given in one session, the child may take a break or come back for a second session if needed.

Uses and Limitations

The PIAT has several uses. PIAT scores can be useful whenever someone needs an assessment of scholastic achievement or insight into the individual’s specific strengths and weaknesses. For the child, this information might be useful in designing a program, providing guidance and counseling, making admissions and placement decisions, and grouping students. In terms of research, the PIAT can be used for evaluation of an educational program. Also, because the test assesses individuals from preschool to post-high school, the PIAT can be used in longitudinal studies on achievement and human development. It could also be used for basic research questions, such as showing how two achievement areas are related or determining the relationship between academic achievement and other traits.

As is true of any test, the PIAT has limitations. One potential limitation is that sometimes people forget that it is a score that the individual made on one specific test on one specific day. They mistakenly believe that the score defines them. Children or adolescents who are ill, distracted, or having an off day for other reasons may perform well below their typical level. Another potential limitation is that the PIAT is limited to English-speaking children in the United States. Children who have other backgrounds would typically be at a disadvantage. Also, the PIAT must be administered in a standardized way. An examiner who deviates from the instructions might quickly inflate or deflate the child’s score.


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