There are some overlaps between school evaluations and neuropsychological evaluations, but the main differences between the evaluations are the purpose and focus. In general, it is a “what” versus “why” difference: a school evaluation focuses on what the child’s abilities are whereas a neuropsychological evaluation focuses on why they are struggling. For many school evaluations, the child is given a short intelligence test followed by an assessment of their academic abilities. This leaves out many potential factors that are important in understanding the child’s learning pattern.
For example, the school evaluation will often omit testing:
How the student memorizes and learns information
How their language and communication ability impacts what they understand and can express
How their visual perception and motor coordination function independently, as well as integrate into being able to process what they see and write effectively
How they can organize and plan to fulfill responsibilities that they have in their executive functioning
How they can inhibit or guide their behavior to follow rules that are constantly changing in their environment.
These are a few of multiple areas which are assessed in a neuropsychological evaluation but not in a general school evaluation.
In addition, there is also a significant distinction between the outcomes from these evaluations. As schools often only evaluate basic cognitive skills and general academic functioning, they often will avoid giving a diagnosis due to the lack of comprehensive understanding provided by the evaluation.
In a neuropsychological evaluation, on the other hand, the overall focus is to gain a complete understanding of the cognitive profile and whether there is a biological basis for the problem. This is also why recommendations are so integral to the neuropsychological report and are even omitted altogether in some psychological reports.