As kids head back to school, we start to notice some struggle to learn more than others. Parents who take a closer look can make a big difference in the childrens’ education. Psychologists can give parents peace of mind through a psycho-educational assessment to help figure out why a little boy or girl is struggling in school. Such assessments or “testing” can help kids learn more effectively.
Not all assessments are equal. A good assessment should do the following:
1) Provide a neurodevelopmental profile, and not a label. Just giving a child a label is not helpful. It’s too easy to say that a child who struggles with reading has a Reading Disorder. That label doesn’t really tell us why the child has difficulty in that area. It’s really more important to figure out why he or she is struggling in a particular area. Is reading difficult for a learner because of weak active working memory (the size of a person’s mental desk) or because they struggle with phonological processing (oral language function involving identifying, distinguishing, and manipulating the individual sounds in words)? Obviously, different learning profiles are going to be helped by different strategies which should be designed by a good assessment.
2) Must include strengths as well as weaknesses. Too many kids who struggle in school don’t get to hear enough about the awesome tasks they can complete. These strengths need to be incorporated into the feedback session, so kids, parents, and teachers have a realistic sense of hope.
3) Assessments should incorporate multiple sources of information. They should include a broad range of qualitative information (review of work samples, interview with students, information gleaned from discussion with parents and teachers), integrated with quantitative information (such as one gets from psycho-educational tests). The person writing the report must look for a pattern of strengths and weaknesses that emerge across several tests.
4) The feedback provided should give both you and your child a much clearer understanding of what’s causing his or her difficulties in school. Students need to be given age-appropriate feedback about how they learn.
5) Must include specific learning strategies based on each child’s individual profile. This should include a customized learning plan. Avoid clinicians who provide boiler plate learning plans. If they’re giving boiler plate learning plans, they’re probably not really understanding the unique aspects of your child, and they’re not helping you, either.
6) The feedback must connect neurodevelopmental function and academic skills. It should explain why Johnny can’t read and why he’s so good at math.
7) For public school children, assessment should not be so focused on determining eligibility for services that the child’s profile isn’t revealed.
8) The process of assessment should be an ongoing process of consultation. The goal is to find strategies for better success. There’s the need for on-going follow-up and tweaking of strategies as needed. Your assessor should be available to help you with this process and make sure that you, your child, and the school stay on track.
9) It’s great when the assessor can provide feedback directly with the child’s school—their teachers, learning support teachers, school psychologist, etc. This helps ensure that everybody is on the same page and allows for brainstorming what is feasable within a particular school.
10) Prioritization of weaknesses. If a child has several weak areas, it can be overwhelming to try to address them all. A good assessment should let you know what are the really important areas to address first.
And another for good measure...Make sure the report has clear explanation of the technical jargon. It's especially helpful if it uses metaphors to help explain the concepts.
Dr. Kyra Grosman is on staff at Southeast Psych and we think she does stellar psycho-educational assessments. She also sees clients for therapy for a range of issues.