I attended an IEP this week where the discussion focused mainly on the student’s off task behavior; there are a variety of reasons why a student will exhibit this behavior. The difficulty is identifying the exact reasons why or what triggered the off task behavior. I think we as parents and educators of children with special needs must keep in mind that in order to determine the cause of off task behavior, we must acknowledge all the areas of need first. Most children with special needs have multiple disabilities, so it’s imperative to look at each area as a possible trigger for off task behavior. Read the rest of this entry →
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1. What is the special education law that can help my child with a disability?
The foundation of today’s special education law was passed in 1975 and enacted in 1977. This was Public Law 94-142, The Education for All Handicapped Children Act of 1975. In 1990 EHA was renamed to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act or IDEA. IDEA was most recently reauthorized in 2004. The Purpose of IDEA is to ensure that all children with disabilities have available to them a free appropriate public education or FAPE that emphasizes special education and related services designed to meet their unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment and independent living.
It’s important to note that the law only guarantees an appropriate education and not the best education. Best is a four letter word and Parents should learn to replace it with the word appropriate when discussing their child’s special education needs Read the rest of this entry →
Funny thing happened to the learning field in the 21st century- numbers now rule the world. Parents, administrators, politicians, clinicians, educators . . . everyone seems to be clamoring for (and clinging to) numerical data. To be sure, scores are important sources of information. But they almost never tell the whole story about a learner.
Qualitative findings are observations made about learner behavior. Such findings may focus on process (how the learner arrived at a response or completed a task) or product (such as accuracy, types/patterns of errors, and organization of work). Quantitative findings are numerical and often normative, meaning that the test developers administered the task to numerous students (usually at different age/grade levels) to generate means and standard scores (like an IQ score). Contrary to what many believe, a standard score does not represent an amount of ability or level of skill. Rather it is a comparison between a learner’s ability level in a defined area or skill with that of other, similar-age students. Both qualitative and quantitative assessment information serve important purposes in assessments. Each type of information has its advantages and disadvantages. Read the rest of this entry →
The decision about whether or not to have your child evaluated by the school or by a private practitioner can be a difficult one, as discussed in my prior post My Child Needs a Psychological Assessment: Should I Have This Done Through the School or Privately. Once you have made the decision to invest in a comprehensive independent evaluation outside the school, you may wonder what you can expect from the psychologist. Private evaluations are not inexpensive - you are paying for many benefits that are not necessarily part of the testing process within the school. Parents should expect to receive the following services as part of the evaluation when seeing a psychologist in private practice.
1) AN INITIAL MEETING PRIOR TO THE START OF TESTING: This meeting gives the psychologist a chance to gather relevant information about your child’s medical, psychological and neurological history, past and present school performance, and overall functioning. In addition, this is when the “referral questions” should be clarified. The referral questions are the specific questions that the parents and other professionals treating the child have been unable to answer. The initial meeting is an important tool in helping the testing psychologist develop an individualized assessment that will best answer those questions. Evaluation should not be “one size fits all” but rather tailored to the particular needs of each child. Depending on the age and circumstances of your child, they may be invited to join this meeting as well.
2) HOMEWORK: Yes, parents and teachers get homework too! It is very helpful for the psychologist to understand how your child has been functioning in both their home and school settings. Thus, it is common for psychologists to provide questionnaires for parents and teachers to fill out. Depending on your child’s age, they may also be given self-report measures to complete. Parents will also be asked to bring copies of any prior testing that has been done for the examiner to review.
3) A COMPREHENSIVE SET OF TESTS AND SUFFICIENT TIME FOR THE EVALUATION: While the actual amount of time needed to complete the testing depends on your child’s age and the referral questions that are being addressed, a comprehensive evaluation typically requires approximately 7-12 hours of testing. While that may seem like a lot of time, it is necessary in order to properly and thoroughly assess IQ, achievement, underlying cognitive abilities such as attention, information processing, executive functions, memory, and language functions, as well as personality structure and current symptomotology. The testing is typically broken down into 2-4 sessions, often with breaks for lunch and/or snacks. The number of sessions generally depends on the age and temperament of your child, although certain tests must be administered in a single sitting and this should be considered when scheduling the assessment sessions. It is generally preferable to start testing in the morning, rather than after a full day of school.
4) A COMPREHENSIVE, INTEGRATED, INTERPRATIVE REPORT WITHIN A REASONABLE AMOUNT OF TIME: A good report will not merely list the test scores, as a list of data is not overly helpful. Rather, the psychologist should discuss and explain the findings, and then interpret them within the context of answering the referral questions. Discrepancies within the data and with prior testing should be addressed and explained, not glossed over. The report should include specific and detailed recommendations for intervention and treatment – this is essential in order to make use of the findings and utilize them in a concrete manner to help your child. A full list of tests administered, as well as an Appendix with all of the test scores, should be included so that parents will have the ability to let other professionals review and interpret the scores if they wish. Good reports cannot be written quickly, but three to six weeks after the testing is completed would be a reasonable expectation for parents.
5) AN OPPORTUNITY TO REVIEW THE FINDINGS WITH THE PSYCHOLOGIST: A comprehensive psychological report is long and often complex. Parents should be given the opportunity to meet with the psychologist to review the findings, and to ask any questions that they may have about the report. While this in-person feedback session with the psychologist to discuss the report is essential, many parents have questions that arise after the feedback session, and the psychologist should be available and willing to answer them by phone.
6) COLLABORATION WHILE MAINTAINING CONFIDENTIALITY: Parents have the right to determine who views their child’s psychological evaluation. While it can be very helpful for the school and other professionals treating their child to view the results, parents are not required to share them with anyone. Once completed, the report is the property of the parents, and they may copy and distribute their child’s report however they see fit, without needing any approval from the psychologists. However, given that other clinicians working with the child (e.g. therapists, psychiatrists, tutors etc.) would likely be able to utilize the information in the report to enhance their work with the child, it is often recommended to the parents to share this information. If shared, reports should not be transmitted through email or fax, as confidentiality cannot be guaranteed in those mediums. If parents do choose to share the report and give consent, the psychologist should be available to discuss their findings with the other treating professionals. The psychologist should not release any information regarding the report without written consent from the parents.
Psychological evaluation can be extremely helpful, as long as both the parents and child fully understand all parts of the process. Parents have the right to speak up and ask questions. Ultimately, the hope and expectation in commissioning a comprehensive psychological evaluation is that the private psychologist will address and answer the referral questions provided by the parents in a manner which provides a clear plan for effective interventions and treatment that will improve the quality of life for your child, and your family, going forward.
Melissa B. Singer, Ph.D. is a clinical psychologist in Westchester County, New York. She specializes in comprehensive psychological, cognitive, educational and neuropsychological assessment for children and adolescents. You can learn more about her practice at these websites:
My child needs a psychological assessment – should I have this done through the school or privately?
Children may be referred for psychological testing for many reasons, as discussed in my prior blog post, My child was referred for psychological testing – what does that mean? Typically, the first decision to be made when your child is referred for an evaluation is choosing whether to have the assessment done by the school psychologist or by a psychologist in private practice. One common motive for requesting an evaluation is that it is a required part of obtaining an Individualized Education Program (IEP). Many parents are unaware that they have the RIGHT to request an independent evaluation if they receive a school evaluation for an IEP and disagree with the findings. Parents can even request that the district pay the cost of the subsequent private evaluation (see this link from the US Department of Education for details: http://www2.ed.gov/parents/needs/speced/iepguide/index.html#process). Given this mandate, one logical conclusion would seem to be to start with a school evaluation, and wait to see if you are satisfied with the results before scheduling a private evaluation. However, certain crucial measures (e.g. IQ tests) are prohibited from being re-administered for a period of one year due to practice effects, and therefore the private practitioner would be forced to use the scores gathered in the school’s evaluation, utilize different measures, or wait the long period before re-administration. In addition, the child would then have to miss additional class time to participate in a second testing. Thus, the decision of whether to use a school psychologist or a private practitioner is best made prior to the start of the testing. Read the rest of this entry →
I have noticed that many of the parents who call me because their child was referred for psychological testing are surprised and uncertain about the reason for the referral. In addition, it is unclear to them how an evaluation can be helpful. This is the first in a series of blog posts aiming to demystify the process of psychological assessment and discuss the benefits of having a child evaluated. Read the rest of this entry →