Assessment Questions, Steps, and Purposes
Assessment is a global term for observing, gathering, recording, and interpreting information to answer questions and make legal and instructional decisions about students. What types of questions do teachers and parents have? Teachers of young children and parents wonder if the child is developing typically in one or more of the following developmental areas:
- Communication development. Should Jaleh be talking more now that she is 4 years old?
- Cognitive development. Is Katie experiencing difficulty performing many activities that the other children can do quite easily?
- Physical development. Does Sammy have difficulty seeing? Hearing? Does he have problems with fine and gross motor activities?
- Adaptive development. Should Luis be able to feed himself and take care of toileting needs?
- Social-emotional development. Sonia has difficulty getting along with other children. Will she "outgrow" this?
Teachers and parents of older children frequently have questions about a student's achievement, ability, or skills in one or more areas:
- Academic area. Does Elliot have a reading problem?
- Overall achievement. Why doesn't Bill do better in school?
- General intelligence. Will Joy be able to learn how to compute a math problem?
- Transition. What transition service needs does Cristoforo have?
- Social-emotional status. Daryl has difficulty making friends. How can he be helped? Sabrina seems sad and depressed. What is causing this behavior?
- Vision, hearing, or motor ability. Can Norweeta hear students speaking during class discussions? Joey frequently walks on tiptoes. Does this indicate a problem?
- Communication. Bradley can hear the speaker but doesn't seem to understand. What could be the cause of his difficulty?
Assessment Steps and Purposes
In working with students with disabilities or who may have disabilities, professionals ask questions and make decisions during each of the assessment steps: screening, referral, determining eligibility, program planning, program monitoring, and program evaluation. Decision points allow the team to use the information to make decisions regarding the needs of the student.
Step 1. Screening
Identifying children and youth who need special education services is a collaborative effort among teachers in the schools and personnel who work in agencies that serve children and families. The assessment question focuses on "Is there a possibility that the student may have a disability?" The purpose of screeningto determine whether students may have disabilities and to refer them for further assessment. Screening is designed to assess large numbers of students efficiently and economically. Based on the information collected during screening, evaluators decide whether to refer the student to the team for further assessment. Screening approaches differ, depending on whether the student is a preschooler or of school age.
Preschool children In many communities, children under age 6 come to the assessment process as a result of Child Find activities. Child Find directs parents to screening services in their community that are open to infants, toddlers, and preschoolers and that are free of charge.
Comprehensive screening of young children includes several components: parent concerns; medical history (often given through parental reports or completed by parents using a checklist); vision and hearing tests; and the use of commercial screening instruments and observation reports in the areas of general development, abilities, and skills. Screening instruments are generally inexpensive and are designed so they may be completed in a short amount of time, 30 minutes or less.
School-age students Children who are entering public school for the first time or transferring to a new school require screening. One or more individuals, such as the special education teacher or general education teacher, conduct the screening, which involves various approaches. An educator often begins by reviewing past work and test scores of the incoming student or by asking the new student a set of questions. In the classroom, teachers observe and collect information about the student's work and performance. Teachers may observe that the student is having trouble seeing a computer screen, understanding and following directions, working with others, reading, or comprehending. Parents utilize screening approaches, too. They may have concerns about their child when they see their child in relation to other children in the neighborhood or when they compare their child to their knowledge about growth and development.
School personnel conduct a variety of other screening activities. The school nurse arranges for students to have regular vision and hearing screenings. Educators review student attendance records and follow up on students who are not attending school on a regular basis. Classroom teachers administer group tests of school achievement and screen student scores to identify those students who show they are having difficulty. When screening flags children, the process moves to the next step.
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