The Psychological Assessment: An Important Part Of The Comprehensive Assessment (page 3)
In order to address some of the child and adolescent concerns noted in the preceding section, the school psychologist often conducts an assessment or an evaluation to obtain valuable information about the nature and severity of the problem. This information is necessary to develop an appropriate plan to assist the student. Most school psychologists function as part of the child's school support team composed of professionals from the multiple disciplines discussed in Chapter Five. The psychological assessment often complements information obtained from assessments and evaluations performed by other members of the team. The resulting comprehensive assessment package provides an overall picture of the "total child."
Overview of the Psychological Evaluation Process
A psychological evaluation involves many of the same steps that were outlined in the example of the medical evaluation introduced in the Chapter Five. A psychologist's goal is to determine the nature of a child's learning or social emotional problems in much the same way that a physician seeks to find the cause of medical problems. The psychologist does this through the use of interviews, tests, and observations. Results from various tests are compared with so-called normal or standard scores, similar to the way that the physician compares test results with what would be expected for a normally developing and healthy child. In this way, the psychologist can determine the nature of the problem (learning problem, emotional problem, behavioral problem, and so forth) and the severity of the problem (the degree to which the child's scores differ from what is expected, given the child's age and grade level).
How Will I Know When a Psychological Assessment Is Necessary?
Parents and teachers often ask when an assessment should be requested. The decision is not one that is usually made quickly, but is part of a process of ongoing monitoring and review. We introduced three stages in the assessment process in the preceding chapter; here we will discuss the stages in greater depth.
Stages in the Student Evaluation Process
There are three fundamental stages in the process.
Stage One Before the school recommends a psychological evaluation for a child, difficulties have often been evident and monitored for some time. Thus, the psychological assessment should be thought of as part of the overall process of problem solving to better understand the nature and extent of a child's difficulties.
In the initial stages of monitoring a child's progress, schools often conduct regular in-school meetings to generate informal interventions in an attempt to address concerns. Most children will benefit from these interventions and no further assistance may be required. Examples of early and informal types of school-based interventions include making a change in seating arrangements (seating the child closer to the teacher); teaming the child with a student who has stronger academic performance; or involving the child in small-group instruction.
Early on, progress review meetings may be informal, such as a discussion between a teacher and guidance counselor. If concerns persist despite several interventions, more formal meetings may take place, involving a variety of professionals, including the teacher, guidance counselor, special education teacher or resource, curriculum specialist, speech pathologist, school psychologist, school social worker, or school administrator. Parents are encouraged to attend these meetings and to provide any additional information or concerns that they may have. The names of these school team meetings (for example, student assistance team, child study team, student support team, or student intervention team) will vary depending on the school district; however, the meeting goals are universal and aimed at information gathering to assist the decision-making process.
Stage Two At this stage, the special education teacher might conduct informal assessments such as the Brigance tests to evaluate academic skills, while the school psychologist might be asked to review the school file or observe the child in the classroom. As mentioned previously, parent permission is always required if the school psychologist is asked to observe a particular child. Teachers can do classroom observations or administer screening tests like the Brigance without parent permission.
Often, the school guidance counselor, school resource teacher, or assistant principal may observe the child at this stage to suggest different strategies based on their observations. Some school districts may require that several parent interviews, interventions, and observations be completed prior to initiating a request for formal psychological assessment. Ultimately, information from these assessments or observations is shared with parents during an educational meeting held to discuss whether a more formal psychological assessment may be required.
Stage Three When the school team requires more specific information about a child's learning or emotional problems, or a parent requests an initial evaluation, then a referral for psychological assessment may be initiated (after parent permission is obtained). Once all the evaluations are completed by the diagnostic team (special education teachers, curriculum specialist, guidance counselor, school psychologist, speech pathologist), the various professionals meet with the parents to share the results of their individual evaluations (this can be done individually or as a group). Ultimately, the diagnostic team presents the evaluation results and recommendations to the staffing specialist who presides over the staffing team committee meeting where the decision is made regarding whether special education and related services are warranted. Under IDEA 2004, parents must be notified of this meeting (often called the staffing meeting or eligibility meeting) two weeks prior to the meeting date.
Steps in the Psychological Assessment
The psychological assessment itself is a process that may involve a number of steps. An overview of what to expect is provided in Table 6.1.
How to Prepare a Child for an Assessment
Parents and teachers often wonder what they can do to prepare a child for an assessment. If the assessment is taking place in a clinic or private practice, the parent should inform the child that he or she will be working with a psychologist, who is a person who has studied how children think, learn, and feel. You can share your concerns and feelings about the child's frustrations at school and reassure the child that the psychologist is there to help understand why the child is experiencing difficulties learning and can suggest ways to present information that will make it easier for the child to be successful in school.
If the child is being seen by the school psychologist, there may be a time lag between obtaining permission for an assessment and having the actual assessment take place. As you can see in Table 6.1, there are several steps that must occur before the school psychologist actually makes contact with the child. Therefore, parents and teachers should just let the child know that help is on the way, and that at some time in the future, the school psychologist will be working with him or her to find out how he or she learns so that everyone can help make learning easier.
What Takes Place in the Assessment Session?
Parents and teachers are often curious about what an assessment session is like. When school psychologists begin working with the child, they initially engage the child in a rapport-building task to place the child at ease, such as asking the child about favorite movies, books, or hobbies, or asking the child to draw some pictures, if that is the child's interest. Once rapport is established, the school psychologist usually begins by describing the nature of the tasks to be introduced.
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