Types Of Psychological Assessments And Evaluations (page 3)
There are many different types of psychological assessments, depending on the nature of the problem to be evaluated, such as:
- Intellectual functioning
- Academic skills
- Executive functions, information processing, and memory
- Social-emotional or behavioral development
We will focus on each of these different areas in greater detail over the next few chapters, so the present description will be very brief. Intelligence tests provide a broad estimate of a child's ability and a profile of strengths and weaknesses. Assessments of achievement will focus on the child's academic levels relative to his or her age and grade expectations. Often a comparison of ability and achievement can be very helpful in evaluating differences between performance and expectations. Any significant differences between ability and achievement are a signal that further assessment may be required to investigate possible barriers to success. Additional evaluation may include an investigation of potential processing problems (attention, memory, visual motor problems, organization, and so forth) or social-emotional or behavioral problems, or both.
In addition to academic concerns and processing problems, some children may demonstrate disruptive behaviors or act out in the classroom. In this case, assessment may be requested to determine the nature of the behavioral problem( s). A key question to address is: What is causing this child to act out?
Other more subtle emotional problems may also be evident, such as a child's withdrawal from social contact due to poor social skills, anxiety, or depression. Although a child's externalizing behaviors (acting out, aggression, or disruptive behavior) are far more obvious and readily observable than possible internalizing problems (anxiety or depression), finding out the reason that a child is experiencing emotional or behavioral difficulties is often a daunting task for the school psychologist.
Rarely are the answers obvious, and the psychologist is often required to include several steps in the evaluation process such as meeting with the child, observing the child in the classroom (or on the playground), meeting with the child's teachers (present and past), and talking to the parents.
Different Types of Assessments and Different Assessment Instruments
Parents and teachers should become familiar with the different types of tests that professionals use and what each of these instruments measures. Increasing your knowledge in this area will not only help you to better understand the child's assessment results, but will also provide a better understanding of how the child learns compared to other children. Understanding the assessments will also help you to become more prepared and aware of what questions to ask the school psychologist. In the next few chapters, we will provide information concerning some of the more well-known assessment instruments that are frequently used by school psychologists.
Goals of the Psychological Assessment
School psychologists rely on standardized tests, which means that the tests have specific instructions as to how they are to be administered and have established norms (expected ranges of scores) based on previous administrations of the test to a wide range of children across the United States. Using these tests allows the school psychologist to compare a student's performance with a large number of children of similar ages.
It is always advisable that more than one assessment instrument (referred to as a battery of psychological tests) be included as part of the assessment, and that information about the child be obtained from different sources (such as parents and teachers). In this way, the school psychologist can determine whether the problem is evident in more than one area (all or some academic areas, behavior, social-emotional difficulties) and whether the problem exists across situations (home and school), or only occurs in one situation, such as in school but not at home.
In addition to formal norm-referenced tests, school psychologists also obtain information through less formal methods, including observations (in the classroom, on the playground, or test-taking behaviors); interviews (with parents and teachers); reviewing school records; and engaging the child in activities such as asking the child to bring a classroom reader to the assessment session and read from it.
Should I Meet with the School Psychologist Before the Assessment?
If parents or teachers have any concerns about the nature of the assessment, the types of assessment instruments that will be used, or if they feel that they have important information to provide before the assessment begins, they should arrange for an appointment to visit with the school psychologist prior to the assessment.
If a parent or teacher has any information that might influence the assessment (for example, recent family difficulties or a recent incident involving the child at school), it is important to share this information with the school psychologist as soon as possible, for it may affect the assessment results, or how the results are interpreted, and may even suggest the need to delay the assessment until the situation is resolved.
Can a Parent or Teacher Sit in on an Assessment?
Occasionally, parents and teachers, especially of younger children, wonder if the child might be more at ease during the assessment if a familiar adult were present. There are several arguments for prohibiting parents or teachers from sitting in on the assessment, including:
- Increased level of distraction for the child
- Increased tendencies for the child to be inhibited in his verbal responses
- Less opportunity for the school psychologist to establish rapport
- Increased sense of anxiety for the child
- Violation of test instrument confidentiality
- Increased risk of invalidating results
Test construction and copyright laws prohibit the sharing of test item content with those who are not licensed to use the products. This is true because significant amounts of time, money, and effort go into standardizing the instruments' results based on age expectations (remember that more than two thousand children were involved in obtaining norming standards for the WISC-IV, for example). If item content were to be distributed outside of professional circles, the test would no longer have value because results can be tampered with.
Another reason why it is not advisable to have someone sit in during an assessment is that many of the instruments have timed portions and the addition of another person creates a natural distraction, which could affect the outcome. Having a family member in the room (mother, father, or sibling) can make a child more apprehensive in responding. From a very young age, children look to their caregiver (for example, the mother or a sibling) for nonverbal cues regarding whether they are on the right track or wrong track. This phenomenon is called social referencing. The process is instinctive and, although words are rarely shared, children learn to read their parent's signals for a yes or no based on subtle visual cues such as an eye blink, raised eyebrow, shift in seating position, and so forth. If a parent were allowed to sit in during the assessment, a child would instinctively look for these visual cues to monitor and gauge performance. This social referencing could also result in a child changing responses, if it is suspected from subtle cues that a response was incorrect. (See the example in the following "Slice of Life" box). Children also are very aware of their teacher's cues, as well, although through increased use of standardized testing in the classrooms, teachers are becoming more and more aware of the need to monitor and avoid giving out any subtle hints.
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