Assessment is more than the administration of tests. It involves the collection of a variety of data to answer questions that are important in terms of planning an intervention. Assessment involves making judgments about what data to collect and the methods of data collection to use. It involves the analysis and integration of the information in order to arrive at a judgment about potential courses of action.
Assessment can be a costly process because it is labour-intensive. A comprehensive assessment, especially in complex cases can save time and energy in the long run. In such cases, the analysis and integration of information from a variety of sources (often the information is already available in the student’s file) is the prelude to the collection of additional data. The end result of such an assessment is a clear direction for intervention with goals and strategies suitable for inclusion in an individualized learning support plan (IEP and IPP).
Assessment of individual students
I offer 5 major approaches to the assessment of individual students:
- Psycho-educational assessment – assessment of intellectual functioning and academic achievement for school-aged students
- Developmental assessment – for young children
- Assessment of behaviour, including social skills
- Assessment of adaptive behaviour or life skills
- Functional behavioural assessment
Additional services offered at the conclusion of an assessment include:
- Case coordination, including leading a team through the IEP process
- Development of IEPs or IPPs
- Monitoring of interventions (via telephone or the Internet)
- Continuing consultation (via telephone or the Internet)
I offer psycho-educational assessments that include assessment of intelligence as well as achievement. I use both formal (standardized tests) as well as informal assessment devices. This service is offered for school aged students between the ages of 6 and 16.
Students who are facing national and international examinations (such as the International Baccalaureate) who may need accommodations in the examinations because of learning challenges (E.g. extra time, use of a computer etc.) must have a psycho-educational assessment that identifies both the disability and the accommodations required.
What is a psycho-educational assessment?
A Psycho-educational assessment is conducted to learn more about a student’s strengths and weaknesses in learning. It involves the administration of a standardized test of intelligence (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Fourth edition) and a standardized test of achievement (Wechsler Individual Achievement Test – Second edition. Test administration takes between 4 to 5 hours (with breaks in between) and can be administered in a school day. The tests involve answering questions that are presented orally and completing puzzle-like activities that involve manipulating pictures and coloured blocks. Students typically enjoy the activities.
When is a psycho-educational assessment useful?
A psycho-educational assessment is helpful if parents or teachers have concerns about how well the student is progressing in school. Typical examples include:
Some students seem bright but their achievement level and schoolwork does not seem to reflect their ability. A psycho-educational assessment clarifies the relationship between ability and achievement.
Some students do well in some subjects and not others. A psycho-educational assessment helps identify specific learning difficulties.
Some students have difficulty paying attention in class, getting organized for work, and remembering what to do. A psycho-educational assessment provides insight into attention and memory difficulties.
Some students may have generalized difficulties in learning that are revealed not only in schoolwork but also in life out of school. A psycho-educational assessment is helpful in identifying children who are slow learners or those who may have an intellectual impairment.
What is the assessment process?
I arrange to meet with parents prior to the assessment to get background information. If possible, I assess the student at their school and also talk with their teachers. I provide a formal, written report. I discuss the report with the parents and, with parental permission, with the student’s teachers. I also talk with the student and give them feedback according to their age and ability.
This is the most commonly used instrument for assessing the intellectual ability of students and is now in its fourth edition (known as the WISC-IV). It is administered individually. It contains several subtests that measure different facets of intellectual ability. It provides a measure of general intellectual functioning (known as the Full Scale IQ) and four index scores:
Verbal Comprehension Index (summarizes student’s performance in verbal reasoning, comprehension and conceptualization)
Perceptual Reasoning Index (summarizes the student’s performance in perceptual reasoning or reasoning without the use of language and perceptual organization
Working Memory Index (summarizes the student’s attention, concentration and working memory, which is the ability to maintain information in conscious awareness while performing some operation or manipulation with it)
Processing Speed Index (summarizes the speed of information processing)
This is a comprehensive individually administered battery of tests now in its second edition (known as the WIAT-II) for assessing achievement of school-aged students. The subtests assess achievement in reading, mathematics, and oral and written language, including spelling. The WIAT-II is directly linked with the WISC-IV and so is useful in identifying discrepancies between ability and achievement as well as learning disabilities.
What is development?
Development refers to the gradual acquisition of skills by babies and children. Young human beings are born without the skills necessary to take care of themselves. These skills (walking, talking, thinking etc.) emerge gradually as they grow and mature. Most children acquire these skills in a particular order and within particular age ranges. As long as a child is stimulated, development occurs spontaneously. It is not something that can be taught or learned.
The rate at which a child develops skills in particular areas gives a sense of how he/she is maturing relative to children of a similar age. Skills are acquired gradually with some children maturing at a faster rate than others. But we know the range of ages between which basic skills (such as language) are acquired. Where the child is on the continuum of skill acquisition gives insight into their development generally.
When is a developmental assessment needed?
A developmental assessment is recommended for young children (3 – 6) if their progress in important areas is lagging behind that of other children. The child who does not walk or talk at the same age as most other children may be a ‘late bloomer’ or their development may be atypical. A developmental assessment can be the first step in determining if the child’s development is atypical and if they may have a disability.
Importance of Early Intervention (EI)
Establishing a child’s developmental level is important as many children can benefit from early intervention. EI is for children who are not acquiring skills at typical rates. EI can help the child and the family cope better with the child’s slower rate of development.
Components of a developmental assessment
Major areas assessed include:
- Cognition or thinking skills and attention
- Communication skills
- Social and emotional functioning
- Self-help skills and behaviour
- Motor coordination and physical skills
- Sensory processing
What is involved?
The psychologist investigates the child’s developmental profile by:
- Interviewing parents and teachers
- Observing the child at play and in more structured situations
- Observing the child’s self-help skills and interaction with peers.
The psychologist prepares a report of the assessment, with recommendations, and discusses the findings with parents.
I conduct assessment of the behaviour of students with a wide range of presenting difficulties (Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attachment Disorder, Conduct Disorder, Attention Deficit Disorders, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder, and Intellectual Impairments). I also perform analyses of problematic behaviour that occurs in groups of students (i.e. classes). These assessments rely on direct observation of the behaviour(s) of concern using techniques from Applied Behaviour Analysis (ABA).
Each assessment is highly individualized and is designed according to the issues or problems identified by the school or parents. As well as overt, acting out behaviours, I address such issues as lack of behavioural self-control, especially impulsivity, hyperactivity and restlessness.
I also address skill deficits such as social skills deficits and deficits in interpersonal skills. Input is sought from significant others (parents, teachers, administrators etc.) as appropriate. Information from such an assessment is used to plan an intervention.
I provide assessment of the level of adaptive behaviour or life skills for students with Autism Spectrum Disorder or other exceptional needs (such as intellectual impairments). I use a combination of formal and informal assessment devices involving interviews with significant others and direct observation. Typical domains covered include personal management, interpersonal and communication skills, community and leisure skills, and, depending on the age of the student, pre-employment and employment skills. This kind of assessment typically yields much detailed information about the level of adaptive functioning that is useful in the development of an intervention plan (IEP, IPP or Statement).
I offer functional behavioural assessment for students with difficult-to-manage behaviour or with social skills deficits. The emphasis is on increasing positive or pro-social behavours rather than on punishment.
The goal of a functional behavioural assessment is to identify relationships between personal and/or environmental events and the occurrence or non-occurrence of target behaviours.
Specific information is collected concerning the challenging behaviour and hypotheses about the function or purpose of the behaviour for the target individual are examined. Data are collected via a variety of indirect methods (interviews, rating scales, checklists), and also direct methods (anecdotal records, frequency and duration counts, A-B-C records, scatter plots, and setting events records).
Hypotheses about the function of the challenging behaviour are confirmed or disconfirmed using functional behavioural analysis.
This form of assessment is extremely useful for individuals identified as Autism Spectrum Disorder, Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder or for individuals with other behavioural challenges.
Steps in a functional behavioural assessment
Step 1 – Identify and define the target behaviour(s)
Step 2 – Identify events/circumstances regularly associated with the occurrence/non-occurrence of the challenging behaviour
Step 3 – Explore the potential function(s) of the behaviour
Step 4 – Generate hypotheses (best guesses based on data collected) about the relationship between the behaviour and the events and circumstances in the environment. This includes hypotheses about the potential function(s) of the behaviour for the individual.
Step 5 -Functional behavioural analyses in which the variables identified in the hypotheses are systematically manipulated. (This stage resembles small ‘experiments’ to tease out what the function of the behaviour for the student).
Step 6 – Develop interventions utilizing information generated in the previous step. Focus on modifying events or circumstances associated with the undesirable behaviour AND teach desirable alternative behaviours to address the original function of the undesirable behaviour.