Psychologists who have training in school-based assessment, learning difficulties, and behavioral problems within the school setting are relied upon to prepare psychoeducational evaluation reports. Psychologists with this training are in a unique position to provide the school and parents with critical information to determine an appropriate program and placement for the student.
The American Psychological Association have published standards for school certified and private practice psychologists which govern the use and interpretation of psychological and educational tests.
What is a Psychoeducational Evaluation?
A psychoeducational evaluation is essentially a “snapshot in time” in that it represents an appraisal of the child’s current functioning against the backdrop of the child’s past. Therefore, the psychologist needs to obtain a thorough history of the child and include all relevant historical information within the report. This may include adverse medical, prenatal and perinatal factors which may impact learning.
A Psychoeducational Evaluation is a comprehensive assessment of a student’s functioning in three primary areas that impact learning and academic functioning: These areas, which include: 1) learning aptitude; 2) basic academic skill development; and 3) personality/adjustment factors.
- Tests of Learning Aptitude – (also called intelligence (IQ) tests, cognitive processing tests investigate a student’s abilities on measures of verbal-linguistic skills (long-term memory, abstract reasoning, vocabulary development, comprehension, and auditory short-term memory) as well as non-verbal skills (visual organization and memory, nonverbal reasoning, planning ability, visual motor coordination, spatial visualization ability, and short-term visual memory). Supplemental cognitive (aptitude) tests are given to further investigate any problem areas based on in-take information and observations (e.g., attention, organization, visual-auditory associative memory, processing speed, auditory (phonological processing), long-term retrieval, visuo-spatial memory and fluid reasoning, etc.)
- Tests of Academic Skill Development – investigate a student’s skills in the areas of reading, written language, and mathematics. Within each of these academic domains, the student is tested on measures of basic skills development and higher level application and reasoning skills. For example, reading tests assess word decoding, phonetic skills, word identification, fluency/rate and comprehension.
- Test of Personality/Adjustment Factors – investigate a student’s functioning with regard to the development of his/her academic coping strategies. One’s functioning in this regard is sometimes affected by self-esteem, anxiety, internal pressure, motivational levels, etc. that are that are assessed during psychoeducational evaluation. Students are also screened for emotional distress(e.g., anxiety, depression) during this portion of the test.
It is important to note that test scores may be affected by the process behind the child’s test-taking behavior. How the child obtains test scores is just as critical, if not more critical, than the actual test scores themselves. Therefore, both qualitative and quantitative information is essential in the compilation of the psychoeducational evaluation report.
Moreover, the types of tests may differ depending upon the situation as different achievement tests measure different constructs. For example, for a child who is suspected of having a specific reading disability, such as dyslexia, academic testing must include nonsense word reading in addition to real word identification. Dyslexic children have difficulty phonetically decoding words that are not in their sight vocabulary. It is only by using pseudowords, or phonetically regular nonsense words, that the psychologist can establish the child’s phonetic decoding capabilities. Many children with Non-Verbal Learning Disorders have difficulty with complex comprehension that involves inferential thinking, the prediction of cause-and-effect, and the ability to generate inferences. These areas must be assessed accurately in order to make a valid differential diagnosis.
What are the purposes of an evaluation?
- A Psychoeducational Evaluation is often conducted in order to determine whether a specific learning or other disability may be impacting significantly on a student’s academic performance. For instance, the presence of a learning disability, attention deficit disorder, or emotional disorder can result in a great deal of academic frustration and inability for a student to perform at his optimum potential.
- In addition to determining whether a student has a specific disability that impacts upon learning, plainly stated a psychoeducational evaluation gives a good indication of how a student learns best (i.e., his/her learning style (profile)). Once the teacher , parent, and student are empowered with this knowledge, they can make adjustments in order to maximize the student’s learning potential. Often when students can learn to understand their strengths and weaknesses as opposed to global assessments they may have internalized regarding their learning abilities (e.g., dumb, smart, average) they can be able to reduce feelings of academic frustration, while improving self-esteem.
When would or should a Psychoeducational Evaluation be recommended?
- A Psychoeducational Evaluation would be appropriate in situations where a student continues to experience academic difficulties after various interventions have been attempted (e.g., parent/teacher conferences, tutoring, study skills, behavior modification, etc.). Another situation would be when parents and/or teachers observe major discrepancies over time in academic performance (e.g., from day to day or between subject areas).
Important links for information regarding rule-based assessment and school/legal responsibilities can be found at: http://www.wrightslaw.com.
Information concerning the IDEA Act of 2004 can be found at: http://www.wrightslaw.com.
Information regarding No Child Left Behind Act to be found at: http://www.wrightslaw.com.