Understanding Evaluations: What Parents and Teachers Need to Know to Drive Instruction and Promote School Success
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Parents and teachers need to understand all aspects of the evaluation process in order to make decisions that will positively benefit a student being considered for services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA contains very specific requirements for a student evaluation and the results will be used to make important decisions about the student's future.
Join Dr. Blanche Podhajski helps parents and teachers unravel and understand the important questions about the evaluation process such as timing, what the proposed tests measure and what the outcomes mean when a comprehensive evaluation is conducted.
Read more about Blanche Podhajski Ph.D.
Good evaluations should be individualized and based upon the referral question. In general, comprehensive diagnostic assessments for learning disabilities should look at cognitive, linguistic, academic and attentional/behavioral functioning. Within each of these areas, there are excellent tests to pinpoint how the student performs and identify specific strengths and needs. Good evaluations should drive instruction.
For a helpful article, see: Understanding the Results of Psychoeducational Testing
I am new to the field of learning disorders in children. The Stern Center for Language and Learning sounds like a wonderful place. Do you know if there is a similar center in Colorado?
Thank you. We at the Stern Center are very proud to be able to serve all kinds of learners, offer professional development to educators and conduct research.
One way to find out about resources in your area is to check out the Resource Locator on the NCLD Web site. There is a program in a neighboring state that works collaboratively with the Stern Center: the Lee David Pesky Learning Center in Boise, Idaho. Perhaps you could visit them. We would also welcome you to Vermont at any time - please put yourself on our mailing list at the Stern Center Web site.
One of the recommendations made by the Learning Disabilties Roundtable in 2004 was that the ability-achievement discrepancy model not be used for determining eligibility. They further recommended that regular education assume active responsibility for delivery of high-quality instruction, research-based interventions, and prompt identification of individuals at risk while collaborating with special education and related services personnel.
Response to Internvetion (RTI) is a comprehensive mult-tiered delivery model that helps differentiate between "curriculum casualties" - children who do not have learning disabilities but have not learned to read because of ineffective instruction - and those who have learning disabilities that are neurologically based and intrinsic to the individual. As you know, with the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, schools were given the option to use RTI or a discrepancy model so both are still currently in use. Check with your school disrict and state department of education on RTI efforts. For more information on RTI, visit the RTI Action Network or view NCLD's Parent Advocacy Guide on RTI
When it comes to evaluations, there is no substitute for clinical judgment based on a solid understanding of what we have learned through research over the past several decades. A good clinician will be able to analyze performance patterns on tests across cognitive, linguistic, social emotional and academic domains so that the child is not overtested unnecessarily but, at the same time, so that important subskills are not overlooked. For example, if a child has a decoding problem, it is not sufficient to merely assess word identification. Phonemic awareness,rapid automatic naming, reading words that are both phonetic and sight based, spelling and text reading should also be examined to see if there are deficits in these areas that have implications for instruction.
NCLD has an IDEA Guide for parents that includes a chapter on evaluation. One specific resource that may be helpful is: Questions to Ask About Evaluation Plans.
It is not WHERE the evaluation takes place that is as important as WHO does WHAT and WHY the evaluation is needed. For example, if the referral question relates to why the child is not responding to a particular kind of reading intervention and what is the best way to teach her, not all neuropsychologists may be familiar with the subtleties of different kinds of research based reading instruction. Some neuropsychologists may have this kind of knowledge.
Usually, a neuropsychological evaluation is helpful when more in depth understanding of brain behavior relationships is desired. For example, are there underlying problems with memory and attention or are there significant medical or developmental history questions related to prematurity, traumatic brain injury or a seizure disorder.
A good neuropsychologist can help direct students how to learn using their strengths but not necessarily using a specific educational curriculum. It really depends on the training and skills of the evaluator combined with the reasons and needs for the evaluation.
What a huge but wonderful question! One of my professional pet peeves is that all too often reading comprehension is assessed in isolation. That you did not qualify "comprehension" suggests that you may be thinking of it in a bigger picture context as it should be even when the presenting problem is not being able to understand what you read. To begin, reading comprehension AND listening comprehension need to assessed and compared.
If Child A is weak understanding what he reads but strong understanding what he hears, that is very different from Child B who is experiencing difficulties across both reading and listening comprehension. Child A may have a problem accessing print (decoding fluently) and thus cannot understand the meaning of text. Reading fluency should be assessed. Child B may have a generalized language disorder that affects the comprehension of both spoken and written language. A complete language assessment should be conducted. One also needs to assess the child's thinking skills, vocabulary, memory and attention since these may impact comprehension. Finally, and particularly with older students, it is important to know what the student's background knowledge is as well as how effective she is at using strategies to facilitate the process of extracting meaning from what she hears or reads.
It seems that in public school just about every low-achieving student is now labeled learning disabled, whether or not there are other factors which are affecting the child's achievement. This also means that evaluations may not necessarily pinpoint any diagnosis which can really be useful in planning remediation. What do you think?
Your question is the reason we are experiencing such a sea change in how we identify students with learning disabilities, while, at the same time, improve reading instruction for all children. When 38% of fourth grade children are reading below the basic reading level (National Center for Educational Statistics, 1998), we know that not all of those children have learning disabilities.
RTI is an effort to help general education provide effective instruction in the regular classroom and at increasingly intensive levels of intervention so that youngsters do not fall through the cracks and to increase the accuracy of identifying those with true learning disabilities. Always remember, too, that eligibility determination is not synonymous with diagnosis.
NCLD has an RTI Action Network designed to help address specific questions about how this change translates to practice. Check it out!
Criteria in our district do not provide for services for individuals with deficits in higher level thinking, only if the student demonstrates a "significant" disability in language (usual assessments given: CELF, OWLS, TOLD, TAPS, WORD). Many of my students (who I qualify) are being considered ineligible because of test scores, but their performance in the academic setting is well below par (with many failing). There is also a developing pattern to dismiss students by 5th grade saying they will always be that way and there is not much more we can do to have a signifcant impact. Your thoughts? Thank you.
Thank YOU for thinking outside the box on behalf of our students, not giving up on them and NOT being limited by scores. Absolutely we have learners who do not experience difficulties until language becomes more abstract or requires more mental manipulation.
I also do not find our language tests to be sufficiently refined to help us help these students. To begin, I would suggest that you demonstrate whether the higher order thinking skills affected are only verbal. If WISC-III nonverbal subtests such as Block Design and Matrix Reasoning are strong, the problem is not a generalized thinking problem but one specific to language and for which intervention is critical. We see many medical students at the Stern Center who have managed by virtue of their outstanding intelligence to get by through college, but hit the wall when they cannot manage all the verbal information they have to flexibly deal with in med school. I like to do diagnostic teaching with these learners to see how they categorize and classify verbal information. If nonverbal skills are strong, software programs such as Inspiration can be of help to them. If the thinking skills occur across both verbal and nonverbal domains, you are dealing with a different kind of learner.
You might also want to look at the BRIEF, the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function. It consists of observations completed by parents and teachers that can help tease out behaviors suggestive of thinking skill differences.
The Comprehensive Test of Phonological Processing (CTOPP) is a great tool to help identify potential reading problems. It can also help plan educational interventions. The Test of Early Reading Ability (TERA-3), Test of Early Mathematics Abilities (TEMA-3)and the Test of Early Writing Skills (TEWS-2), all available from Pro-Ed, Inc. are also appropriate for that age.
Additional Resource: Terms Used in Individual Standardized Tests
In addition to an unexplained disparity between intelligence and performance on academic tasks such as reading despite good instruction, there are core cognitive processes that may contribute to learning disabilities and which need to be assessed. These include phonological awareness and rapid automatic naming.
Some of the behaviors you describe may be more suggestive of difficulties with social language and understanding - I would recommend further examination of pragmatics and social skills.
As you probably already know, it is easier to use alternate forms of the same instrument than different tests to measure progress. While both are good instruments, it is the apples v. oranges dilemma. For example, reading comprehension on the WJ-III is assessed using a cloze procedure while on the WIAT it is measured by having the child answer questions after reading connected language. A comparison across these would not tell you much.
I could not find any correlations between the WIAT and the WJ-III. While both may assess "math problem solving" - which offers greater similarity across measures than "reading comprehension" - the specific constructs being measured remain different.
Getting an evaluation would not interfere. It could help illuminate strengths and needs for the student interested in pursuing higher education and help prepare him for the experience.
Should the student be identified with a learning disability following evaluation, it would be up to him whether or not to declare that information on a college or scholarship application. While it would be illegal to discriminate against a student on that basis, not all students elect to declare. It is best to find out from particular colleges being considered what their practices are for students with learning disabilities, what services they offer and how best to advocate in one's own behalf.
In terms of assessment, it is important to get a good developmental history for oral and written language in both the child's primary language and English. Were both delayed? I also like to compare vocabulary understanding and usage as well as reading comprehension and writing across both languages. Caution should be taken to assure that intelligence testing is not culturally or linguistically biased.
Given that learning disabilities are neurologically based, I explain to parents that they evident across different languages but are not the result of bilingualism.
With the advent of RTI, we all should be applying the scientific method to the problem solving process. That is what you are asking your child's teacher to do. Explain to school personnel that you are interested in instructional decisions based on data. Informed decisions can't be made without them.
Often, school personnel may not do this because they don't know how. Request data charts that show progress over time. Progress monitoring should include routine ssessment (weekly, monthly or quarterly) using comparable and multiple test forms. If adequate progress is not demonstrated, a different kind of intervention may be needed. If the school do not have staff who feel comfortable with this kind of assessment, suggest independent monitoring by a trained consultant to build capacity.
Additional Resource: RTI Action Network Web site.
I always say that writing is the last bastion to be conquered on the language continuum. It is very complex. And you are correct that our instruments to measure written language are limited. Thus, people often rely on subjective processes.
I suggest that assessment include both evaluation of the "mechanics" of handwriting, capitalization/punctuation, and spelling as well as formulation, including vocabulary, syntax and idea organization. Because most of our tests measure narrative writing, it is also important to evaluate expository writing. I recommend use of the WIAT-II.
An Independent Educational Evaluation can be a very helpful tool for both parents and schools, particularly when parents disagree with the conclusion of the initial evaluation. An Independent Evaluation can offer a different opinion or concur with the original conclusion. Either outcome offers the child the opportunity for the best diagnosis and intervention.
Additional Resource: NCLD's IDEA Parent Guide, Chapter 5: Evaluation Learning More About Your Child.
The first questions I would ask would be whether the measure and evaluator were the same. Often a shift between different Wechsler scales or examiners can be influential. I would also want to know how the factor scores shifted if the Wechsler were used.
Sometimes Verbal IQ can be impacted by severe language or reading disabilities if the child is not able to acquire information or gain vocabulary through listening and reading.
Because reading and writing are also language skills, over time a language disorder might also present as a learning disability in reading comprehension or written expression. If the language disorder also includes a deficit in phonological processing/articulation, basic decoding and encoding (basic reading skills and spelling) will also be impacted.
Today's live Talk has concluded. Thank you to Dr. Blanche Podhajski for her thoughtful answers and to the participants for their questions.