Having a child undergo assessment for learning disabilities is a complex and confusing process for most parents. Parents often wonder where to find clear information about psychoeducational testing – what the tests involve and how to understand and interpret the resulting test scores. In her book, Learning Disabilities from a Parent’s Perspective, author and parent Kim Glenchur does an excellent job of “demystifying” the process of psychoeducational testing. Following is an excerpt from her book which clearly explains the testing process and how to prepare your child for testing.
What is psychoeducational testing?
Psychology is the study of mental processes and behavior. Psychoeducational testing refers to the psychological tests used to analyze the mental processes underlying your child’s educational performance. As part of the assessment, your child will undergo psychoeducational testing.
Numerous tests exist. Some are better than others. Because these tests will be used to determine the nature and severity of any underlying disorders, you should try to understand what these tests mean.
Preparing your child for testing
Preparing your child for psychoeducational testing can reduce anxiety and encourage cooperation through the upcoming battery of tests. One practice is to introduce the discussion by the number of days as the child is old; if the child is eight years old, discuss the evaluation at least eight days in advance of the testing.1 Reassure your child that the reason for testing is to understand why school is a struggle despite hard work and attempts to do well. Explain that the tests will contain a variety of questions, puzzles, drawings, stories, and games; and that the tests are neither painful nor about whether the child is crazy. Most importantly, offer the child hope in that the evaluation should show adults how best to help. Be open and honest as much as possible.
The psychologist doing the testing should have been trained in managing children with a history of academic failure. Test administrators try to make children comfortable. Do not expect your child to be aware of his or her actual test performance; correct answers are not supposed to be given out in order to maintain the professional integrity of the test. What really matters is whether the child is putting his or her best effort into each test administered. Some tips:
- Schedule the test sessions (there will be many) during the time of day when your child usually functions best. Try to retain your child’s favorite classes or activities so that testing will not be a negative experience. Ensure that the child is well rested and not hungry. Take something along to do while you wait; stay in the area during the testing. My son felt better knowing that someone familiar was nearby whenever he was being tested even if he was familiar with the proceedings.
- Your child will want to know about what will happen. Students should understand the roles of the professionals conducting the testing and the reason(s) for the assessment. If possible, visit the test site with your child before the first day of testing. When scheduling the assessment, you should be able to find out about the expected types of questions, testing methods, and the length of each session. The test administrator should explain all that the child needs to know in order to do the test. Your role is to get the child to the test site on time and in a condition to do the best work possible.
- For many tests, observations of the student’s behaviors are important. Tests of skills, for example, present increasingly difficult problems or tasks until the child fails three or more times. The test administrator will note the situations causing fatigue, inattention, frustration, or delayed responses. This is all part of the diagnostic process. Tell the child to do his or her best and not to be discouraged. The child should remain calm and collected during testing. The test administrator should permit breaks as needed.
Since the test results will affect the child’s future, a child should be able to ask about the results and the impact of these results. The assessment period will be an anxious time for you as well.
Learning patterns, which can explain observed behaviors, appear within a battery of tests. For example, a seemingly inattentive child who has problems following directions may also score low on tests of oral comprehension. In Educational Care, Levine has presented tables of evaluation components.2
|Evaluation Component||General Descriptions of Subcomponents|
|Educational||Psychoeducational testing — observations of academic performance on standardized testing with documentation of “breakdown points.” |
|Direct classroom observations3 and error analyses by teachers|
|Interpretations of historical data from parents and possible interview with the student|
|Behavioral & Affective||Direct observations, projective tests, and interviewing of the child to assess affect, seek other psychological conditions, determine child’s feelings about school problem(s)|
|Use of parent, teacher, and (when possible) student questionnaires to elicit patterns of behavior and behavioral concerns|
|Cognitive & Developmental||Direct intelligence, neuropsychological, and/or relevant neurodevelopmental testing to detect neurodevelopmental strengths and weaknesses|
|Use of questionnaires to document past and present neurodevelopmental function, affinities, and styles|
|Environmental||Interview with parents to elicit relevant factors in the current and past home environment of the child|
|Consideration of cultural, peer-related, and community based issues related to the student’s performance|
|Medical||Review of child’s medical history to uncover current or previous factors affecting school performance|
|Complete physical examination to rule out any definable medical disorder associated with the child’s learning difficulty|
|Complete neurological examination to detect any possible central nervous system disorder|
Psychological test caveats
A full assessment is a differential diagnosis about the abilities and traits of a child. Interpretations of numerical scores can lead to conclusions about a child’s ability to perceive, process, and express information. Only some of these tests will be used to assess your child. Before you enter any discussions about test results with school personnel, you should find out from the test administrators which tests will be used and obtain independent information and reputable opinions about those tests. Libraries and parent information centers are good places to begin your search.
A psychological test is just one measurement. No single definitive test exists to diagnose a learning disability with 100% accuracy. A diagnosis results from the convergence of many tests. Often, observations of a child’s adaptive behavior and social skills assist the identification process. Some children, however, have multiple problems that confound the diagnostic process.
These psychological assessments are not perfect and can be influenced by the testing environment and the psychologist’s experience and training. There are many issues affecting psychological testing:
- The test may have been developed with a purpose and a population very different from those of your child.
- The overall condition and attitude of the child can affect test results. Testing over many days can lessen the impact of unusually good or unusually bad test sessions.
- The test may not be a true measure of what it is supposed to be measuring. Statistical adequacy of the tests, also known as psychometric properties — such as standardization, reliability, or validity — determine a test’s assessment value.
- Test scores can be misinterpreted and thus lead to a misdiagnosis of your child’s problems. The test administrator should be adequately trained to avoid scoring errors, to disregard statistically insignificant differences (such as a one-point IQ gain), or to overgeneralize a diagnosis based on one test alone.
- Many psychological tests include standards for determining typical categories of learning patterns, but not every possible combination if multiple problems are involved. Thus a child who does not fit conveniently into one of the typical cognitive profiles may receive an incorrect differential diagnosis to explain his or her inability to learn.
- Repeating the same test later may be an invalid measure of the child’s progress.
Since tests today are used to determine things important in people’s lives such as program admissions and educational placements, it is crucial that they be understood.
- Milton F. Shore, Patrick J. Brice, and Barbara G. Love, When Your Child Needs Testing: What Parents, Teachers, and Other Helpers Need To Know About Psychological Testing (New York: The Crossroad Publishing, 1992), p. 78.
- Mel Levine, Educational Care: A System for Understanding and Helping Children with Learning Problems at Home and at School (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Educators Publishing Service), pp. 248 and 250. Copyright © 1994 by Melvin D. Levine, M.D. Adapted from Tables 8.2 and 8.3 and reprinted with permission of Educators Publishing Service, Inc.
- Classroom observations are to be made by at least one evaluation team member other than the child’s regular teacher, according to 34 CFR § 300.542.