Speaking Plainly, What Is a Psycho-Educational Assessment?

People may seek a psychological assessment for many reasons; learning, behaviour, injury, health, emotional problems or development concerns to name just a few. A psycho-educational or educational assessment is simply one kind of psychological assessment. For example, an educational assessment investigates learning potential and academic skill development. A psychological assessment of any kind must be completed by a licensed psychologist or psychological associate who is registered with the College of Psychologists in their province.

In simple terms, during an educational assessment a psychologist must determine a person’s abilities and then see if their academic achievement is at a comparable level. It is common sense to predict that a person with an average intelligence will complete math, spelling, reading, writing and other academic tasks within the average range. A psychologist will find out whether a client’s academic performance is equal to their intelligence using testing, clinical observation and statistical analysis.

OK, what happens if you have an average intelligence but some academic area is far weaker than predicted? Now, comes the interesting part…. What is keeping the individual from performing at their level of intelligence? It could be problems with visual or verbal memory. It could be that their brain cannot track and scan written text as quickly as most people. Perhaps they have been told they don’t pay attention but actually their brain cannot process verbal information as efficiently as other people. Alternatively, a person may find it extremely difficult to begin a task, plan and organize and, monitor their performance as they work along. The truth is there are many reasons that a person is not meeting the cognitive potential they were born with.

Why would a person need an educational assessment?

The answers to this question are fairly simple. An educational assessment completed by a qualified psychologist or psychological associate could formally establish a need for an academic program at school that is specifically tailored to the student’s learning style. If you know a person’s potential for learning and their present level of achievement, you know the academic strengths and needs of that student at that moment. The truth of the matter is that a school psychologist is often the key to understanding the foundation of the student’s difficulties as well as holding the position of gate-keeper to special services and academic support within a public school system.

When will I know if I, or my child, need an educational assessment?

Sometimes delays in some areas of development are obvious very early. For example, if your child is developing language or fine motor skills more slowly than other children, he may need an educational assessment at some point. If he has difficulty following directions or routines at home or daycare you may consider watching his development more carefully. If your child begins school and experiences difficulty learning numbers, the alphabet, days of the week, colours and shapes, maintain close contact with his teacher to monitor his progress. If your child seems extremely restless, easily distracted and/or has trouble interacting with peers it is possible that he has some attentional or behavioural problems that may require assessment at a later stage.

Perhaps a parent has noticed their child is struggling at school. Often, it is a teacher who has alerted a parent that their child has been experiencing difficulty working at the same level as other children in their class even though they are trying their best. At times, it is the child who goes to the teacher or parent and lets them know that they are finding school work very difficult. Crying over homework, repeatedly asking a teacher to go over the same work, signs of low self-esteem because they fear they are “not smart” are all signs that a child’s academic performance should be monitored.

It is important to note that a person seeking an educational assessment is not always a child. Sometimes, an adult decides to complete academic upgrading or apply as a mature student to college or university while acknowledging that he or she experienced some earlier learning difficulties as a child. Many adults in this situation decide to investigate their learning style because there is more modern scientific knowledge about learning disabilities now and they hope that more sophisticated help will be available. As children, these individuals knew they were smart and capable but just couldn’t read as quickly as other people in their class or had difficulty with math or writing. This adult has made a decision that they could succeed if they could find out more about the way they learn.

One step at a time……..

Find a psychologist who completes educational assessments in your area. You can find a psychologist on the internet, the College of Psychologists of Ontario or another provincial regulatory organization. Your child’s school or pediatrician may be able to make a suitable referral for an educational assessment. Make an appointment to meet with a psychologist who has experience in School Psychology and consult with them at their office. It is best for parents to meet for a one-hour interview to determine whether their child needs an educational assessment or not. It is inadvisable to take your child with you to this first meeting. Parents will always speak more plainly about their concerns if their child is not present. More importantly, the child will not be distressed by their parent’s concerns or teacher reports. If the appointment is for an individual 18+ years they generally attend an intake interview on their own.

What do I tell my child or teen about having an educational assessment?

It is important for any client, young or old, to understand that an educational assessment can identify strengths that can help the client improve academic weaknesses. Speak positively about the upcoming experience. For example, say, “you are going to meet a person who likes people find out what they are really good at. When they do, they help you improve on a subject that is really tricky and challenging for you”.

What can I expect when I, or my child, begin an educational assessment?

Expect that you or your child will attend a number of testing or assessment sessions soon after the intake session. Most often, a psychologist will ask that test sessions be set earlier rather than later in the day. The reason for this is that people are at their best earlier in the day immediately after a good sleep. This is particularly true if attentional problems are suspected.

Remember, a psychologist wants to find out about your abilities or intelligence. This is an important step. So, an intelligence test that compares your functioning to other people exactly your age is an obvious beginning. Once this has been completed, the psychologist will want to learn more about the way your brain processes information. For example, if you hear a story could you repeat it? How about the same story after 30-minutes? What about a picture or pattern? Could you remember that as well as the story, or better? Could the client’s brain process what he or she heard easily or not? Eventually, the psychologist will want to find out how and what you have learned at school. Math, spelling, writing, listening and, reading tests will surely follow.

An educational assessment is a labour intensive piece of work; that’s definite. Once the psychologist has completed the testing, it is likely they will want to consult with the child’s teacher by telephone or ask that teacher to complete some questionnaires that could provide rich information to the assessment. The psychologist will ask parents to bring in copies of the child’s past report cards or complete hearing ~ vision tests.

Once all the evidence has been gathered, the psychologist will begin to score the tests, read the documents provided by parents and teachers and interpret the findings. As the evidence becomes clear to the psychologist and the difficulties (should there be any discovered) determined, they will begin to write up the report to present to parents and school.

Coming in for the feedback session……….

Sometimes, parents have anticipated the results of the assessment and experience a sense of relief that their child can finally begin to get the academic support they need and improve their school experience. At other times, parents dread that the findings will confirm their worst fears, a diagnosis of Learning Disability or another diagnosis. Parents sometimes need some time to grieve the loss of the dream of easy, carefree school days for their child.

It is possible that the parents may wish to meet with the psychologist more than once, particularly if the clinic can offer services that exceed a school’s budget or time.

Recommendations in the Educational Assessment

An essential component of the educational assessment is the recommendations that can help school personnel determine whether the student will be identified as an exceptional learner or not. The recommendations will address the learning deficits and how to accommodate the student’s specific learning style. The whole purpose of the educational assessment is to provide parents, teacher and ultimately, the student, with recommendations that are educationally relevant.

Consider some of the recommendations specifically designed for a child with reading problems ~ A young child who has difficulty understanding the sounds that letters or groups of letters make could experience significant difficulty learning to read. This is especially true if that child also finds it difficult to ‘code’ or file this information in long term memory and then retrieve the information when it is needed. The recommendations for this child may include considerable instruction on phonological skill-building, shared reading experiences, phonemic awareness training and, organized, explicit phonics decoding instruction and practice. The child could benefit from individualized reading lessons with attention to the construction of meaning and comprehension.

Another client with slow processing speed might benefit from timed drills in math facts to increase speed of math fact recall/retrieval. Other types of recommendations may include accommodations, such as extended time, taped presentations of reading material, shortening or modifying the format of assignments, and breaking large tasks into smaller ones.

Ultimately, the recommendations provided by the psychologist should be specifically designed to address the scholastic needs of the client and clearly established during the educational assessment.

What will you learn after an Educational Assessment?

In short……..It’s not that a person can’t learn……it’s that a person may simply learn differently and that’s OK.

Show Kids How To Get The Best From Their Education!

Making the Most of Your Child’s Education:

I would argue that I have been a teacher since I had the linguistic and cognitive ability to lead and instruct. I used to play teacher when I was a kid – no joke, I would give my brother math tests that I made up and I would pretend mark! I chose teaching as a profession because it is a skill that beats deep in my soul – I am a teacher.

I quit teaching for the public system because I believe it is a defunct, archaic system which ultimately destroys teachers and trains children to be mindless, uncreative, drones/slaves – but hey, no hard feelings.

That said, I know that there are teachers within the public system who are amazing, and public school offer’s a necessary knowledge base for your children. Going to school is an essential experience for children to have and there are important skills that can be learned from attending public school.

It is possible for you as a parent to help your children learn some high value lessons from school. Here are some ideas on how you can accomplish this with your kids.

Grades don’t matter – really they don’t!

One of the things that really shocked me when I was teaching high-school, was how focused students were on grades. The thing that shocked me more were statements like, “If I get less than 90%, my parents will ground me!”.

I am sure, if you think about it, you can name at least one person who was an all-star student in school and who didn’t amount to much in the “real-world”. The reason for this is that GRADES DON’T MATTER! And here is why:

  • They are based on rote learning: grades are based on test scores, assignment completion and how well the student memorizes and regurgitates the text-book material. Grades are not a true reflections of your child’s intelligence, creativity, social prowess or their potential.
  • Grades are sometimes randomly assigned. When it comes to report card time I have actually seen a few teachers go down the class list and assign grades based on how they “feel” the students did during the reporting period. i.e. Johnny gets an A, Sally gets a B and so on. They don’t give assignments, tests or do any formal evaluation they assign grades based on their gut instinct. Not every teacher does this, but I saw this often enough in six years and six different schools that I think it’s worth mentioning.
  • Creativity and ‘outside the box’ type thinking are not encouraged. This is for the simple fact that creativity is hard and time-consuming to evaluate.
  • Grades are heavily influenced by the teacher’s feeling towards the student. If the teacher likes your child, he/she will receive better marks. Teachers are human, they have feelings and their feelings sometimes leak into their marking.

What you need to do as a parent is take the emphasis off rewarding good grades and put it on rewarding good effort, creativity, and respect for peers and teachers:

  • If your child received a B for something, but learned a lot about the subject – that deserves to be rewarded.
  • If your child took an assignment, and made it their own or did something really creative with it – that deserves to be rewarded.
  • If you go to parent/teacher interviews, and find out that your teen is always respectful of the teacher and sticks up for others in the class – that deserves to be rewarded.

If you worry about poor or average grades hindering your child’s hopes for post secondary – stop! Universities only look at a teen’s last two years of high school. If your child has grades that are too low to go to University right off, they can do a year at college and then transfer to University. Demonstrating a year of good performance at college is much more valuable than two years of high school. And think about it, has anyone ever asked you to see your transcripts from high school?

Help your child identify interests, talents and direction.

One truly exciting and wonderful thing about public education is that your child will be introduced to a variety of subjects, experiences and opportunities. Your child will have to take part in everything from science to music and that means that they can explore different areas and find what they are passionate about. Here are some tips on how to take advantage of this opportunity:

  • Pay attention to what your children are involved in and do your best to extend and deepen their experience in each area. For example, if they are developing an interest in science, take them to the science center. If they have an interest in art, take them to a gallery.
  • Teach your children to see new subjects and experiences as an opportunity. An education is a privilege, the ability to read, reason, analyze and calculate are invaluable to our success as adults. Try to help your child develop a positive attitude towards their education.
  • Teach your children not to give up. If they are complaining about something, encourage them to see it as a challenge and not to give up on it prematurely. Often a child can’t see how something is practical and so they disregard it. Try to help them draw the connection to real life where possible. Explain how you have used the information in your life or how you have seen others use it.

If you find a good teacher latch on!

Like I said there are some fantastic teachers in the public school system. They are people who are exciting, knowledgeable, and passionate about their subject and about education. When you light upon one of these extraordinary individuals, take advantage.

As a parent stay in contact with the teacher as much as possible. Ask him or her if there is anything that you could be doing at home to support your child’s education. I used to love it when I knew I was getting support from a child’s parents. It is an exciting education opportunity when teachers and parents work together for the good of the child.

Encourage your child to talk with the teacher often. It is good for your children to spend time with adults who they respect and admire. Again I loved it when kids would drop by and hang out with me, I liked to hear about how they were doing in other classes, what they were frustrated or having trouble with and I liked to help them out when I could. Children really respond to and respect adults who care about them and respect them. It is good for kids and teens to learn how to talk with adults and for adults to model positive, open and effective communication.

Encourage your children in public speaking and leadership.

Drama class, speech competitions, school leadership programs, debate team, sporting events, and so much more. School offers a variety of opportunities for your child to work on their leadership abilities and public speaking skills.

Encourage your children to do these types of activities as often as possible. It will help your children to be more daring and confident. It helps with their social standing in the school, and It helps with their ability to organize and manage themselves and their time. These types of activities are ones which endow your child with the most usable and practical skills. They are, in my opinion, the most valuable educational experiences that public school has to offer.

School is a major market!

If you are raising a budding entrepreneur teach him or her to recognize school as a wonderful marketplace – an opportunity to make money and connections. While in school they have access to a large, captive market and those potential customers generally have a significant amounts of expendable income.

Encourage your children to look for products and services which they could offer to their peers and to start a locker based business.

Conclusion:

If you change your focus and encourage your children to take full advantage of their education, you are helping to ensure your child’s future success. Education is important, but make sure that your children are learning to be creative, open-minded, respectful, confident, eloquent, communicative individuals – and not sheep – BAAAAH!

Parental Involvement in Schools – 5 Steps Teachers & Schools Must Do Now

Parents are a critical part of their child’s education. Over the years, parental involvement in schools has declined and everything from feelings of lack of empowerment, mistrust of schools and educators to time and schedule conflicts are cited as the cause. As a parent, I believe there are five things teachers and schools can do to increase parental involvement.

1. Customize methods of involvement. Acknowledge that one size doesn’t fit all. Rather, schools need to get more creative in customizing the manner and ways in which they seek parental involvement. The important thing is to recognize that you are building a family-school partnership and that schools have to do more to meet families where they are. For some parents, parent teacher conference may suffice; yet, other parents may require more extensive outreach in order to get involvement. Examples of customization may include home visits.

2. Make social services a key component of school outreach. In many low income communities, lack of parental involvement often stems from societal or socioeconomic issues. Schools can increase involvement by making social services a key component of the school’s outreach. Such services could include helping parents find jobs, providing much needed medical exams and other services that benefit a family’s health and wellness. Healthy and happy families are likely to be more involved families. Schools need not provide the services themselves. They can partner with social service agencies that already exist in the community to provide the services while using the school as a base of operation and execution.

3. Minimize Logistical Issues. Scheduling conflicts, work schedules and other logistical issues are a major barrier to involvement. Innovative solutions are the key to increasing parental involvement. For example, schools should consider making parent-teacher conferences a month long event rather than a one day marathon. Having parents sign up at select times and on select dates over a month long period allows parents with conflicts more flexibility to attend such conferences. Scheduling set times with each parents for conferences also saves time and ensures multiple parents aren’t vying for the teacher’s attention at the same time. Schools should also consider phone conferences as an option.

Additionally, schools should consider allowing other adult involvement with respect to students. Although I believe the parent bears the bulk of the responsibility for ensuring their child’s success, schools need to reach out to other adults in the student’s life. For example, communicating with other adults, with the parent’s permission, such as uncles, aunts, grandparents, etc., about a student’s behavior, grades and even allowing them to attend parent-teacher conferences in lieu of the parent is another way to increase involvement. [Note: I understand that schools can only release information about the child to the parent but this is why we have Release Forms that parents can sign giving the school permission to discuss their child with individuals other than them].

4. Communicate with parents. Communication is the key to any relationship and so is the case with parents and teachers. While in person communication is always optimal, the technology and information age have expanded the vehicles of communication exponentially. Teachers can now send letters, email, weekly newsletter, memoranda and find lots of other ways to communicate with parents about not only their child’s progress but also about school events, needs and concerns.

5. Ask parents their thoughts and ideas. Besides caring about my children’s education, I must admit one of the biggest reasons I’m really involved in my children’s school is because they often seek out my advice or input via surveys and other methods of communication. They often ask my thoughts and ideas about the manner in which I can get involved. Accordingly, it’s always easier to be more involved when you feel like you are part of the process.

In the end, both schools and parents are partners in a child’s educational journey, and it is important that schools, educators and parents continue to find ways to increase parental involvement. The suggestions outlined above are what I believe to be a step in the right direction.