Every child learns differently. The purpose of evaluation is to explain — in clear psycho-jargon free language — how a given child learns, and by extension how to teach in a way that best fits his/her learning. Evaluation typically involves some combination of the following:
- Initial Parent Consultation; reviewing background and developmental history
- School Consultation; gathering teacher input and observations
- In-school Behavioral Observation; directly observing the child’s behavior in the actual school setting
- Neuropsychological Testing, testing main functions of learning; language, non-verbal thinking, memory, social cognition, attention, motor skills, academics
- Behavior Rating Scales, for parents and/or teachers
- Written Report, with concrete practical recommendations
1. Evaluation ≠ Testing. Testing is just one part of evaluation, and effective evaluation entails much more than just administering a laundry list of tests. Parent and teacher input, careful review of history, and direct observations often inform as much as psychological tests, sometimes more.
2. Process Approach. Tests are an opportunity to observe how the child goes about learning. Almost every child goes about the same task in a different way, and the issue in evaluation is to capture that and use it to explain how the child actually learns. Thus, the emphasis is not so much on the test score per se, but how the child arrives at it.
3. Label the Functions, not the Child. “Labeling” has become a controversial issue in present day education. In and of themselves, labels are not inherently bad, and everyone uses them all the time (for example, we use the label “dog” instead of a “four legged furry animal that barks”, or the label “ketchup” instead of “tomato concentrate made from red ripe tomatoes, distilled vinegar, high fructose corn syrup…”).
The central question is labeling what. Labeling the child, with diagnoses such as ADHD,
Asperger Syndrome, dyslexia, and many more can be helpful in some respects, not so helpful and even harmful in others. It’s often more useful to diagnose the functions involved. For example, understanding what aspects of attention a child performs well and not well tells a lot more about how to teach him than knowing if he “has” or “doesn’t have” ADHD. Similarly, understanding what particular social skills a child needs to work on, or where specifically his reading is breaking down, informs a lot more about how to help him than a blanket finding of Asperger’s or dyslexia.
4. Positive Outcome. The primary goal of evaluation is for parents to walk away with constructive understanding of their child’s learning: what mental functions are well developed and under developed, how that explains the problems at hand, specific strategies to build on strengths and remediate or bypass weaknesses. A close second goal is for teachers to gain comparable understanding, with actionable teaching strategies in the classroom. Whenever possible, it’s also very useful for children to understand themselves and their learning in a constructive way: how their mind works and their own learning strengths/weaknesses, how that works for them and against them, what they can do to make it work for them more and against them less.