By Kenneth H. Magrath, Ph.D, FACAPP
A good evaluation begins with a set of clear-cut goals and objectives. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Why is the evaluation being done?
- What do we hope to accomplish?
- What can be done with the information once it is collected?
The answers to those questions will help define the objectives, which should then be discussed in detail with the evaluator before the assessment begins.
A thorough evaluation has four core components:
- Developmental History: This is a detailed review of your child’s medical, educational, family, and social background. It’s important to have this information to put the test data into the appropriate context. Accurate diagnoses of learning and attention disorders, for example, require ruling out medical causes for these concerns.
- Cognitive Assessment: This is a detailed examination of learning skills and abilities. Intelligence testing is usually a part of this work. Well-developed IQ tests are excellent catalogues of the thinking skills that are required for success in school. The cognitive assessment should also include specialized measures of attention, memory, and planning and organization (sometimes called executive functioning).
- Academic Achievement: A comprehensive battery of tests is used to evaluate your child’s skills in reading, math, and writing. Most of these batteries assess basic skills, the ability to apply the skills, and the ability to work rapidly and efficiently.
- Behavior, Social and Emotional Functioning: This portion of the evaluation assesses your child’s behavioral strengths and challenges, interpersonal skills and emotional life. It’s important to identify strengths and assets as well as any difficulties that might be present.
The assessment should result in a comprehensive written report, which the evaluator should discuss with you in detail. In addition to a diagnosis, the report should contain specific recommendations for next steps and assistance, which are used to develop an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
An evaluation report usually contains a great deal of data and technical information. It should, however, be written in a way that’s accessible for nonprofessionals. All jargon should be well defined, and if it’s not, don’t hesitate to ask for explanations.
If the information is going to be shared with the school, it is essential that the evaluator present the results personally. This usually takes the form of attendance at meetings to interpret the data and advocate for your child.
Your child should get feedback from the evaluator as well. She should walk away from the process aware of her strengths and how to use them, and secure in the knowledge that parents, school personnel, and the evaluator will be working together to use the information in ways that will be helpful to her.