Updated: Oct 12, 2020
Why is my child struggling to learn to read?
His teacher says he's at grade level, but I just know there is something going on I can't put my finger on...
Why is my child having such trouble paying attention?
He always does his homework, but I find it at the bottom of his backpack!
She used to be so happy and now she just sulks in her room and I can't get her to do her homework...
If questions like these resonate with you, it may be time to consider assessment. Comprehensive evaluations help answer questions about how your child learns best, unveils their learning profile, answers questions parents have about their learner, and provides suggestions for how to support moving forward. A good evaluation will provide you with answers and an individualized action plan. Evaluations through the public school system will help determine eligibility for special education services while a private evaluation can make suggestions for the school team and can determine if criteria are met, but ultimately decisions for special education services are made through the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) team. A private evaluation will provide clinical diagnoses if appropriate.
Psychological vs Psycho-educational vs Neuropsychological Evaluations
There are different kinds of assessments depending on the referral concerns, and before you commit to one, you should know the difference. Psychological assessments are usually conducted by clinical psychologists who typically work outside of schools and in private practice. While they may use the same kinds of assessment tools to evaluate psychological, emotional, and behavioral functioning, their focus for treatment is typically developed from a medical model, rather than educational. Clinical psychologists may or may not have ever worked in or had experience working with schools or in education.
Psycho-educational evaluations are conducted in the school setting by school psychologists, and various professionals in the private sector. They typically include formal assessment of cognitive abilities and academic achievement, and in schools, are utilized to determine eligibility for special education services and recommendations for support in the educational environment. They can also incorporate other assessment tools used to dig deeper into neuropsychological constructs, and can be extensive and comprehensive. A school psychologist or psychologist in private practice may or may not be trained in neuropsychology and neuropsychological assessment tools. The quality and depth of the psycho-educational evaluation may be dependent on the examiner's training, experience, and theoretical perspective.
Neuropsychological evaluations and school neuropsychological evaluations take a brain-based approach to understanding not only what is going on, but why. These evaluations can be conducted by neuropsychologists or educational or clinical psychologists who are certified to conduct school neuropsychological evaluations. These evaluations are the most comprehensive and answer questions related to learning, social and emotional functioning, behavior, attention, and executive functions and there are a variety of assessment tools that can be used to understand the neurological basis for the problem, and use that information to inform intervention. Often times, assessment practices of educational psychologists who have been practicing for an extended period have evolved to reflect a neuropsychological approach, even if they were not formally trained.
In my practice, I have been formally trained in both psycho-educational and school neuropsychological assessment, and I use the terms interchangeably. My evaluations are always as comprehensive as they need to be to answer the referral questions and provide individualized strategies for support. If you are considering an evaluation, do not hesitate to ask the professional about their training and areas of expertise. You may also find that the price of the evaluation reflects an evaluator's experience.
What should I do prior to an assessment?
The most important thing you can do for your child, if you see a problem developing or notice a delay in learning, is intervene. Targeted intervention to address the problem or delay is what is going to help with remediating or developing the skill(s). Intervention may even be done (and often times should be done) prior to doing an evaluation. Brains change with the right intervention. That is SO important! While assessments help to tease out the problem areas and guide intervention, often times some intervention can be done while you consider a comprehensive evaluation.
Should I go with the public school or private evaluation?
Great question! You should know that public schools will conduct psycho-educational evaluations at public expense, meaning, it is a service that can be done free of charge to your family. The basic rule of thumb is, if you believe your student may need an Individualized Education Plan (IEP), your best bet is to have the evaluation done at the public school. The public schools are only required to consider private evaluations and would likely do their own even if you had one done privately. You can always ask for an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) after the fact, if you disagree with the school's assessment (that's another topic for another blog). But if you are a family who believes their student may need some accommodations (like through a 504 Plan); you just want to know your learner's strengths, weaknesses, and learning profile; are seeking a clinical diagnosis, are planning to obtain support through community practitioners (educational specialists/therapists, executive function coaches, academic tutors, psychologists, medical practitioners, etc); then you may prefer a school neuropsychological or psycho-educational evaluation from the private sector. Private evaluations are designed to answer the referral questions while public school psycho-educational evaluations are intended to determine eligibility for special education services. Only clinicians in private practice can provide clinical diagnoses and specific recommendations for things like programs, private schools, providers, and referrals to medical professionals for possible medication. School psychologists are limited in their recommendations because the schools adhere to providing a Free and Appropriate Public Education, which has its limitations.
Here are some of the differences between public and private assessments (my apologies if it's blurry...I'm a psychologist, not a tech guru):
If you have further questions about evaluations, please do not hesitate to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can find a video where I talk all about evaluations on my website at www.jplep.com/resources and on my podcast at www.jplep.com/podcast or by searching for EduSwitchboard on your favorite podcast player.