The ABC’s of Educational Testing [School Counselor’s Corner with Dr. A]

 

This article is by our resident school counselor at Radical Parenting. Check out her bio and other articles or submit a question at School Counselor’s Corner: Q&A with Dr. A.

Knowing whether your child needs educational testing and what to ask for can be tricky.  Here are a few things to think about and how to go about getting exactly what you need from your chosen professional.

 

Does your child fit in any of these categories?

 

A)    Have academics always come easily to your child?  Has your child always seemed to catch on to new concepts effortlessly?  Do they ask a million questions and seem filled with curiosity?  Did they turn puzzles backwards and upside down as a toddler in order to challenge themselves?  Do they prefer to spend time with older children as adolescents?  Does your child seem bored at school and sometimes even distract others or make poor choices in class to gain attention?  If so, your child may be gifted.

 

If your child has always received stellar grades, it is common to dismiss any academic concerns, but you may also want to find exactly how smart they really are so they can be appropriately challenged and you can have appropriate expectations.

 

Gifted testing can also be helpful in helping your child reach needed resources at their school.  Often, schools have separate gifted programming that you could potentially take advantage of and a private school may be able to provide enrichment in other ways.  Also, don’t forget to look at the whole child, just because your child is gifted doesn’t mean they need a bunch of extra worksheets, maybe they need to express their creativity and challenge themselves in other ways like learning a musical instrument or joining a sports team.  These are excellent enrichment opportunities and encourage their social skills, which gifted children sometimes struggle with, but are extremely important.  Bright children are easy for teachers, but having friends along the way will make all the difference.

 

B)    Do you or your child’s teacher keep saying how smart they are, but the child’s academic performance is not matching their potential?  This is a common story and unfortunately, frustrating for everyone.  Your child says they’re trying and you believe them, but every time they say, “Yes, I’m prepared for my math test,” they bomb the test.  Their grades are inconsistent and it takes every bit of your being to stay on top of them and make sure their homework is done….and done correctly.  Do they have a terrible time with organization, losing papers, homework, not remembering when the next test is scheduled?  You’ve tried everything – using a planner, reorganizing their folders and backpack, you’ve tried having the teacher sign the planner, but nothing seems to be working.  It is not that they misbehave, they just can’t seem to pull themselves together and you are at your wit’s end!  As parents and teachers, these kids can come across as “lazy,” but the truth is there may be more behind this behavior.

 

Yup, probably time for some testing to be done.  Educational testing may be beneficial in identifying a few issues in this case.  It is possible that this child has what is referred to today as a “learning difference.”  Maybe they process information differently than other children, making it hard to understand verbal or written instructions.  They could also have a deficit in a particular area of learning, such as reading, writing, or math.  This means that their performance in that subject area is significantly lower than their potential, both of which can be assessed through psychoeducational testing.  Knowing exactly where their deficit lies will help you and their teachers figure out how to reach them and make them more successful.

 

Also, difficulty with executive functioning, or organizational skills, along with distractibility, slower processing, and the tendency to be impulsive can be a sign of an Attention-Deficit/ Hyperactivity Disorder (with a tendency to be either hyperactive, inattentive or both), so your chosen professional will probably need to ask a number of behavioral questions of you and your child’s teacher.

 

C)    Does your child have significant behavioral issues? Are you tired of getting phone calls about how disruptive they are in class?  Are they refusing to do their school work?  You know they are smart and have a good heart, but they just can’t seem to make the right choices to keep themselves out of trouble.

 

This is heart breaking and not always tied to their academic abilities, but sometimes it is a reflection of how difficult school is for them.  It is important to make sure these children are placed in the correct academic classes to foster their development and capitalize on opportunities for success.  There is nothing more disheartening than being in a class that is so outside of your realm that you know you are going to fail regardless of how hard you work.

 

Also, ask yourself if these behaviors are seen in other settings (e.g., extracurricular activities, church, home).  Is poor behavior reported in just one class or multiple classes?  If it is just one, there could be an indication that there is a personality conflict with the teacher, a general dislike of or learning deficit in that subject area, or a peer that is instigating issues.  In any of these cases, you may want to begin by requesting a conference with the teacher to better understand the situation.

 

If poor behavior seems to dominate across areas or if a subject area teacher indicates a significant struggle outside of the normal range in their subject area, again, testing may be indicated.  It is possible that your child is acting out or being defiant based on their frustration with their schoolwork.  In this case, educational testing may be supplemented with more specific personality testing.  This will not only identify their areas of academic strength and weakness, but also look at personality factors and relevant clinical issues.  The educational information is vital in helping to place your child in appropriate classes, providing access to special accommodations and resources, and ultimately, improving their academic self-esteem.  The personality testing will help you better understand your child’s character and identify if additional mental health services are needed.

 

Remember, most schools have either a psychologist or counselor on staff that can help guide you to make a decision about whether educational testing is warranted.  Use their expertise and include them in your educational experience.  Providing testing results to your academic team (i.e., teacher, counselor, parents, child) will help all of you plan your child’s road to success!

 

If you decide that you want to have your child tested, there are a few things you should know:

 

A)    A good psychoeducational testing battery is comprised of at least two parts, an IQ test (a measure of your child’s learning potential) and an achievement test (a measure of your child’s current academic ability).  The comparison of these two tests is what tells psychologists if there are any concerns.  If there are behavioral concerns, then a behavior rating scale is often used to  ask various parties their opinions of the child (e.g., parents, teachers, child) to get a variety of perspectives may be warranted as well.  To diagnose any kind of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder, the behavioral measures must be included and the psychologist’s observation of the child in their academic setting is often helpful.

 

If your child meets diagnostic criteria for any academic, behavioral, or emotional challenge, the diagnosis and recommendations need to be spelled out so you won’t have a problem getting the accommodations they deserve at their school or during standardized testing.  For instance, if they need extra time for tests, small group testing, extra breaks or preferential seating (typically by the teacher or in the front of the room) these things should be explicitly stated in the provider’s recommendations and not just inferred from the diagnosis.

 

B)    Be sure to speak with your provider early about fees, payment plans, and other financial arrangements up front so you know what to expect.  Given the provider’s expertise and time invested, quality psychoeducational testing can be expensive and is often not covered by insurance policies.  That said, there is no harm in submitting a claim to your insurer for reimbursement, regardless if the provider is on your plan or not, as sometimes they will cover partial payments.  After all, the worst they can say is, “No.”

 

C)    You have a right to free testing from your assigned neighborhood school, even if you attend private school.  The downside is that there is usually a really long waiting list.  Another option is to contact the nearest university with a Doctoral Level Psychology Program and see if their graduate students do testing under a licensed psychologist’s supervision as part of their training requirements.  Such services are often free or done on a low-cost or sliding scale, and typically produce comparable high-quality evaluations like those done privately.

 

D)    The validity of the testing typically lasts for three years.  For instance, both governing boards of the SAT and ACT require the testing and recommendations be done within the last three years in order to consider giving accommodations on the SAT, so plan your testing and your budget accordingly.  Also, if your child is planning on taking the SAT or ACT for college entrance, be sure to provide copies of any psychoeducational reports and recommendations to your school counselor so they can help you apply for special accommodations.  This process typically takes at least 6 weeks to be approved, so be sure to give yourself plenty of time before you plan on signing up for the next testing date.

 

E)    Please know that only a licensed psychologist can complete the appropriate testing to meet requirements for most school systems and standardized testing boards.   Also, many school boards, as well as the College Board, will only accept certain standardized tests that are empirically supported and widely used.  Be sure to discuss this with your psychologist so you don’t end up with recommendations based on testing that the Board will not accept.  Many of the boards list the paperwork and tests required on their websites under “Services for Students with Disabilities.”  To view further information on applying for special accommodations for college entrance exams, visit http://www.collegeboard.com/ssd/student/ for SAT information and http://www.act.org/aap/disab/policy.html for ACT information.

 

F)     Follow up on the recommendations from your professional.  Testing is only helpful if you do something with the information.  If the results indicate a need for tutoring, a change in classes, therapy, or medication, look into these options. The biggest mistake I see is when parents stop tutoring or discontinue medications when they notice the first sign of improvement.  Please don’t do this!  The problems you see did not occur overnight, so don’t expect them to be fixed overnight.  Give it time, consult with your providers, and remember – If it works, keep doing it!

 

G)    Last tip:  If your child meets criteria for special accommodations during their high school career, they are likely to meet the requirements for similar accommodations during college.  All state colleges and most private colleges have a Students with Disabilities office, as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), that handles applications for special services. Your child could have access to extra time for college exams, help with note taking, and free tutoring services based on their diagnosis, so don’t be shy about asking what services you may be eligible for once you have received an acceptance letter.  Keep in mind that most colleges will require your testing to have been completed within the last three years, so think about your timing.  To see a list of colleges and universities that offer comprehensive programs for students with learning differences, go to http://www.college-scholarships.com/learning_disabilities.htm.

 

This article is by our resident school counselor at Radical Parenting. Check out her bio and other articles or submit a question at School Counselor’s Corner: Q&A with Dr. A.

 

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