Understanding Psychoeducational Testing - Learning Lab

Understanding Psychoeducational Testing

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Parents go to great lengths to help their child who may be struggling academically, socially, and/ or emotionally. Maybe difficulties with learning have been a persistent issue for your child since early development. For others, these struggles may not be readily apparent until academic and social demands increase in later grades. Other indications of learning problems may present as one of the following signs:

  • Struggling to learn or progress in basic academic skills, including reading, math, and/or writing
  • Having a progressively worsening attitude towards school and completely losing interest
  • Having anxiety/worrying about school
  • Feeling as though they are a “bad student” and will never get any better
  • Having high intellectual ability but seeming bored in the classroom
  • Taking “forever” to do homework
  • Exhibiting consistently impulsive and disruptive behavior in class
  • Failing to learn age-appropriate social and behavioral skills
  • Having poor concentration, organizational, and/or planning skills
  • Does not seem to remember previously learned information

If a child continues to experience problems with learning despite having received tutoring or additional interventions at school, there may be a concern that he or she has a learning difference, such as a learning disorder. There might also be suspicion that a child has difficulty maintaining adequate levels of attention and engagement at school, or that they have deficits in executive functioning skills that impact their ability to plan ahead and meet important deadlines. Some students are greatly impacted at school by emotional difficulties, including anxiety and depression. In these instances, a psychoeducational evaluation may shed light on the root of these issues and provide valuable information in order to better understand a child’s needs and how to set him or her on the course to becoming a more successful student.

What is a psychoeducational evaluation?

A psychoeducational evaluation describes a set of procedures conducted by a trained professional that provide a detailed analysis of a child’s strengths and weaknesses. An evaluation may sometimes identify a diagnosable learning difference. It may also be conducted to determine the appropriateness of interventions or be used to guide educational decisions. Ultimately, the main purpose of a psychoeducational evaluation is to more fully understand a child’s overall functioning in order to determine what supports may be necessary for academic success.

The process typically includes a parent interview with the examiner to obtain detailed information about the child’s history, as well as specific questions regarding current concerns. The examiner will also work with the child to administer a battery of standardized, individually-administered assessments that are selected to gather further information about abilities and needs. Specific assessments that are administered will vary depending on the referral concern as well as the evaluator; however, typical assessments include those that measure cognitive abilities (i.e., intellectual functioning), academic skills, and behavioral and social- emotional functioning.

If the child is school-age, the examiner may also request additional information from teachers and/or tutors. With parental consent, the child’s teachers may be asked to complete questionnaires and rating scales. This is an important component of the evaluation process, as it allows the examiner to gain insight into the child’s typical academic, behavioral, and social functioning from the perspective of professional educators who know them well.

Once the evaluation process is complete, the parent will receive a detailed written report outlining performance on assessment measures, as well as a summary of strengths and weaknesses and any diagnostic information. The report will also include individualized recommendations tailored to the child’s specific needs. The written report may be discussed during a personal, one-on-one meeting with the examiner who performed the evaluation. At that time, any questions that the parent may have about the test results can be fully discussed and explained.

Who is qualified to perform psychoeducational evaluations?

When parents make the important decision to pursue a psychoeducational evaluation for their child, it is vital that they choose a well-qualified professional to work with their family. The examiner should have extensive training in psychological assessment and working with children with learning differences. At minimum, the examiner should have a master’s degree in psychology or a related field and should be licensed appropriately by the state’s health boards. These professionals may have titles including psychologist, school psychologist, psychological examiner, or psychological assistant. It may also be helpful to work with an evaluator who is familiar with school-based services and processes, as they are equipped to further guide and advise in working with a child’s school to ensure effective outcomes.

What should be expected during the evaluation process?

The process of the evaluation may vary depending on the examiner working with the family. In general, the following are included as components of the process:

  • Clinical Interview. Generally, the first step in the evaluation process involves information-gathering, which is typically completed through an in-depth clinical interview with the parent. The examiner will ask many detailed questions about the child’s developmental, medical, behavioral, and academic history, as well as for information about current concerns. During this appointment, it is helpful for the parent to bring copies of previous evaluations (such as psychological, speech-language, or occupational therapy evaluation reports), educational records, medical documentation, and any other information that would be beneficial for the examiner to review in order to better understand the child’s history.
  • Completion of Paperwork and Questionnaires. The examiner will ask the parent to complete initial paperwork outlining clinic policies and the services to be conducted. These forms may include informed consent for the evaluation, information about privacy laws, and developmental history forms.
  • Administration of Assessments. The child will be administered a battery of standardized assessments by the examiner; parents are typically not present in the testing sessions. The assessments may vary depending on the referral concern as well as the child’s age but may include tests to obtain information about the child’s intellectual functioning, academic skills, cognitive processing abilities, and behavior and social-emotional functioning. If weaknesses are exhibited in a specific area, such as reading, then additional assessments may be administered to determine more precise areas of skill deficits. In order to assess the child’s behavior, social skills, and/or emotional health, the examiner may ask the parent to complete a series of ratings scales in order to gain their observations and perspective about his or her typical daily functioning. The examiner may also conduct a clinical interview with the child, as well as ask them to complete self-rating scales to address how they feel, think, and perceive their own behavior and experiences.
  • Report and Feedback Session. Upon completion of the evaluation, the examiner will prepare a comprehensive report for the parent, to include information about performance on assessment measures, analysis of strengths and weaknesses, diagnostic conclusions, and recommendations for interventions or enhancements that can be made within the home and school environments. The examiner will schedule a feedback session to review the information included in the report and to answer any questions the parent may have.

Preparing for the Evaluation

Many parents ask if their child should “study” any specific material prior to their evaluation appointments. Attempting to study prior to the testing is not beneficial, as the examiner’s goal is to obtain an accurate picture of a child’s typical functioning. However, there are things that both parents and children can do to be well prepared for the evaluation.

Prior to the initial assessment appointment, parents should talk to their child about the evaluation process. This will help to ease any anxiety or confusion they may have. Explain that the reason for the evaluation is to better understand how those who care about him or her the most can help them improve at school and in other areas of their life.

If the child wears glasses and/or hearing aids, it is important to bring these to the appointments. Additionally, if the child takes any medication, they should take the medication as prescribed on the day of the assessment. It is also a good idea to bring a quiet activity for the child to engage in while in the examiner’s office, should there be a break or short wait on the evaluation day. A preferred activity may also help make them more comfortable in an unfamiliar environment. Furthermore, children should get a good night of sleep the day before and eat a hearty breakfast the morning of. Parents may also want to pack a snack and drink for their child on the day of the assessment, since appointments can run long.

It is often helpful for parents to write down their thoughts and concerns about their child prior to the evaluation. This way, they will have notes to help them remember all that they want to express to the examiner.

After the Evaluation: What Next?

The information included in a psychoeducational evaluation report is not only valuable for parents to better understand their child’s functioning across many areas, but it also may be useful to professionals who regularly work with the child and participate in their care. This may include the school team (i.e., teachers, principals, and school counselors), private tutors, physicians, and/or other mental health professionals.

In some cases, schools may require that a student receive a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation prior to granting accommodations or intervention services. Some example outcomes following an evaluation may be provision of accommodations within the classroom setting, such as extra time for tests, or a discussion of a formalized learning plan, such as creation of an IEP or Section 504 accommodation plan. Evaluation documentation may also be needed when applying for accommodations for standardized tests, including the ACT and SAT. Parents should be sure to let the examiner know if they plan to use the evaluation report for a specific purpose, as the examiner may want to document additional information in the report, depending on its intended audience.

Although the process of obtaining a psychoeducational evaluation can sometimes feel overwhelming, parents should feel assured that it is a road that many other families have traveled. It is an important first step in pinpointing learning challenges so that the appropriate supports can be put in place to help a child reach his or her full potential.

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