Parents often come to us as psychologists with a query around ‘we need an assessment’ being slightly unsure about the process, referral question or the purpose. This text aims to support these queries and provide information about psychoeducational assessments.
What are psychoeducational assessments?
These assessments are the collection of quantitative and qualitative data to help support a clinical formulation about a child’s needs, strengths and challenges. The data is triangulated to capture whether a child’s presentation lead to eliciting needs, strengths and challenges. This process may lead to a diagnosis which is often required for funding systems to offer additional support to the child. In some circumstances a diagnosis may not be needed for additional support. This really depends of the funding systems.
In an assessment process, a range of data is data is collected to answer a referral question. A referral question can be varied depending on experiences described by the child, parents and teachers.
Is my child dyslexic?
We experience x at home, is my child autistic?
The teacher at school said that my child is behind in learning. We want to know what is happening?
In this process, a range of data will be gathered as part of the process and will include quantitative and qualitative data to answer the referral question. This will also include face to face activities with the child such as observations, play sessions, standardised assessments, consultations, interviews, questionnaires, discussions, etc. The choice of the assessment tools used to gather this information will depend on the assessor’s clinical judgement, pertinence of the tool in relation to the referral question and in some instances preferences due to training. In some situations the referral question evolves as the assessment process develops and it may be that additional information is needing to be captured as a result. This is also often the case when there are more than one referral question for the assessment.
Quantitative data are all about standard scores, norms, percentiles. This means that the data gathered will look at placing a child’s abilities, when completing a standardised assessment, on a normal curve and compared to other children of the same age. Results will refer to sentences like this “John performed within an average compared to peers his age which means he has developed positive skills in this and will be able to process this type of information in the classroom”.
A standardised assessment means that the exact same activities and tasks are administered using a manual of instructions to ensure that all participants are going through the exact same experience compared to other participants. Assessors must be trained in the administration to ensure they respect what has been prescribed by the manual.
When assessments are normed, it means that a standardisation process took place before the launch of the assessment, pilot studies, and norms created. When reporting results after an assessment, findings will look at placing the scores within an average range (see image from left to right) – extremely low, very low, low average, very high, extremely high on a normal curve. The results will indicate where abilities demonstrated by the child, when compared to peers of the same age, are plotted – see 68% of the children will be situated within the two high peaks on the picture below, and then 13.6% to the blue areas, and less than 2% on the long end at either ends, and also referred as percentiles. Standard scores are based on the average being 100 in the middle with a standard deviation of 15 from the mean for each descriptive category. When receiving a report from an assessment, parents and teachers should expect to receive information on standard scores.
How is the child’s performance deviating from the mean (100) in scores
How is the child’s performance explained in percentiles
How the child’s performance is described with qualitative descriptors
Normed assessment tools also include questionnaires. Questionnaires can be helpful as it aims to have information from a number of informants – parents/carers, teachers and self-report. This is help gain everyone’s views as informants may have a different view of what the needs of the child are. This helps formulating how a child is similar and different across settings and whether some environmental factors may contribute to the child’s needs.
An assessment process will also gather qualitative information – this means that the information gathered is not normed, but will also contribute to formulating the experience of the child, parents and school. This will include play sessions, observations, consultations, interviews, discussions, to elicit perceptions, attitudes, experiences, history, stories, anecdotes, pertinent information. The richness of the information is particularly important as quantitative information does not always fully capture an explanation of the inner world of the child and also experiences on a day to day basis. It is also important to capture the views of the child to inform recommendations so that their voice is captured and the recommendations are tailored to the needs the child is reporting.
Why do psychoeducational assessments? What is their purpose?
The purpose of the assessment is really getting to know the child better and gain an understanding of needs, challenges, strengths and inform support going forward.
It may lead to a diagnosis or it may not. In all cases, it will inform needs, challenges, strengths and will help formulate recommendations and next steps. In the education system, it may be that it will contribute to an Individualised Education Plan (IEP). It may give parents/carers some strategies that have not been tried before. It may also create a process of a deeper understanding such as an affirming process, “ah yes, this all makes sense, this is what we thought”. It may support a child understand better by knowing their brain works differently and this is why they are feeling different. It may also help advocate for a child’s needs and construct conversations to be had with different systems. It may lead to additional funding to support the child’s needs with environmental accomodations.
What is the process of a psychoeducational assessment?
Typically, a process includes the following –
an initial consultation – gather information, developmental history, current needs, referral question
cognitive and learning profile – standardised assessments
questionnaires – standardised assessments
play sessions/clinical interviews – qualitative information – child’s views/voice
Some additional sessions may be needed as the process unfolds depending on results.
feedback session – ensure all understand the results and findings, psychoeducation about needs, formulate a plan about next steps together with the assessor
In what way will these help my child?
The recommendations and the formulation of the plan will aim to create a constructed support plan for the here and now and also the near future such as informing others such as school, funding systems, of the child’s needs and recommendations for additional support. It may also create a process where parents engage in future support to help their child, or the child engages in a therapeutic process to look at skills development, counselling, group work. This will definitely be discussed in the feedback session.
At Peninsula Paediatric Psychology
We do lots of assessments and we will lead you through this process. Depending on the referral question, we will tailor an assessment plan that captures quantitative and qualitative information to formulate tailored to needs recommendations.
Dr Pascale Paradis
Educational and Developmental Psychologist
Director at Peninsula Paediatric Psychology