Often times, when children struggle in school, parents, providers, and educators see only symptoms of the problem, and they do not understand the problem itself. Take for example a child who is struggling in his fourth grade class. He seems distracted and chats with his peers during classroom discussions of the assigned reading, and he appears confused when he is called on to answer questions.
At home, this student avoids completing homework assignments, especially if they involve a lot of reading. Are his difficulties being caused by an attention deficit? A reading disorder? A visual processing problem? Can there be more than one issue that is interfering with this student's learning? While the problem seems obvious, the underlying cause is rarely easily detected. Just as there are several organs and mechanisms that are responsible for the day-to-day functioning of the human body, there are numerous brain-based processes on which children’s learning and development depend upon.
What is a comprehensive evaluation?
A Comprehensive Psychoeducational Evaluation involves a series of individually administered, standardized tests in order to understand a child’s learning profile, his/her strengths and weaknesses, and potential issues interfering with achievement in school. Measures are given in several areas of functioning, including intellectual ability (IQ), academic functioning (i.e., reading, writing, math), language, memory, visual and auditory processing, attention, executive functioning, and social-emotional functioning.
Typically, the test battery consists of a set of core tests, with additional testing that is tailored to address a students’ unique difficulties. For example, if problems with reading fluency have been reported, then additional measures of phonological processing and decoding would be given, as these are skills that contribute to reading fluency. If there are concerns with anxiety or mood, then additional psychological tests are used.
Comprehensive evaluations are administered by licensed clinical psychologists who are trained in children’s neurodevelopmental disorders and in the administration and interpretation of psychodiagnostic tests. Evaluations may also be administered by a neuropsychologist, which is a clinical psychologist with specialized training in brain structure and function. This background allows neuropsychologists to evaluate and treat individuals with brain disorders (e.g., epilepsy, cerebral palsy) and brain injuries (e.g., concussion). A comprehensive evaluation conducted by a neuropsychologist is referred to as a neuropsychological assessment.
How is a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation different from an IQ test or an educational assessment?
An intellectual assessment or IQ test is a test of an individual’s general intellectual abilities only. This is useful in some cases, such as when a student is being considered for a gifted school placement. However, an IQ test is generally insufficient for understanding underlying challenges a student is experiencing, making a diagnosis, or securing school accommodations for a child or adolescent.
Additionally, some psychologists provide educational assessments, which typically consists of an IQ and achievement test. An educational assessment can provide information regarding students’ abilities in academic areas such as reading, writing, and math, and how they perform relative to same-aged peers on the same tasks. While useful for some purposes, these assessments can sometimes raise more questions than they answer. For example, an educational assessment can indicate a student has weaknesses in writing; however, without further testing, it cannot be determined what specific processes are contributing to those writing difficulties. And, without a complete picture, one cannot accurately identify the problem or guide appropriate interventions.
Why is a comprehensive evaluation useful to my child’s learning?
Through the evaluation process, information about various abilities is gathered and interpreted in order to form a clear and comprehensive picture of a student’s learning profile and their strengths and weaknesses. This information helps to inform a treatment plan, which includes targeted interventions aimed at improving identified issues.
In addition to providing individualized, empirically backed recommendations, a good treatment plan includes school-based supports in the form of accommodations and interventions that will enable students to reach their full potential within their academic environment. When a child is struggling in school, a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation conducted early on with periodic reevaluations can drastically change their trajectory and maximize their chances for academic success.
Dr. Nicole Michaeli is a clinical psychologist who specializes in comprehensive evaluations of children and emerging adults. She is an associate at West LA Neuropsychology, where she assesses individuals with learning difficulties, attention and processing deficits, developmental disorders, social-emotional problems, as well as a variety of other neurocognitive disorders. Dr. Michaeli is also trained as a psychotherapist. She has treated children using play therapy based on psychodynamic/object relations theory, and she provides individual and family therapy.