PsychoEducational Evaluations: What are they, exactly?

As discussed in this post, it’s important to consider scheduling a psychoeducational evaluation if a parent or a teacher believes that something is impeding a child’s learning. In spite of how often all of us search on Google, it’s not enough to type into a browser, “How to tell if my child has a learning disorder.”

DIY diagnosis, as this article clearly spells out, is not appropriate for complex issues such as those that impact learning.

The suspicion and diagnosis of a learning disorder means several things. First of all, “learning disorder” is a very wide umbrella, as these disabilities can be academic or non-academic. Psychoeducational evaluations are designed not to point out flaws, but to gather facts about your child, identify learning strengths and weaknesses, and create a strategy to help them grow into their best selves.

Learning disorders are more common than you might think. Oscar winner Octavia Spencer recently noted in an interview that she deals with dyslexia, and pointed out how it’s been a factor in her transition from film to television. Like many others, she is successful despite this challenge.

Testing may be recommended to determine the appropriate teaching environment, level of performance, and need for accommodations. The testing is a process used to confirm or rule out specific cognitive or learning disabilities or a developmental delay, as well as ADD or ADHD, language and communication difficulties, phonological (auditory), processing and visual-perceptual difficulties, and other underlying factors contributing to behavioral and emotional concerns.

Children as early as kindergarten and first grade frequently demonstrate the early markers of learning struggles. Therefore, it’s important to evaluate early in order to identify and remediate issues before the child experiences significant problems in school and frustration, anxiety or feelings of failure.

What happens during psycho-educational testing? Rest assured that tests are conducted by a well-trained psychologist with hundreds of hours of training and studies that lead to proper diagnosis and treatment.

A psychoeducational evaluation can be difficult to visualize. The evaluation process begins with an in-depth interview with the parent or guardian to identify concerns, discuss the history of the problem and what has been tried, and review academic performance, test scores, etc. The actual testing process takes 4 to 8 hours, which are usually broken up into several sessions.

It’s impossible to say exactly what the testing will consist of here, because it all depends on the child in question. The results of the first round of tests may indicate which resources are used in the subsequent sessions. Although each is tailored to the specific needs and concerns of your child, the testing will likely entail some combination of the following elements:
Standardized tests, which include measures of:

  • Cognitive and intellectual functioning;
  • Academic achievement;
  • Visual-motor skills;
  • Memory and learning tasks;
  • Emotional and behavioral inventories, and
  • Personality measures.

A psychologist may also utilize:

  • Rating scales;
  • Self-report scales;
  • Observations in familiar settings, and
  • Interviews.

After the process is complete, the psychologist will review the report with the parents, who can, in turn, discuss it with teachers, coaches and others who interact with the child. It will include an explanation of the testing procedure and background information, as well as a summary of the results and their interpretation. Finally, it will contain some recommendations about special services and actions that might be appropriate and which teaching methods will be best.

In this process, there is no such thing as a dumb question. The intent is to identify priorities for intervention and a strategy as well as a partnership whose only goal is to figure out the best path to success for a child.

Dr. Michelle Hintz, Psy.D.

At the Cadenza Center for Psychotherapy and the Arts, a dedicated roster of therapists, educational and behavioral consultants treat the developmental, emotional, cognitive, physical, and behavioral needs of both adults and children. Founded in 2001 by Michelle Hintz, Psy.D., a licensed psychologist and board-certified music therapist, the Cadenza Center provides general services including individual and family therapy incorporating active treatment strategies such as sensory integration, DIR/Floortime, and social pragmatics.