By Suzanne Pellarin, M.A., Psycho-Educational Consultant, London Catholic District School Board
What is a Psycho-Educational Assessment?
A type of psychological report that focuses on assessment and interpretation of educationally related psychological tests and educational tests, including tests of intelligence and cognitive abilities, memory, achievement tests, and measures of behaviour.
It is designed to answer these types of questions:
- Does the student have a learning disability, developmental disability, attentional problems?
- What are the student’s academic and cognitive abilities, strengths, and weaknesses?
It yields recommendations relevant for educational planning and may assist with decisions regarding identification and/or placement.
While learning is the primary focus of psycho-educational assessment, behavioural, socio-emotional, and medical issues may also need to be addressed in a psycho-educational assessment.
The Basic Components of Psycho-Educational Reports
- Background Information;
- Assessment Techniques (what tests or checklists were administered);
- Behavioural Observations;
- Cognitive Ability & Memory Skills;
- Academic Functioning;
- Attention and Behaviour;
- Executive Functioning;
- Adaptive Functioning;
- Conclusions and Recommendations.
Cognitive Ability & Memory Skills
- Verbal Comprehension;
- Short-Term Auditory Memory;
- Long-Term Verbal Memory and Learning;
- Working Memory;
- Perceptual Reasoning (visual-spatial organization, nonverbal reasoning);
- Visual memory;
- Visual-Motor Coordination;
- Processing Speed.
In this section, psychologists may refer to achievement testing completed by the Student Education Resource Teacher (SERT) and/or our own achievement testing. Achievement tests are designed to determine the student’s degree of knowledge and proficiency in a specific area or set of areas, such as:
Attention and Behaviour
- Rule-breaking, Opposition, Conduct Problems;
- Anxiety, Depression, Withdrawal;
- Somatic complaints;
- Atypicality, Social Problems, Thought Problems;
- Internalizing vs. Externalizing Behaviours.
“Executive function” is a term used to describe the many different cognitive processes that students use to control their behavior and to connect past experience with present action.
Students rely on executive functions to perform activities such as planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention to and remembering details, and managing time and space.
Adaptive functioning or behavior reflects an individual’s social and practical competence of daily skills to meet the demands of everyday living.
Adaptive behavior includes the age-appropriate behaviors necessary for people to live independently and to function safely and appropriately in daily life (Wikipedia).
Adaptive behaviors include real life skills such as grooming, dressing, safety, safe food handling, school rules, ability to work, money management, cleaning, making friends, social skills, and personal responsibility (Logsdon, 2016).
The measurement techniques used in psycho-educational reports are norm-referenced and standardized
During the standardization process, the test is given to a large number of students from various backgrounds to determine what is average, low average, high average, etc.
This allows us to compare a child’s scores to thousands of other students who were part of the normative sample.
The scores generated give the student’s relative standing in a group. How does the student compare to others his age?
Allows us to make statements such as: “Is average compared to his peers.”
Norms can be reported as:
- Percentile Ranks: Percentile rank indicate how well a student performed compared to other students his/her age. A percentile rank of 50 corresponds to a performance that is as good as, or better than, 50% of one’s same-aged peers. Average percentile ranks fall between 25 and 75.
- Standard Score: Standard scores compare one student's performance on a test to the performance of other students her age. Standard scores estimate whether a student's scores are above average, average, or below average compared to peers. They also enable comparison of a student's scores on different types of tests.
- IQ: An intelligence quotient, or IQ, is a score derived from a standardized test designed to assess intelligence. In most IQ tests, the mean (average) score within an age group is set to 100 and the standard deviation SD is 15. (The SD shows how much variation or exists from the average.)
The EQAO Standardized Tests, Ontario Curriculum, and PM Benchmarks are not norm-referenced.
They are criterion referenced:
- Authorities or experts decide what children should be doing at each grade level.
- Scores are not reflective of what the average child can do.
Possible Outcomes of Psycho-Educational Assessment
A Psychological Diagnosis such as:
- Learning Disability;
- Developmental Disability;
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
- Terms such as Slow Learner or Gifted are not psychological or diagnostic terms;
- Psychologists might suggest another condition or disorder that it outside of our expertise and suggest further investigation.
Definition of a Learning Disability: as per the Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario (LDAO)
Learning Disabilities refers to a variety of disorders that affect the acquisition, retention, understanding, organization or use of verbal and/or non-verbal information.
These disorders result from impairments in one or more psychological processes related to learning (a), in combination with otherwise average abilities essential for thinking and reasoning.
Learning disabilities are specific not global impairments and as such are distinct from intellectual disabilities.
Learning disabilities range in severity and invariably interfere with the acquisition and use of one or more of the following important skills:
- oral language (e.g., listening, speaking, understanding);
- reading (e.g., decoding, comprehension);
- written language (e.g., spelling, written expression);
- mathematics (e.g., computation, problem solving).
What do we mean by Psychological Processes?
While performing any kind of activity we use various processes like thinking, remembering, problem solving, reasoning etc. When we study a lesson, watch a movie, talk on a topic, we are using psychological processes of which we may or may not be aware (StudyMode Research, 2008).
Refers to an evolving list of cognitive functions. To date, research has focused on functions such as:
- phonological processing;
- memory and attention;
- processing speed;
- language processing;
- perceptual-motor processing;
- visual-spatial processing;
- working memory/executive functions.
Definition of a Learning Disability: as per the Ontario Ministry of Education
The Ontario Ministry of Education defines learning disability as one of a number of neurodevelopmental disorders that persistently and significantly has an impact on the ability to learn and use academic and other skills and that:
- affects the ability to perceive or process verbal or non-verbal information in an effective and accurate manner in students who have assessed intellectual abilities that are at least in the average range;
- results in (a) academic underachievement that is inconsistent with the intellectual abilities of the student (which are at least in the average range) and/or (b) academic achievement that can be maintained by the student only with extremely high levels of effort and/or with additional support;
- results in difficulties in the development and use of skills in one or more of the following areas: reading, writing, mathematics, and work habits and learning skills;
- may typically be associated with difficulties in one or more cognitive processes, such as phonological processing; memory and attention; processing speed; perceptual-motor processing; visual-spatial processing; executive functions (e.g., self-regulation of behaviour and emotions, planning, organizing of thoughts and activities, prioritizing, decision making);
- may be associated with difficulties in social interaction (e.g., difficulty in understanding social norms or the point of view of others); with various other conditions or disorders, diagnosed or undiagnosed; or with other exceptionalities;
- is not the result of a lack of acuity in hearing and/or vision that has not been corrected; intellectual disabilities; socio-economic factors; cultural differences; lack of proficiency in the language of instruction; lack of motivation or effort; gaps in school attendance or inadequate opportunity to benefit from instruction.
Changes how the content is:
- made accessible, and/or
Accommodations do not change what the student is expected to master. The objectives of the course/activity remain intact.
- One-to-one or small group instruction;
- Extended time on assignments and/or assessments;
- Braille or large print materials;
- Shortened assignments and/or assessments;
- Slant boards or study carrels;
- Oral administration of subject-area tasks that do not assess decoding/reading comprehension;
- Technologies such as speech-to-text.
Also changes how the content is:
- made accessible, and/or;
Modifications do change what the student is expected to master. Course and/or activity objectives are modified to meet the needs of the learner.
- Instruction that focuses on selected curriculum outside of grade level;
- Changes in the scoring rubrics or grading scale;
- Reducing the complexity of the activity (e.g., only one step as opposed to multiple steps to solve a problem);
- Cueing or prompting the student during a grade-level activity.
MODIFICATION = What ; ACCOMMODATION = How
Psychologists write these reports for parents, teachers, and even the students themselves in the hopes that the information will be helpful in understanding how the student learns and what strengths you can draw on to circumvent any processing deficits.
When we give recommendations we are typically thinking of the student at their current age.
We want the information in our reports to be helpful throughout their school careers and we encourage parents, teachers and high school students to ask for a review of the assessment report and an update of recommendations at any time.
Related Resources on the LD@school Website
Bell, S. M. (n.d.). How to Read, Understand and Use Psychoeducational Reports. Literacy and Learning Disabilities Special Collection. Southern LINCs. Retrieved from http://ldlink.coe.utk.edu/understanding_report.htm
Learning Disabilities Association of Ontario. (n.d.). Official Definition of LDs. Retrieved from http://www.ldao.ca/introduction-to-ldsadhd/what-are-lds/official-definition-of-lds/
Logsdon, A. (2016). Adaptive Behaviour for Special Ed Students. Verywell. Retrieved from https://www.verywell.com/what-is-adaptive-behavior-2162501
Ontario Ministry of Education. (2014). Policy/Program Memorandum 8: Identification of and Program Planning for Students with Learning Disabilities. Retrieved from http://www.edu.gov.on.ca/extra/eng/ppm/ppm8.pdf
StudyMode Research. (2008). Psychological Processes: Motivation, Perception, Learning and Memory. Retrieved from http://www.studymode.com/essays/Psychological-Processes-Motivation-Perception-Learning-And-143719.html
Wikipedia. (2016). Adaptive Behaviour. Retrieved from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Adaptive_behavior
Suzanne Pellarin obtained her master’s degree in Child and Development Studies from Laurentian University in 1989. She has worked as a Psycho-Educational Consultant for the London District Catholic School Board since 1999. She consults with parents, teachers, and students about behavioural, socio-emotional and learning difficulties a student may be experiencing. A large part of her work involves assessing students’ cognitive abilities and making recommendations about how best to meet their learning needs. She works closely with a registered member of the College of Psychologist of Ontario (i.e., a Psychological Associate or Psychologist) when completing these assessments. Suzanne has also worked in Manitoba and the Yukon Territory and enjoys her work very much.