PsychLine – Understanding Psychological Assessments
At this time of year, many parents are wondering about how their child will handle the academic demands of the year, and if there is anything they can do to maximize their child’s chances of success. Teachers and school teams sometimes suggest an “assessment”, although only a few kids actually make it on the school’s assessment list, and even fewer complete these assessments within the year of being placed on the wait list. This is why it’s called a wait list, and sometimes families wait for more than a year, two years, or even three- as kids with “high needs” bump their child down on the list. If your child has been having some difficulty with an aspect of the school curriculum, isn’t adjusting to classroom routines, is having trouble making friends, or you have a feeling that they are underachieving in some way, an assessment may be very helpful. But first you need to figure out what type of assessment is needed, and this can be a very confusing landscape. Here is a simplified breakdown:
Cognitive, Intellectual, or “Gifted” Assessment
Otherwise known as “IQ” tests, these are for determining where children fall in relation to their same-aged peers in their ability to think, solve problems, and learn new things. Schools can perform them, but only if the child meets their eligibility criteria. In the TDSB, teachers identify the students in their class for whom testing is recommended in Grade 3. The child is only seen for one session.
The standard assessment measures your child’s cognitive ability (IQ), and then goes further to look at academic performance (in all areas of the curriculum), memory, and general behaviour/response to the testing situation. Parents will also be interviewed, and sometimes questionnaires are used. Further “add-ons” include assessment of visual-motor functioning, attention/concentration, or other specific area of performance. Your child will be seen for 2-4 sessions.
This assessment is the equivalent of “The Works” in a burger joint. You get all of the components of the psycho-ed assessment, but again “add-on” to that with measures of social-emotional functioning, personality, adaptive skills, etc. These assessments can rule in or out common psychological disorders, including anxiety and depression. They provide a much more complete and “holistic” picture of your child- beyond their learning profile. Some psychological assessments are looking to answer developmental questions, and may rule in or out Autism Spectrum Disorders or other specific diagnoses. If you are looking for a specialized assessment, you will want to ask the psychologist about their areas of expertise and ensure that you are choosing the person most qualified to answer the questions that you have about your child.
School Board Testing vs. Private Assessments
Parents often ask what the pros and cons are of getting their child tested at school versus privately. Here are some of the main issues to consider:
Cost- Having your child assessed at school does not cost you anything out of pocket, while private assessments run of between $600 and $1500 for cognitive, $2000 and $3500 for psycho-educational, and $2400-$4500 for complete psychological. The tests themselves need to be meticulously scored and double scored, and the outcome is summarized in a report, which takes a lot of time to write and edit.
Timeline- As mentioned above, schools can take a year or much longer to assess your child. And this is after their name makes it onto the list- many parents find that the process to have their child’s name added to the wait list is just as long as the wait itself. You can usually find a qualified psychologist to assess your child within the timeline that you have in mind- whether you want to start next week or next month. However, it’s important to know that the assessment process will take about a month (for the initial interview and 2-3 assessment sessions, followed by the feedback meeting) and then you will have the child’s report within 30 days.
Choice of Assessor- Schools are assigned one psycho-educational consultant for the year. When you see a psychologist in private practice, you can choose who you want to work with your child. Prior to committing, you can “interview” a few psychologists over the phone or by e-mail and see how you feel about them working with your child. The rapport between the child and examiner is a very important consideration- and very poor rapport can impact the child’s performance and even invalidate the results. You need to feel confident that this person will be able to bring the best out in your child so that you have a measure of true ability- and not resistance or anxiety in regards to the testing situation.
Privacy- Although all psychologists adhere to strict guidelines around privacy, having your child assessed at school involves a number of school personnel, and the results are automatically shared with the school team unless you object, withdraw your consent, and do so in time for the information to be sealed in a psychology office at the school board instead of also being placed in the Ontario Student Record (OSR). When you see a psychologist in private practice, you have more control of the process and can have feedback about the assessment results and read the entire report before the school even knows that you have sought an assessment. Many private psychologists will even prepare a “school version” of the report if you ask for this, and it will contain just what the school “needs to know.” On the other hand, if you have a good relationship with your child’s school, this may not be a concern, and you may want the school involved in the process all the way through.
Acceptance of Findings- Although the tests conducted are the same, assessments conducted by the school psychologist or psycho-educational consultant are “in-house”, and are accepted by the school team as such. Assessments conducted by psychologists outside of the school need to be reviewed by the school psychologist, and then a recommendation is made to the team. If you decide to go with a private psychologist, it’s a good idea to ask if they will provide feedback to the school with your permission, just to answer any questions about the assessment and to ensure that their impression of your child is also shared along with the written report. In particular when there have been long-standing classroom truggles or when the school is concerned about behaviour or social functioning, it is a very good idea to have your psychologist connect with the school and collaborate for your child’s benefit.
If you need more information about assessments, or want to learn more about any aspect of psychological practice, submit your questions to [email protected] and we will try and answer them in a future PsychLine article.
Dr. Mirisse Foroughe, C. Psych.
Child and Family Psychologist