By Michelle Kerslake, M.Ed.
At this time of year, many parents are concerned about their child’s success at school. Maybe their report card marks are not meeting grade level expectations or the teacher has commented that they are having more challenges than the other children in their class. Your child’s teacher may have even recommended an assessment for your child. Regardless, you feel like your child is not performing to their potential at school. So, how do parents decide if their child needs an assessment?
Let’s begin with understanding what a learning assessment is. In the world of learning assessments, a psychoeducational assessment is the gold-standard for assessing learning challenges. Psychoeducational assessments assess one’s cognitive abilities, academic skills, and social/emotional functioning (What is an assessment?, 2014). Cognitive abilities include both reasoning abilities (i.e., one’s ability to reason, use logic, solve problems, etc.) and efficiency abilities (i.e., tools that support our learning, such as memory, attention, processing speed, visual-spatial processing, etc.). Reasoning abilities are considered stable over time and provide insight into a student’s learning potential. This helps to set realistic expectations for the student. Efficiency abilities are like muscles in that they can strengthen with exercise. Thus, psychoeducational assessments identify what areas of functioning may be weak and can be improved, and provide direction regarding how this can be accomplished (e.g., improving one’s memory).
Psychoeducational assessments also measure the student’s current functioning in areas such as reading, writing and math (What is an assessment?, 2014). This helps to determine where their skills are at in comparison to their age-mates and if they are performing to their potential. The latter is accomplished by comparing their scores on academic tasks to their reasoning abilities scores. Finally, psychoeducational assessments evaluate the student’s social/emotional functioning, including behavior concerns, because these factors can impact academics as well.
Now that we know what a learning assessment is, let’s discuss why children have academic challenges. First, we need to consider what classroom factors influence children’s success at school. A large class size can impact learning by the teacher only being able to provide limited support to each student. Is the class noisy? Are your child’s peers distracting or require a lot of support from the teacher? Loud and distracting classrooms make it challenging to focus and complete work. Is the teaching style conducive to your child’s learning style? Perhaps your child needs a teacher with more structure or a teacher that needs to be more flexible. If your child has challenges with the expectations from the teacher, this can lead to limited success in the classroom.
Second, we need to determine if your child may have challenges with their learning profile. When I meet with parents, I often begin with the challenges the child has academically to determine if the child’s learning profile may be impacting their success at school. For example, poor performance on tests could be related to a weak memory system for the recall of facts. If the child is having difficulty with sounding out and blending words or spelling words, they may have challenges with the underlying abilities needed for reading. There are many underlying cognitive functions called efficiency abilities that impact students’ ability to learn. Often, weaknesses in efficiency abilities cause learning challenges. The good news is that these efficiency abilities can be trained and strengthened so that the student overcomes this area of weakness.
Third, we need to consider what other social/emotional factors may impact children’s performance at school. For example, does your child feel anxious at school? Do they have difficulty with paying attention? Anxiety and attention challenges distract the learner from the content that is being taught to them. Anxious learners are distracted by their anxious thoughts. For instance, the child is so nervous about being called on to answer a question in front of the class that they do not listen to the lesson being taught. On the other hand, learners with attention challenges are distracted by their own thoughts or the environment around them. In both cases, the child is not focused on the content of the lesson and begins to fall behind their peers academically.
If you feel that classroom factors are the main source of your child’s challenges then a meeting with your child’s teacher would be the best place to start. However, if you feel like your child may have weaknesses in their learning profile or have social/emotional factors that are negatively impacting their school performance, then an assessment may be a good fit for your child. If you are still unsure as to the nature of your child’s challenges academically, then I would suggest meeting with a psychologist that is trained in psychoeducational assessment so they can support you with this decision. If you would like to explore whether an assessment may be a good fit for you or your child, please contact Darlene at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at extension 33.
Michelle is a Registered Psychologist providing assessment and counselling services at Eckert Centre. Michelle makes a unique contribution to the Centre by her supervisory role of our Intervention Services which provides coaching services and brain training programs to individuals with learning disabilities, developmental disabilities, social, and/or behavioural challenges, and their families. This experience, combined with her assessment and counselling training, has created a dynamic combination of knowledge, skills and experience. She also provides academic counselling to those with Learning Disabilities and/or AD/HD.
Assessment. (2014) What is an assessment? Retrieved from http://www.eckertcentre.com/services/assessments/things-you-may-want-to- know/#whatis