School psychologists draw on their backgrounds in education and psychology to help students succeed academically, socially, behaviorally, and emotionally.
When a child is struggling in school and hasn’t responded to the assistance we’ve provided, we may refer them for testing. This type of testing is sometimes called a psychoeducational evaluation.
Through testing, we’ll come to understand how a child learns best. We’ll gain a full profile of their strengths and needs, assess their knowledge, skills, and abilities, and make diagnoses that can help guide instruction. We also evaluate their eligibility for special services or gifted programs and determine whether they need intervention or other support.
Understanding all of the different types of academic and psychological testing can be overwhelming for parents and educators. It is important to note that evaluations are not “one-size-fits-all.” Evaluators use their expertise to pick and choose a specific set of assessments and tests for each child they work with.
Also, not just anyone can perform a psychological evaluation. School and clinical psychologists are specifically trained to administer tests and interpret the results.
So how do evaluators decide which tests are appropriate for each child?
Evaluators often use specific questions to guide their testing; these questions are known as “referral questions,” and may include queries like, “Does my child have ADHD?”
To help define the referral questions, we conduct interviews and review observational data and school or medical records.
This background info can also guide our work once the test results are in—as we make diagnoses and recommend interventions.
The tests we choose fall into two general categories: informal, screening tests and more formal, diagnostic tests.
Screening tests measure key skills related to a specific area of difficulty, such as reading or math; screeners do not collect data that will lead to a diagnosis.
The results from screening tests can let us know whether we need to conduct more formal and thorough diagnostic tests.
We sometimes measure key skills through tests that show whether a student meets specific criteria (for example, a child knows 26 out of 26 letter names of the alphabet). These are called criterion-referenced tests.
Criterion-referenced tests permit us to identify gaps in skills, such as math facts, and through them, we can explore a child’s skills in greater detail.
More formal diagnostic or “norm-referenced” tests are standardized tests, which means that the tests are administered in accordance with specific rules. Each child experiences the test in the same way.
Norm-referenced tests have been carefully developed and evaluated by researchers. They give scores that compare an individual’s performance to a large group of students who are the same age or in the same grade. We use these tests to determine if a child’s skills in a particular area fall in or out of the typical—or normal—range when compared to their peers.
The data that we collect as part of norm-referenced testing can help lead to a formal diagnosis—such as autism or a learning disability like dyslexia—diagnoses that are recognized by medical offices, schools, and other trained professionals.