Identifying Appropriate Evaluation Strategies
The benefits of assessing and supporting students from an early age have become more apparent over the last few decades. Unfortunately, it is common for children with lagging skills, developmental delays, or behavioral issues to remain unidentified until they are of school age. In order for early intervention to be administered, earlier developmental evaluations need to take place. In this video, we will focus on identifying appropriate evaluation strategies, which developmental assessments are valuable and why, and what happens after a disability is identified in a preschool-aged student. Let’s get started!
When discussing evaluations, one of the important ideas to understand is what’s called “typical development.” Taking into account factors such as environment and culture, a typical individual’s development involves the attainment of certain specific milestones, including the development of mental and physical abilities, as well as social, emotional, behavioral, and language skills.
Progression over time is emphasized, with the focus on key periods of growth. For example, language acquisition during the first five years of life is particularly significant. As part of an assessment of a young child, it is important to consider what is known about typical development and to identify whether the child falls within or deviates from the normal trajectory, as well as where the child falls relative to a significant growth period.
As a child grows, they are periodically monitored and observed by their parents, family members, other caregivers, and doctors to make sure that they are on the right developmental track. Doctors would be primarily responsible for keeping the parents or guardians up-to-date on their child’s developmental milestones. They will inform the parents about progress, tell them what to expect next, and identify any concerns as early as possible.
If an area of concern is identified, a formal developmental evaluation is needed. This formal evaluation is a comprehensive in-depth evaluation of the child’s development, conducted by a trained specialist, such as a child psychologist, occupational therapist, developmental pediatrician, or other specialist. The specialist determines whether a child needs special treatment or early intervention using specially designed tests as well as interviews with the parent or caregiver. In order to help doctors around the country align, there are a number of developmental milestone checklists available, including some from the Center for Disease Control.
Specialists use developmental assessments to look at specific growth milestones of young children. A significant objective of the assessment is to evaluate the child’s cognition, which is their ability to learn and understand. Additionally, assessments seek to determine how well the child communicates, and measure their social and emotional development. Another consideration would be how they are physically developing, specifically with their fine and gross motor skills. Finally, they are evaluating the child’s adaptive behavior—which are the practical and real-life skills such as getting dressed or feeding themselves. This evaluation includes assessments, observations from the practitioners, and also conversations about what caregivers are noticing at home.
Assessments are generally divided into two categories: norm-referencing and criterion-referencing. In norm-referenced assessments, a child’s performance is compared to the performance of other children of the same age in the form of a standard score. In other words, the assessment provides a score for the child in relation to the average score for children of the same age, with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. The scores are then divided into different sections of high average, average, low average, moderately low, or extremely low. This makes it easy to understand and to compare a child to a typically developing child of the same age.
Alternatively, children’s specific skills or knowledge are measured by criterion-referenced assessments of their skill level compared to a set of standards-based expectations, such as reading skills, social skills, or writing skills. As part of the assessment, students must demonstrate that they have achieved the pre-specified qualities or criteria, but they are not compared with an average or norm for their age.
There are a number of assessments that professionals can use in order to fully evaluate children, and versions are consistently updated. Some of the most common ones are listed here. These tests vary in terms of who uses them (teachers or evaluators), as well as in length, but all utilize a combination of observation, interviews with family members, and ongoing check-ins. Each of these tools should be used with an understanding of the purpose for which it was created, as well as how it was developed. A thorough understanding of both the test measurement principles and the instrument’s reliability and validity is required to select the most suitable instrument and interpret its results.
Regardless of the assessment type being used, assessing children is a continuous process of listening, observing, recognizing behavior, and recording information so that proper developmental and structural decisions can be made. It is essential to have many different points of feedback so that the perspective on the child’s development is comprehensive and not limited to certain skills and abilities. Assessments can be used as planning tools as well as for monitoring and documenting progress.
Once the evaluation is complete, the results are used to determine if the child is eligible for additional resources like early intervention. According to IDEA, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, young children who are not school age and who need support are entitled to receive an Individualized Family Service Plan. This is a legal document which includes the support and services that the child will receive in order to support growth for their developmental delays. IDEA also requires that once the referral is made about a suspected disability or developmental delay, the screening, initial evaluation, initial assessment, and the writing of the IFSP need to be completed within 45 days. This is because children change so quickly, and interventions that are provided at a young age can make an incredible difference along the way.
A child’s developmental path can be changed with early intervention services, and children, families, and communities can all benefit. Because of this, it is essential that appropriate evaluations take place that can assess how a child is progressing and identify what proper next steps of support will be. With the evaluations as well as the insight of parents, other family members, and care providers, a proper plan can be put in place to improve children’s education and personal outcomes, along with enriching the lives of their families
Before we go, let’s go over a few review questions.
1. In her preschool classroom, Miss Davis has noticed that her three-year-old student Grace is struggling to communicate at the same level as her same-aged peers. The first step that Miss Davis should take is to:
- Wait and see whether or not the child is able to catch up with her peers in a few months’ time.
- Make a referral so that a professional can screen the student and begin an initial assessment.
- Independently complete a thorough evaluation, such as the Developmental Assessment of Young Children, Second Edition.
- Move the student out of the teacher’s classroom into a special education preschool class.
Since when checking to see if the child is reaching developmental milestones, the goal would be to identify any concerns as early as possible in order to best close the gap. A is incorrect because a wait-and-see strategy is not recommended since this is considered a substantial period of growth, C is incorrect since only qualified personnel can complete the evaluation, and D is incorrect since that would have to be the result of an evaluation and proved to be necessary.
2. A four-year-old boy named Johnny seems to be struggling with general cognitive abilities in his pre-k class. He has a difficult time with new concepts and keeping up with his peers. In order to gather more information, which kind of assessment would be most appropriate?
- A norm-referenced test, since that will be able to assess how this student is doing compared to the same-aged group
- A criterion-referenced test, as this will allow the school to see how their curriculum is doing compared to similar preschool curriculum in other schools
- A personalized assessment that the teacher created with questions geared toward what they have been learning in class
- The teacher should suggest that Johnny get outside of school support, in order to help him be better prepared for an informal assessment, which she will later perform without a metric.
A norm-referenced test gives the best comparison to other four-year-old students and is able to give some perspective outside of their direct school. B is incorrect as, while it will show valuable information, it may also point to some curricular issues that have nothing to do with this specific student. C is incorrect, as it again caters to what the teacher is teaching instead of what might be age-appropriate. D is incorrect, as the outside support might not be addressing the key issues.
3. An Individualized Family Service Plan is in place in order to:
- Provide guidelines of support options
- Issue academic specifications for elementary education
- Act as a resource for parents to read about different developmental delays
- Provide a legal document that includes the support and services that the child will receive
It is important to recognize that these are legal documents required by law. A is incorrect because guidelines are suggestions and not required. B is incorrect because it does not address these factors, and C is incorrect, as, while it may have these components, it is not the primary goal.
I hope you have enjoyed this video on identifying appropriate evaluations strategies. Thanks for watching, and happy studying.