Educational Diagnostic Assessment
What is an Educational Diagnostic Assessment and how can it help?
An educational diagnostic evaluation is designed to play an essential role in assisting teachers in identifying and understanding an individual student’s needs. In the school setting, the evaluation process is based on an eligibility model that helps determine what services the student qualifies for in reference to school-based support programs. Referrals generally come from parents, the school, or the individual who has concerns about their learning process.
The diagnostic assessment process involves using background information, observations, as well as a combination of standard educational measures to establish a profile of the individual’s strengths and needs related to specific learning skills or skills needed in the workplace. The assessment is designed to provide guidance in academic, curricular, and instructional decisions made in the school setting. Decisions benefit from a clear understanding of the individual’s specific needs in areas of academic or functional concern.
The evaluation process begins with the collection of background information. This procedure involves an intake screening over the phone followed by a referral to an educational diagnostician. The diagnostician contacts the parent(s)/guardian(s) or self-referred adult to gain an understanding of the client’s individual needs. A Case History form is sent to the parent(s)/guardian(s) to gather additional background information. Observation forms are sent to the parents and teachers to obtain information in both the home and school environment. Older students or adults referred for evaluation will also fill out a self-evaluation. Observations from the adult’s significant other or family may be sought. School records, medical records, and previous diagnostic reports are reviewed with consent of the family or individual.
Diagnostic evaluations follow the guidelines from IDEA and the Public Education Department and will meet the requirements necessary in consideration of an eligibility at the student’s school. While assessment in all required areas is completed through this evaluation, our diagnosticians make additional efforts to define the unique nature of the learning difficulty. This is accomplished through measures that address how the student processes information and how that relates to the specific diagnosis. For example, in reading, testing will be tailored to better define the type and possible cause for the individual’s difficulties delineating between language processing difficulties, attention/concentration or working memory issues affecting comprehension, or difficulties with phonological processing resulting in dyslexia. Also considered are, cultural differences, language skills, general health issues, economic situations affecting educational needs, and specific processing weaknesses which would affect learning or performance in the workplace.
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Areas Assessed in an Educational Diagnostic Evaluation
An educational evaluation focuses on three distinct areas: General Cognitive or intellectual Ability, Academic Achievement in reading, math and written language, and processing skills affecting learning/academic performance.
There are individual differences in each student’s learning. Some of these differences may depend on cultural factors, level of engagement in academic development, and, most importantly, processing deficits that affect the development of reading, written language, and understanding mathematical concepts.
Measures of Processing Ability provide insight into the specific nature of a learning disability. Some abilities may be measured in more detail than others, depending on individual needs. Remediation and accommodation of academic difficulties are highly dependent on an understanding of the processing difficulties behind them, which are often overlooked in the assessment of learning.
These measures include analysis of the following areas:
Fluid Reasoning: The ability to reason and solve problems that often involve unfamiliar or novel information or procedures (often related to applied math or word problems).
Short-Term/Working Memory: The ability to encode, maintain, and manipulate information in immediate awareness (maintaining information while reading or following oral directions).
Cognitive Processing Speed: The speed and efficiency of performing cognitive tasks.
Auditory Processing: The ability to discriminate, encode, employ, and synthesize auditory stimuli. This is highly related to phonological awareness and phonological sequencing involved in both reading and spelling.
Long-Term Retrieval: The ability to store, consolidate, and retrieve information over time after being displaced from short-term and working memory.
Visual Processing: The ability to analyze and synthesize visual stimuli and employ and manipulate mental images to solve problems.
Quantitative Reasoning: The ability to reason with numbers or concepts involving mathematical relationships and properties.
Some abilities will be measured in more detail than others, depending on the individual’s profile of relative strengths and weaknesses. When assessing children, information related to developmental history and observations from the parents and teachers is important. Information obtained from the child’s viewpoint is also beneficial as they become an active participant in the evaluation process.
Assessment of “Giftedness”
A quote noted in the most current NM Public Educational Technical Assistance Manual for Gifted Education reads as follows:
“The Nation’s greatest resource for solving critical national problems in areas of national concern is its gifted and talented children. Unless the special abilities of gifted and talented children are developed during their elementary and secondary school years, their special potential for assisting the Nation may be lost. Furthermore, gifted and talented children from economically disadvantaged families and areas are often not afforded the opportunity to fulfill their special and valuable potential, due to inadequate or inappropriate educational services.” -United States Congress 1972, Title IX, Part A, Section 901)
Students in public school settings are at times referred for testing related to “gifted” to assist in the school’s consideration for eligibility and additional program support. Referral can also be initiated in private school settings to help teachers develop enriched materials to meet individual strengths or referred by parents or schools as part of consideration in admissions procedures as significant strengths are noted.
Evaluation guidelines provided in the current PED Technical Assistance Manual are conducted as stated, “Under the standard method for identification, students will be evaluated in the areas of intellectual ability, subject matter aptitude/achievement, creativity/divergent thinking, and problem-solving/critical thinking. A student who meets the established criteria for intellectual ability, and also meets the criteria in one or more of the other areas will qualify for consideration of service.” It is stressed that determination of appropriate services is made by “a properly-constituted IEP team, including someone who has knowledge of gifted education,” who will determine if special support services are required to meet the child’s educational needs.”
Evaluations conducted through Southwest Neuropsychology and Behavioral Health follow the above guidelines and are completed on an individual basis. Comprehensive reports are provided to the parents to be shared with the appropriate individuals at the school. As noted above, the diagnosis of gifted is reviewed by the school through an IEP team to determine if special support services are appropriate.
Finally, all evaluations deserve and require an approach that focuses on “differential diagnosis.” There should be no “formula,” no set list of diagnostic tools, and no preset goal to be reached by a series of specific tests. Diagnosis, by definition is a process. It is not static in that the process itself changes with the information as it is obtained. True “diagnosis” involves the careful examination of all “symptoms” or factors that are eventually woven together in an effort to cover each child’s individual needs.
What Should I Expect Prior to this Evaluation?
When a scheduled time has been agreed on, you will be asked to contact a member of our administrative staff to complete some initial paperwork. Following contact from staff related to this new referral, the diagnostician will contact you to determine dates for the evaluation to be scheduled. Once the dates are confirmed, you will receive an e-mail that will confirm the dates and times, provide directions to the office where the evaluation will be conducted, and explain how to park. A Case History Form and Observation Forms for the parents and teacher(s) will also be included. Parents are not allowed to sit in the room as the evaluation is conducted.
Prior to the evaluation, please be sure:
The individual being evaluated gets a good night’s sleep and a good breakfast before testing.
On the day of the evaluation:
Snacks can be brought with you, and there is water and coffee available.
Breaks will be taken as needed.
If glasses or hearing aids are needed, please make sure to bring them.
Please make sure medications are taken as prescribed.
If there are any special needs, allergies, or medical issues, please alert us to what they are
There is no preparation needed for this evaluation. We want to find out how the child or adult responds with no additional rehearsal. The process itself is interesting. Children and adolescents will have some fun with it, and adults will gain insight into their own needs as they go through the process.