What is a Psychoeducational Evaluation?
November 7, 2013
A few weeks ago, we featured an interview with a mother who had a problem when it came to her third grader’s reading ability: “The school representatives could not explain the discrepancy between his reading fluency and his CogAT scores.” The one person who helped the family put the pieces of their particular puzzle together was their clinical child psychologist who specializes in psychoeducational evaluations.
If no one at your school mentions psychoeducational testing, and no one in your particular circle of friends discusses it, it can feel intimidating.
We asked psychologist Dr. Carol Blum to give us the facts about psychoeducational evaluations. Every situation is unique, to use an old cliché, but it’s helpful to know some basics about a process that requires a good amount of time, money and commitment.
Question 1: What is included in a psychoeducational evaluation?
Evaluations vary according to the age of the child, the diagnostic question, and the professional doing the testing. Usually a psychoeducational evaluation will include:
1. An evaluation of cognitive skills is the standard starting point for evaluation, with the goal of getting an overall view of a child’s strengths, weaknesses, and learning style in verbal, non-verbal, working memory, and processing speed realms. Among the more popular tests, there are three different Wechsler “IQ tests” to choose from, based on the age of the subject: WPPSI for preschoolers, WISC for school age children, and WAIS for adults. Some psychologists now start with the Mindprint as an objective cognitive screener to help make the overall evaluation process more efficient.
2. Also included as a starting point is an initial interview, review of academic records, behavior checklists completed by the parents and teachers, and a test of graphic ability.
3. Academic achievement testing covers developing skills in reading, writing, spelling, math, listening, etc. Achievement test results are combined with IQ findings to assess how achievement relates to the child’s overall ability.
4. Specific neuro-developmental tests can be added to fine-tune understanding of specific areas such as attention, language, memory, processing skills, phonics skill, and executive functions.
5. Personality and emotional evaluation, called “projective” testing, includes more imaginative work. Tests are selected according to the child’s age and ability for expression, and may include drawing, storytelling, the Rorschach, the TAT, or sentence completion.
6. School observations are useful in assessing environmental or behavioral factors.
Question 2: How much does it typically cost?
The cost varies widely, but is usually between $2,000 and $5,000. Health insurance may cover part of the cost of an evaluation for diagnosing psychological disorders (including attention deficit disorder), but will not cover the cost if there is an educational problem or learning disorder.
Question 3: How is a private evaluation different from the school psychologist’s evaluation?
A private evaluation will most likely be more comprehensive and detailed. There are certain areas a school will not want to delve into, such as family problems causing emotional distress, and some areas that are controversial for schools to diagnose, such as ADD. A school psychologist ultimately works for the school, not the child or parents. Usually the first step of the process is for the parent to write a letter to the director of special services requesting an evaluation. Next the school will gather information and determine whether the child is eligible for an evaluation. There must be a demonstrated need, for example that the child is falling behind academically.
Question 4: When is it the right time to seek an outside evaluation and not rely on the school?
A private evaluation offers more privacy to the family, and parents can opt to not share the results with the school. On the other hand, a school-based evaluation is free and available to all children, even if they go to private school. A private evaluation might be the only option in cases where the child is achieving at an average level or does not meet the demonstrated need for a school evaluation.
An at-home cognitive screener can be a good, relatively affordable first step to help you identify if there is a problem and the best potential course of action. It offers you the privacy of a private evaluation without the cost. Keep in mind, however, that any diagnosis will require consultation with a psychologist.