Psychoeducational Assessments and IEP's

I work in Vancouver, Burnaby, Coquitlam, Maple Rdige, New Westminster and throughout the lower mainland. Parents come to me and tell me their child is having trouble at school and they have asked for psychoeducational assessments from their school districts. Often instead of a psychoeducational assessment they are told they will be placed on a waiting list, sometimes a long waiting list. 


As a matter of fact in Burnaby, Vancouver, North Vancouver, Maple Ridge, Coquitlam and other districts in the lower mainland school districts they seem reluctant to provide any psychoeducational assessment for a child younger than 8 or so. Sometimes that wait for the psychoeducational exam you requested takes years, and your child is 8,9 or 10 before they get necessary services. And parents wonder, "why are schools reluctant to provide these examinations until the children are older, and have had multiple years of academic failure before providing the assessment?"


Honestly, I don't know. I've worked with and in school districts in California, Washington, New York, Massachusetts and Vermont, as well as overseas, and everywhere else I have ever worked school districts provided appropriate psychoeducational assessments as soon as there were educational concerns. Most of the school districts I've worked in prior to coming to British Columbia have special teams trained in the tools needed to assess younger children. (A child of 8 doesn't take the same tests as a child of 5, and a school psychologist can't be expected to be familiar with ever test for every age.) So, elsewhere school districts are not only willing to provide a psychoeducational assessment to a kindergardener or 1st grader, they also have professionals specially trained in giving those psychoeducation tests.


I've asked several dozen school, educational and registered psychologists, and no one can offer me an answer as to why we wait to assess here in BC.  Sure, psychoeducational assessments at age 5,6 or 7 are not as predictive of future educational outcomes as ones given at age 12, 13 or 14. But they are valid. How someone performs years in the future may very well change based upon interventions (or lack of interventions) we provide. But any good assessment should help us to understand how a particular child learns, what cognitive and skill deficits they have, and what abilities they possess we might be able to use to improve their academic functioning. Even at age 5.


There is nothing wrong with asking for an assessment at the first signs of learning problems. A semester of "watching" and data collection, maybe trying some classroom based intervention, is appropriate. But I have trouble thinking more than a semester of "waiting and watching" makes sense.


I've also been hearing from parents that their child's teacher is unfamiliar with the psychoeducational assessment they have been given when we have one.  Sometimes I hear the classroom teacher hasn't read the psychoeducational exam report, and I've witnessed this at many school based meetings. It this something we should expect and accept?  Some teachers feel the information in the psychoeducational assessment is too complex, and that they don't have the training, knowledge or skills to make use of the test. That's understandable, some of these psychoeducational reports are written in a manner that's hard for me to understand. And grasping all the data can be difficult. So, I can understand why a teacher with a full load of classes decides his or her time is best spent elsewhere. Still, I feel the teacher needs to know about the results to make good teaching choices.


Here's what to do:
Schedule a sperate meeting with your child's teacher, the psychologist who wrote the report, administrators who deal with your child and appropriate members of the support team. At that meeting the school psychologist will review the report for everyone, and should be able to tell you and the teacher how these test results can be used in the classroom to make appropriate changes, accommodations to support your child.


Limit the topics at this meeting. Focus on the psychoeducational assessment and what we can learn from it. Make sure the psychologist is prepared to explain the report, and prepared with some suggestions. Don't surprise them! They may even write a one page brief summary to distribute at the meeting.


Psychoeducational reports can provide valuable information about a students strengths and weaknesses, and how to use their strengths, called "affinities by Dr. Mel Levine because he combines strengths with things you like to do, to overcome deficits. Teachers don't received training in understanding these reports, so as a parent you can set up the situation so that you child's teacher gets the support they need to know how to support your child with the help he or she needs. It's a win-win situation.


You don't need to accept a situation where the professionals working with your child are not even familiar  with his or her psychoeducational assessment.  Rather than becoming mad or frustrated, turn the situation into a learning opportunity for everyone. A good teacher will appreciate your help. Especially that one page summary!


Oh, and limit the number of suggested interventions. It's hard to implement more than three new things, monitor them and evaluate their effectiveness when you have a full class to take care of. Some reports come with 10,20 or more suggestions. Prioritize and pick three! 



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About Dr. Roche
My name is Dr. Jim Roche and I am a Registered Psychologist and a Registered Marriage and Family Therapist (RMFT) in British Columbia. In addition to my doctorate in clinical psychology, I hold a master's degree in family therapy, a certificate of advanced graduate studies (CAGS) in school and educational psychology from Norwich University, and have completed two years of post doctoral studies in neuro-psychology at The Fielding Institute in Santa Barbara, California. In addition to being a registered psychologist, I am a certified school psychologist, certified teacher of special education (New York and California), and a Clinical Member of the American Association of Marriage and Family Therapists (AAMFT). I also hold a doctoral degree in law with an emphasis in medical malpractice and education law. Beyond my academic credentials, I have completed two years of supervised clinical experience in both hospital and community based clinics and two years of post doctoral training in neuropsychology. I have served as director of behaviour programming for several school districts, as a consultant on autism for the province, and have held numerous academic positions including Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry at New York University and Bellevue Hospital in New York as well as being a faculty member at NYU, Brooklyn College, SUNY New Paltz, and Norwich University.
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