Our psychologists have completed 714 learning assessments for children and adolescents in the last several years. Here are 24 of the main lessons we have learned.
Why should a child have a learning assessment?
1. To discover what their learning potential is. In other words, what might they be capable of achieving given their ability to absorb, process and recall information?
2. To reveal how they learn and process information – their “learning profile” – showing their particular strengths and weaknesses.
3. To find out if they have any specific difficulties with reading, writing, maths or attention (or, more rarely, to find out if they might be “gifted”).
4. To identify the specific learning strategies and types of support they are likely to benefit from – at home and at school.
5. To help them gain insight into their own learning ability. Children can start to notice differences between their own learning and that of other children as early as grades one or two. And this can affect their self-esteem and confidence. A simple understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses is often helpful.
6. So parents can make informed decisions about their education, such as school choice, extra-curricular programs or applying for extra time on exams.
When should a learning assessment be done?
7. One thing is clear: Earlier is better than later. A 2015 study found that children with learning difficulties risk falling into a long term “learning gap” that persists into adolescence and adulthood, with serious consequences for academic achievement and emotional development. And research has consistently shown that early intervention improves long-term learning outcomes.
8. What about other medical or developmental issues? If parents are concerned about significant delays in social, emotional or intellectual development (other than a learning difficulty) we suggest consulting a GP or paediatrician first.
What does a learning assessment involve?
9. A full learning assessment (or educational assessment) includes a cognitive test which looks at thinking, memory and reasoning skills and an academic skills test. The combination of these tests provides valuable information not revealed by any test on its own. For example, a cognitive test by itself cannot be used to diagnose a learning disorder. Additional tests may be useful depending on the presenting issues, such as learning difficulties, potential giftedness or problems with memory or attention.
10. The psychologist conducting the assessment should have the right skills, training and experience. We only employ carefully selected staff with postgraduate training in Educational & Developmental Psychology and extensive experience in learning assessment. We follow a standardised testing process and use the latest and most up-to-date tests.
11. The right test conditions are critical to obtain accurate results. Children need to feel comfortable, at-ease and alert in order to do their best. We have found the following steps helpful.
12. It is best to break up the assessment over multiple sessions. We administer tests over two (sometimes three) 60-120 minute sessions. Trying to cram it all into one day is not ideal, especially for younger children.
13. Mid-morning is a good time to test. We schedule most testing sessions for younger children at around 10am when they are typically more awake and alert.
14. The testing environment should be quiet and free of distractions and the air temperature should be comfortable. At our office in Port Melbourne we have sound-insulated rooms with independent temperature control.
15. Break the ice first. Asking some friendly questions and playing a couple of quick games helps to build some rapport and gives children a chance to relax before they start the test. (And a small “prize” at the end helps them leave on a high note!)
16. Don’t call it a “test”. We suggest telling a young child they are coming to see a psychologist who helps kids find out more about how they learn. They will play a couple of games, answer some questions and do some puzzles. It will be fun!
17. All assessment reports are not created equal. The occasional typographical mistake is inevitable in any long and detailed report. On the other hand, significant errors with scoring, the interpretation of results or diagnoses are unacceptable. Our reports are carefully prepared to a high standard and anonymously peer-reviewed.
18. Don’t sit on the fence. The main purpose of assessment is not to “label” a child with a disorder; it is to gain insight into how they learn and identify ways to improve their learning. But if the results meet the criteria for a specific learning disorder, it’s important to make this clear in the report so the child does not miss out on appropriate help.
19. A lengthy list of learning recommendations is unlikely to be helpful and will leave parents (and teachers) feeling confused and overwhelmed. A concise action plan with 5 key points that get implemented is much better than 25 things that are never used. Highlighting the one most important thing to do first is even better still.
20. Parents need to understand the report and recommendations. Everything should be explained thoroughly in clear language using as little jargon as possible. A detailed feedback consultation is an essential part of the process.
What happens after a learning assessment?
21. Teachers also need to understand the outcomes to provide the right support for the child’s learning in the classroom. Our psychologists are happy to schedule a phone call with the teacher (with parents’ consent) to ensure everyone is “on the same page”.
22. Counselling may be helpful. Some children will benefit from focused individual sessions with a psychologist to help them improve their performance in different ways – from anxiety and stress reduction, to motivation, goal setting, study skills and organisation. These sessions are tailored to individual needs and aims.
23. Review progress every 3-6 months. Determine which strategies are effective. Do more of what is working and drop whatever is not. Celebrate achievements and set new goals.
24. Reassessment may be useful after 2-3 years to look for any changes in the child’s learning profile and to ensure that all the recommendations and interventions are up-to-date and still relevant for their specific strengths and weaknesses.
These are some of the main considerations involved in assessing children’s learning ability and skills. There are many more we know of, which all serve one purpose: To reveal each child’s true learning potential – and identify the best ways to help them reach it.
Discover children’s learning potential – and how to help them achieve it
If parents think a learning assessment might be helpful for their child the first step is to book an initial parent consultation to review their child’s learning history and get the right advice for their needs.