Our psychologists have completed more than 500 learning assessments on children and adolescents in the last few years.
Here are 23 of the things we have learned.
Why should a student 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 a specific learning disorder – in 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 self-confidence. A simple understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses is often helpful.
6. So informed decisions can be made about their education, such as choosing appropriate pathways and programs or applying for extra time on exams.
When should assessment be done?
7. One thing is clear: Earlier is better than later. Research has consistently shown that early intervention improves long-term learning outcomes. Our psychologists assess children from 4 years-old (for school readiness) through to adolescence.
8. What about other medical or developmental issues? If there are concerns about significant delays or deficits in social, emotional or physical development it is best for parents to consult a paediatrician first.
What does assessment involve?
9. A full learning assessment includes a cognitive assessment (IQ test) and an academic skills assessment. 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 or questionnaires may be useful depending on the presenting issues, such as learning difficulties, potential giftedness or problems with attention.
10. 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.
11. It is best to break up the assessment over multiple sessions. We administer tests over two or three 75-90 minute sessions. Trying to do it all on one day is far too much, especially for younger children.
12. Mid-morning is a good time to test. We schedule most testing sessions at around 9.30-10am when children are typically more awake and alert.
13. 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 quiet rooms with independent heating and cooling.
14. 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 encourages them to return!)
15. Don’t call it a “test”. We advise parents to tell their 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!
16. All assessment reports are not created equal. The occasional spelling or grammar mistake is inevitable in any detailed report. On the other hand, significant errors or omissions with scoring, the interpretation of results or diagnoses are unacceptable as they can have serious consequences. Our reports are carefully prepared to a high standard and double-checked.
17. Don’t sit on the fence. The main purpose of assessment is not simply to “label” a student; 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 learning disorder, it’s important to make this clear in the report so the child does not miss out on appropriate help.
18. 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 a few key points that get implemented is much better than 25 suggestions that are never used. Highlighting the ONE most important thing to do first is even better.
19. 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 assessment?
20. Teachers also need to understand the outcomes to provide the right support for each student’s learning in the classroom. Our psychologists speak with teachers (with parental consent) to ensure everyone is “on the same page”.
21. Educational coaching may be helpful. Some students 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.
22. 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.
23. Reassessment may be useful after 2-3 years to look for any changes in a student’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.
Discover each student’s true learning potential – and how to help them achieve it
These are just some of the considerations involved in assessing children’s learning ability. There are many more we know of, which all serve one purpose: To reveal a child’s learning potential – and illuminate the pathway towards reaching it.
>> Learn more about Learning Profile Assessment
(For children without any suspected learning difficulty)
>> Learn more about Learning Difficulty Assessment
(For children with a suspected learning difficulty, such as dyslexia)
>> Learn more about Giftedness Assessment
(For children who appear to be very advanced with their learning skills.)