What is a Comprehensive Psycho-Educational Evaluation?
By Dr. Colleen O’Donnell
When a child is struggling in school, parents and teachers are motivated to understand the factors that are contributing to the difficulty and limiting the child’s progress. They are seeking information and answers in an effort to identify ways to support the child and improve academic and personal outcomes.
In the interest of problem solving, families are sometimes encouraged to pursue a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation for their child. Why? What is a psycho-educational evaluation? How can it help?
A psycho-educational evaluation is the process through which a psychologist (or a team of professionals including a psychologist) observes and evaluates an individual’s functioning in a wide variety of areas that are known to potentially impact educational performance. Through direct observation, interviews, consultation with teachers and other professionals, and the administration of structured assessments, a psychologist collects information about a student’s
1) general intellectual skills (verbal and nonverbal thinking, reasoning, problem solving, memory, speed and efficiency of processing);
2) academic skills (reading, writing, and math skills);
3) specific processing skills (phonological processing, auditory processing, spatial skills, executive functioning, memory, perceptual skills); and
4) social, emotional, and behavioral functioning.
The information gathered through the evaluative process is then analyzed and synthesized by the psychologist with the goal of understanding the student’s unique pattern of strengths and weaknesses and identifying the factors (or combination of factors) that are impacting performance at school.
Because a comprehensive psycho-educational evaluation is broad in nature, the psychologist is able to determine the possible presence of a wide variety of learning disabilities (e.g., dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyscalculia), social and emotional conditions (e.g., anxiety disorders, depression), and neurodevelopmental disorders (e.g., ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorders). More importantly, the information gathered through the evaluation allows the psychologist to offer targeted recommendations for ways the student and his/her educational team can maximize performance and improve outcomes. This may include recommendations for interventions or remedial support (e.g., behavior plans, therapies, tutoring), accommodations in the classroom (e.g., extended time, preferential seating, use of audiobooks), modifications in the classroom (e.g., alternative assignments or coursework), and adjustments to the method or manner of instruction. A psycho-educational evaluation is typically a very empowering process, allowing the student and his/her parents to advocate in a more informed manner for the child’s needs, and allowing teachers to tailor a child’s educational environment in a way that maximizes their strengths.