Friday, March 12, 2010

Analysis Paralysis – Why does everyone think testing solves everything?


I just finished a long week of discussing requests for testing. I had two IEPs with attorneys that were almost a day long each. I also discussed testing referrals with some mental health practitioners. Then, I come home to check some of the parent-support and advocacy chat-rooms on the internet.


How do we request testing?

They have to test if you request it in writing!

Disclaimer: The conversation with the mental health practitioners was a completely positive experience. All of the questions regarding testing were information-seeking questions on how to best serve their clients. I only mention it because of the timing. That day was book-ended by two days dealing with three lawyers. Two were about as okay as lawyers get, but one fit two stereotypes – of lawyers and of people that try to hide their stupidity with pure obnoxiousness.

Why are people so obsessed with testing?

Don’t get me wrong. If no one required testing, there would be a lot of unemployed school psychologists in the world. It is not that I am against testing. I just do not have patience for not doing things right. Case in point, I asked for, and received, a neuropsychology book for Christmas. I read books like this for pleasure.

Why do we have Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) in the Individual with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA)?

IEPs exist so that we can develop services and accommodations so that an Individual With Exceptional Needs (IDEA’s fancy way of saying “Students with disabilities”) can receive an educational benefit in the Least Restrictive Environment possible so that a student can access their Free and Appropriate Public Education (FAPE).

Almost everything that we do is a means to that end.

What do assessments do?

- They can help us determine if a student qualifies for services under IDEA in the first place. ( No, I am not touching assessment versus Responsiveness-to-Intervention today. I will reserve that post for a day when I feel like provoking jihad from the religious extremists on both sides.)

- They can help assess needs, if we do not already know what those needs are.

- They can help us differentiate if it helps us choose a better plan. You may be considering a different intervention depending on why you think a problem exists. Treatment for social withdrawal may be different when it is caused by social anxiety versus the social withdrawal of someone with Asperger’s.

I get accused of stone-walling assessments because I always ask the same questions when I get assessment requests for a students already in special education.

1. What is the evidence of educational benefit? There are many sources of data already out there. Grades, state testing, formative assessments, progress on goals, work samples, progress notes, etc. If the student is progressing, don’t test. Just keep fine-tuning your plan as you get more feedback and information.

2. What do we know about the kid’s strengths and needs?

3. Does each need have a decent plan?

4. Finally, what questions do we want answered?

The first three questions focus on the necessity to assess. If we do not need to assess, don’t. This is important to someone who works in high schools. Often, we have plenty of information, but someone needs to stop and analyze it all. Other times, the test scores are great measures of how over-tested or test-averse a student is— but nothing else. When we get kids struggling in school, their butts need to be in classroom seats whenever possible. We can potentially do more harm when we take a struggling student out of the classroom for an assessment that will not yield any new, beneficial information.

The fourth question really gets to the bottom line. Test data is like any information. There is no inherent face-value. It is neither good nor bad. What we do with information determines value. Assessments are the same way.
We cannot seek the answers until we ask the right questions.


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