If autism is possible, then the evaluation should also include developmental and adaptive functioning testing.
These are not always included in psychoeducational assessments so make sure to ask about this additional testing if ruling out autism is important.
Adaptive functioning – Adaptive functioning is the ability to complete tasks of daily living like personal hygiene, cooking, understanding, and using money and public transportation. These are questionnaires completed by the person and others that interact with them frequently. This is important for the diagnosis of intellectual disability and autism.
Developmental testing – These tests are semi-structured interviews or play sessions used to assess the person’s social skills and communication, and together with an adaptive functioning test, help determine if someone has Autism Spectrum Disorder. The ADOS-2 and MIGDAS are the gold standards so make sure the evaluator uses one of these tests.
The difference between psychoeducational assessment done by the school vs one done privately
First, it’s important to understand that there’s a difference between a licensed school psychologist and a licensed psychologist. Both are licensed professionals through Florida’s Department of Health. While a licensed psychologist can do evaluations for clinical and educational purposes, school psychologists have a limited scope of practice for just educational purposes. Both can diagnose learning disorders, ADHD, and autism, but unlike a licensed psychologist, school psychologists can’t diagnose other clinical conditions (e.g. anxiety, depression, OCD, etc.) that may be impacting the child. Evaluations by licensed psychologists can be used in a wide variety of settings and serve many different purposes. A school psychologist’s evaluation is usually limited for use in educational settings and academic purposes. Adding to the confusion, many school districts employ school psychologists and clinical psychologists and call them all “school psychologists”.
Regardless of their type of license, psychologists working for school districts are not usually allowed to diagnose mental health conditions. This is because school districts see these professionals’ role as mainly educational in nature, not medical. Instead, psychologists employed in school settings “classify” students into one of 13 educational classifications. In K-12 schools, a medical diagnosis isn’t necessary for students to be eligible for accommodations, 504 plans, etc.
The issue with the lack of diagnosis comes up later when the person starts taking high-stakes exams like the SAT, ACT, LSAT, MCAT, GRE, GMAT, Florida Bar, USMLEs, etc. The organizations that administer these tests require a formal (neuro)psychoeducational evaluation and any appropriate medical diagnoses for test-takers to be eligible for accommodations. An IEP, 504 plan, educational classification, or history of receiving accommodations are not enough to get accommodations on these tests.
At this point, you may be thinking that submitting the school psychologist’s evaluation will do the trick.
Nope, it won’t. Psychologists working for schools (especially here in Miami-Dade County Public Schools) are overwhelmed with the number of evaluation requests and they’re short on time. In order to meet the demand, they usually only administer the bare minimum of tests to arrive at a classification – the achievement test and the social/emotional/behavioral tests. It’s enough in the K-12 world, but it’s insufficient for the organizations that administer the high-stakes exams mentioned above. These organizations typically require intelligence tests, achievement tests, neuropsychological tests, and social, emotional, and behavioral tests. In order to keep things fair, they want to see the process that the psychologist used to differentiate between the conditions which share similar signs or symptoms so that only people that truly need accommodations get them.
Timing and history are other concerns.
The school psychologist’s evaluation is probably more than one year old since school districts only evaluate students every 2-3 years. The organizations (like College Board) that administer the high-stakes exams usually require an evaluation that’s less than one year old. They also want to see that this condition has historically impaired the person. Many times testing accommodation requests are denied because it’s hard to show history when there was little/insufficient testing completed when the person was younger.
After the psychoeducational evaluation
The licensed psychologist will analyze the results and prepare a final report once all the tests have been administered. A well-written report should include the following parts:
- A list of all the tests administered
- Background section detailing the person’s family, medical, mental health, educational, and legal history
- Behavioral observations
- A brief description of each test administered, whether the administration was valid, and an explanation of the person’s performance on the test
- Some psychologists only report qualitative descriptions of performance (e.g. “Low Average”, “Average”, “High Average”). However, some organizations that use these evaluations require the psychologist to report statistical scores.
- Diagnoses using DSM-V and/or ICD-10 codes
- Summary and Conclusion
- Differential Diagnoses (sometimes included in the Summary and Conclusion section)
- Recommendations tailored the diagnoses and the conclusion
- Signature with the licensed psychologist’s license number
The final step in a psychoeducational evaluation is to meet with the person (and their family if they chose). This usually takes place about 15 business days after all the tests are administered. (If you need a faster turnaround, make sure you share your deadline with the psychologist before you start the evaluation. Some may not be able to complete an evaluation on such short notice. Others may be able to meet your deadline but charge an additional rush fee.) The psychologist explains the results of the testing and how they arrived at the diagnoses, answers questions, and reviews any recommendations and next steps the person should follow.
Some psychologists will have the final report ready at the feedback sessions. Others may finalize the report after the feedback session in order to account for any information that may come up during the feedback session in the final report.
How to Use a Psychoeducational Evaluation
How you use a psychoeducational report depends on your needs. In cases, you’ll share it with the special education coordinator at your child’s school so the school can start the staffing process of classifying the child into one of those 13 educational classifications and prepare an IEP or 504 plan as needed.
If the goal is to get accommodations on the ACT, SAT, or AP exams, then the student’s guidance counselor or college advisor will usually submit the report and any other documents to ACT or the College Board. The LSAT, MCAT, GRE, GMAT, etc. are administered by different organizations and they usually have deadlines to apply for accommodations about 1-2 months before the testing date. There are usually some additional forms required as part of the application for accommodations.
Still have more questions about psychoeducational evaluations? Learn more here. If you’re ready to get started with a psychoeducational evaluation, give us a call at (305) 501-0133 or schedule a free 15-minute Clarity Call. We’ll be happy to answer your questions and concerns.