When you discover that your student needs more help with academic tasks than that provided by your school, you may decide to seek out a private tutor. Finding the “right” tutor should be preceded by understanding what kind of assistance your student needs. After all, all tutors do not offer the same areas of expertise. It is not enough to know that your student needs help with reading or math. The specific kinds of issues in each subject area need to be investigated. For example, some students have difficulty with decoding while others are unable to comprehend what they read. Of equal importance is gaining an understanding of how your student learns so that you not only pick a tutor who is “good” in teaching reading, but also can present the material in a manner that is congruent with your student’s learning style. For instance, some students have auditory processing deficits and need to be tutored with this in mind. Others have visual/spatial problems, and these have to be understood in order to deliver the material in a way that makes it accessible.
The other important factor to consider when choosing a tutor is whether executive functioning (EF) deficits in addition to learning disorders are causing the problem. EF issues may include inattention, lack of initiative, poor task completion, working memory, and emotional regulation. Here, too, tutors must know how to manage EF problems as well as subject area deficits. For example, a student with a working memory problem may have difficulty recalling math facts or retrieving letter/sound associations and “drilling” alone may not be sufficient to fix the problem.
The best way to gain these understandings is to have a comprehensive psycho-educational or neuropsychological evaluation. These types of evaluations will identify the suspect academic issues, the EF issues, and, most importantly, tell the tutor how to address them. Some schools and learning centers do evaluations; however, unless they are sufficiently thorough enough to detect the academic and EF issues, they may miss the mark. The evaluation should “drive” the tutoring.
With regard to finding a tutor who can implement the recommendations contained in the evaluation, it is common for parents to ask schools for recommendations. This, too, may yield a good referral or parents may be directed to a teacher at the school who does tutoring. The point here is, not any teacher will do as a tutor. If the comprehensive evaluation indicates significant learning and EF problems, a specialized tutor who is trained in these areas is necessary. This may be a special education teacher or other equally qualified professional. Of course, chemistry between the tutor and your student is important and you will have to interview the tutor to see if he/she is the kind of person your child can work with successfully.
When is testing Indicated?
Testing can be helpful when:
- Students are either not performing to their anticipated abilities or have exhibited a sudden, and unexplainable decline in grades;
- Teachers and parents are unable to understand what factors are interfering with students’ achievement and learning;
- Behavioral problems appear that are unusual for a particular student or have been resistant to change;
- Students are being tutored and have not made adequate progress or tutoring is being considered and a remediation plan needs to be developed.
What kind of testing is indicated?
Comprehensive assessments are usually of two types:
- Psycho-educational evaluations include measurements of students’ cognitive abilities and achievement.
- Neuro-psychological evaluations include areas assessed in a psycho-educational evaluation, but also include a thorough measurement of students’ executive functions (i.e. memory; processing speed; planning and organization; attention and concentration; activation/initiative; effort; verbal/auditory and visual processing; emotional regulation; etc.)
However, the actual composition of either of the above evaluations may vary from examiner to examiner and it is important to understand what tests and domains will be assessed. Consequently, when speaking to professionals, ask them to explain in easy to understand language exactly what they are testing for and what will not be assessed. For instance, many of the issues encountered in students with ADHD, Aspergers, and learning disorders that do not meet the criteria for a specific learning disability are due to executive functioning deficits that may not be discoverable with a psycho-educational evaluation like those performed at many schools that only includes an intelligence and an achievement measure.
What can I expect as a result of testing?
Testing findings should be explained to parents (and students) in terms that they can understand and specific, concrete recommendations that can be reasonably implemented by teachers should be the end result of an evaluation. Recommendations should be tailored to the specific students and not generated by a computer program that offers general strategies that could apply to everyone. Do not be fooled by the number of recommendations made and, instead, focus on the quality of those proposed and their applicability to your student.
The professional you choose should have first-hand knowledge of how schools operate in order to make recommendations that are likely to be carried out by schools, and a thorough knowledge of the laws that regulate students’ eligibility for support services.
What can I expect in navigating meetings with the school?
Professionals who understand the laws and how schools work should be available to help you to advocate for your student. This may occur by explaining how to speak to school personnel about the findings of the evaluation and the recommendations or may involve accompanying you to meetings to help you to navigate the special education process at your school.