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Child Study Team Evaluations, Determining Eligibility, and Developing Instructional Strategies

October 9, 2014

One of the major dilemmas regarding the use of child study team findings lies in the divorce between determining eligibility, a primary function of the team, and helping teachers develop instructional strategies based on the results. It may be thought of in this way: psychologists and learning specialists test, and teachers teach-but can the two every meet?
I think this is not only possible, but necessary in developing an appropriate IEP and teaching strategies that help teachers provide differentiated instruction. However, a number of variables (i.e. teachers’ degree of knowledge and interest; team members philosophy regarding the use of test findings; and the availability of time to integrate the findings with the teachers who could benefit from their meaning) stand in the way of using team evaluations for more than just determining eligibility. Let me pause so as not to give the wrong impression about determining eligibility. This is an important function because if test findings are interpreted properly, a differential diagnosis can be made between students who have a specific learning disability and those who are low functioning but do not meet the federal, state, or scientific definition of a learning disorder. Either of these situations hopefully leads to an appropriate academic program for each type of student.
Yet, delving deeper into the test findings can yield important information about the ways a student learns best and how to structure teaching so as to capitalize on that information. For example, students whose profiles include deficits in the area of fluid reasoning will have difficulties performing tasks like inferential reading comprehension, math problem solving, and planning and organizing effective written pieces. Another area where digging into the data is important is the area of memory. There are many different types of memory (i.e. .verbal, visual, short and long term, rote, recognition, evocative) and some students are strong in one of these domains and not in others. This kind of information may be directly translated into instructional strategies. For instance, may students with a nonverbal learning disability or autistic spectrum disorder have good rote memory. Nevertheless, when tasks involve the mental manipulation of information as they do in solving multi-step math problems or in written expression, they fall short. Some students with ADD have difficulty with verbal/auditory recall, but they may be strong in visual memory. Each strength and weaknesses can be translated into effective teaching strategies.
In order to have team evaluation serve both the purposes of determining eligibility and instructional strategy development, teachers, tea members, and parents need to collaborate to make sure that each thoroughly understands the practical application of the test findings. Thus, teachers and parents should be asking team members to translate the numbers in reports and any jargon and describe in pragmatic terms how this data can help their child. Very often this kind of discussion can lead to the development of other good questions that may require further investigation. For example, the usual cognitive and achievement batteries used by teams do not assess every facet of a student’s skills, necessitating additional testing to ferret out information that remains unknown. A curious attitude on the part of all involved will go a long way to making the best use of child study team evaluations.

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