– Articles by Dr. Stephen Migden –
For Parents: Understanding the Testing Report
For many parents, even those knowledgeable about learning disorders, education and child development, the comprehensive psycho-educational or neuro-psychological evaluation report often running 12 or more single-spaced, typewritten pages is an imposing and intimidating document. Frequently filled with technical language and statistical concepts, the evaluation report, if not properly interpreted to the parent, can be an overwhelming and confusing document, rather than a source of guidance and support. For this reason, it is crucial that every evaluation include parental input at all points of the process, especially the beginning and end.
Yet, to even more fruitfully benefit from a student’s evaluation, it is helpful for the parent to enter the evaluation process, from the beginning, with an understanding of the basic outlines of a typical evaluation report. In an attempt to provide you with this knowledge, and to make the evaluation report more comprehensible to parents and other non-psychologists, the following article will briefly focus on the basic structure and content of the test report: what you can, and should, expect from an evaluation report.
The Elements of an Evaluation Report
First of all, it is helpful to know that a carefully written evaluation report will follow a certain structure or outline. Certain issues will be addressed in the report, often in a typical and logical sequence. For example, most reports begin with a series of introductory sections that discuss issues and factors preceding the evaluation proper. This introductory part of the report begins with what is usually called the Reason for Referral section, followed by a section devoted to the child’s Background and History, and then one briefly reviewing Previous Evaluations. Next comes the main body of the evaluation report, consisting of a section devoted to the child’s Behavior during the evaluation and one comprising the main body of the report, labeled Test Results. The Summary and a set of Recommendations, along with a concluding appendix listing the Tests Administered and the scores achieved on them, will comprise the final sections of the report. Let’s take a brief look at each of these.
The Introductory Sections
The Reason for Referral section of the evaluation report introduces the student and the reasons he or she is being evaluated. It basically sets the stage for the evaluation by answering a number of important questions, most of which revolve around the single most important question: what are the problems and concerns that are to be addressed in this evaluation? This section is extremely important, because it focuses the evaluation and helps to insure that the evaluation will produce explicit, useful information. It is very closely related to the next section, the Background and History, which has a number of useful purposes, including providing a broader, more inclusive picture of the student, beyond how he or she performed in the relatively limited time period of the evaluation proper. Unlike the Reason for Referral section, however, the Background and History should always focus both on the student’s strengths and weaknesses, not just the problems. The last of the introductory sections, Previous Evaluations, briefly discusses the findings of prior assessments. It provides a very important baseline against which the student’s progress – or lack of it – can be measured over time.
The Main Body of the Report
The main body of the report consists of two sections, Behavior and Test Results. The Behavior section describes the student’s behavior in the testing situation. Unlike the next section, Test Results, it does not discuss the student’s scores on the various tests given, nor how he or she did on the tests. Instead, it describes a number of more subtle yet still very important factors, such as how the student worked on the tests, what his or her style of approach was like. An important purpose of this section is to allow the student to come alive in the report, so that the evaluation is not merely a dry recitation of tests and scores. Of course, a thoughtful, well-written Test Results section is also not merely a dry recitation of tests and test scores. Instead, this section of the report should carefully and explicitly describe the student’s underlying cognitive strengths and weaknesses, how these are manifested in the basic academic skill areas (e.g. reading, spelling, mathematics, etc.), and the interaction of these cognitive/educational factors with the all-important emotional/dynamic factors encompassed by such issues as the student’s attitudes, feelings, and relationships with significant others, including teachers, tutors and parents.
The Final Sections
The final part of the report consists of three relatively brief sections. The first of these is a Summary section which reviews the major findings of the evaluation. It should not contain anything new, but it should integrate all of the information contained in the report. It is followed by a set of Recommendations. These should be explicit enough so that they can form the basis of a coherent and useful intervention plan, while also retaining enough flexibility so that competent professionals implementing them do not feel overly limited in their intervention choices. The recommended interventions should also be coherently related to test findings and, ideally, empirically based. Finally, appended to the end of the report is a list of Tests Administered and the scores obtained on them. This is very important, as it provides a set of raw data for other professionals, and it is often required by testing organizations if the student is requesting accommodations on certain high stakes tests, such as the Law School Admission Test.
Reprinted, with permission, from Dyslexia Discourse (volume 61, Fall 2006), the newsletter of the New York Branch of the International Dyslexia Association.