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Educational Psychologists

Chapter 17 from the book: Dyslexia AN EXPLANATION

Educational Psychologist's report

In the normal course of events, a student's "learning difference" is noticed either by the teacher or by the parent at home. The teacher will become aware that the child is performing well orally in the classroom but seems to be under-performing in written tasks or reading. Frequently, a parent who is working with the student at home notices that the student has difficulty when tackling homework. The parent may become aware that, at an early age, the child appears to be "reading" but, in actual fact, has learned to read the page off by heart. When the parent points to individual words the child has difficulty recognising those words. There are a lot of other symptoms of dyslexia mentioned in Chapter 3 "What are the signs and symptoms of dyslexia" that can be readily identified by both parents and teachers.

There are many reasons why a student may not be learning at the rate expected by the teacher or parent and some of these are listed below. It is very important for the parent to inform the teacher of any aspect of the student's home life, which may affect the student's learning ability at school. The following aspects should be discussed with the teacher before the student is screened for a specific learning difficulty.

Intellectual and behavioural factors

The student may have a below average IQ and therefore may not be able to learn as quickly as his/her classmates.

Quite often a student who is spoken to, as an adult will pick up an adult vocabulary and phraseology and may seem to perform orally at a high level.

The student may have a normal IQ but have specific learning difficulties.

The student may have a poor attention span.

Physical factors

The student may not be getting enough sleep.

This may be due to environmental factors such as noise, the bedroom too warm etc.

The student may be worried about school, friends, classmates or something at home. There are lots of things that children "worry about", real or imagined.

The student may not be going to bed early enough. Different adults require different amounts of sleep and so do different children. Sometimes within a family one particular child may require more sleep than the others. Parents are only too aware that some children require less sleep than others in the family!

Health factors

The family doctor will have the medical history of the student and there may be implications within this for a child's learning ability. The doctor should be consulted at this stage informing him/her that an Educational Psychologist may assess the student.

The student may have missed school due to a serious illness or an ongoing illness. However, it often amazing how quickly children who have missed long periods of school can seem to "catch up" relatively easily within a short period of time.

Visual problems such as short sightedness can often go undetected. In many instances a teacher may request the student has an eyesight test because the student is having difficulty copying from the board in school. This is not to be confused with aspects of visual dyslexia or eye-tracking problems as previously referred to in Chapters 12 and 5.

The student may have hearing problems such as those associated with "glue ear" caused by infections in or malfunctioning of the Eustachian tubes. These are tubes connecting the inner ear to the throat. (When flying we can cause our ears to "pop" by pinching the nose and blowing out, with lips closed, thus opening the Eustachian tubes.) This can lead to problems with sounding out words especially in the early years of school; high-pitched frequencies are affected most e.g. those associated with the slender vowels e and i.

Speech problems such as those associated with delayed development of language also cause problems in the classroom environment while attempting to learn letters or words by using a "sound" methodology.

A child may not be getting adequate nutrition. Because of the ready availability of food nowadays some children seem to snack regularly on unhealthy foods and eat relatively little at meal times. Because of the effects of advertising on the television etc. children will not normally select wholesome food of their own accord. There have been many cases when a child's performance has been greatly increased by use of a balanced nutritional diet. There is some evidence to indicate that some children's performance may be affected by taking Omega 3 Oils.

Emotional difficulties

Children sometimes have emotional difficulties associated with school, such as being bullied. Obviously this can greatly affect the learning ability of a student in the classroom. Perhaps there are other emotional difficulties in the home that are adding to these learning difficulties in the classroom? Parents should inform the teacher if there are any situations in the home environment, which could affect the child emotionally, either in the short-term, or the long-term in school.

Once all of the above factors have been ruled out, the parent and the teacher should proceed further. On agreement between the parent and the teacher, the student may be offered a Dyslexia Screening Test. This test can be offered to a child from the age of four and a half years upwards and may be performed by a teacher trained to use a specific Dyslexia Screening Test. It is not a full psychological assessment and only indicates whether a student may or may not have dyslexia. It is not a definitive test. However, if the Dyslexia Screening Test indicates that the student may have dyslexia then s/he should be recommended for a full psycho-educational assessment to be carried out by a qualified Educational Psychologist. It is important that the Educational Psychologist is recognised by the Department of Education, to ensure that s/he can benefit from recommended educational resources and provisions documented in the report. A list of Educational Psychologists should be obtained from the Department of Education before proceeding with an assessment.
 

How should I prepare my child for an Educational Psychologist's assessment?

  • Tell your child a few days before the appointment that it is going to take place so that they can get used to the idea.
  • Tell your child why you made the appointment and get agreement from the child that the appointment will be useful.
  • Perhaps offer the child a "treat" after the appointment has taken place.
  • Arrive at the Educational Psychologist's office thirty minutes before the appointment and take a short walk to allow the child to settle and get some fresh air. Arriving late for an appointment, getting caught in traffic or public transport being slow can cause the child to become stressed and this may affect his/her performance in the test.
  • Bring something the child likes to eat and drink before the appointment and perhaps after the appointment.
  • Explain to the child that you will be there to meet the Educational Psychologist but that you will not be present during the assessment. You will be waiting outside and will be there to greet the child after the appointment.
 

The Educational Psychologist's report

Each Educational Psychologist's report will be different. Each student being assessed will have different abilities and we would expect the reports to be different for each student. However, in addition, each country has different educational policies and the Educational Psychologist's report will also reflect these policies. Some Educational Psychologists are wary of labelling the student as either being dyslexic or having dyslexia as their opinion is that labelling a student may then induce the student to change his/her behaviour "to fit the label". Some Educational Psychologists may use phrases such as "tendencies of/towards dyslexia" or being "on the borderline of dyslexia".

The following are some of the more common aspects of a report but a report not containing all of these aspects will not necessarily be an incomplete report. Furthermore, there may well be additional aspects that an Educational Psychologist deems suitable to include for a particular student.

Relevant history:

This section will detail the student's siblings and his/her position in the family. The student's developmental history will be documented, indicating whether student crawled, walked and talked at expected milestones of development. It will contain the educational history of the student, listing chronologically which schools were attended. Parents' opinion of the progress within the school will be noted at this point, as will the teacher's remarks.

The purpose of the relevant history is to allow the reader to form an opinion as to why the student was referred for assessment. A student being assessed for dyslexia will perhaps be assessed every year or two and hence this section will also note any improvement or otherwise over a period of time.

Assessment:

How the student presented himself/herself at the assessment is noted. If the student has been cooperative, confident and of a content disposition during the test the results are more likely to be accurate. However, if the student has presented as being disinterested, uncooperative or restless the results of the test will be less accurate. It is important for the reader of the report to know whether the results are likely to reflect the true ability of the student.

Test results:

IQ results are expressed either as a percentage or as a percentile rank.

What does "percentile" mean?

Percentile rank figures provide a means of making a direct comparison with others in a similar category e.g. other 10 year olds. A score of 87th percentile means you are in the top 13 per cent of the people in that group for that particular test. In other words, in a group of 100 people in the same category, there are 87 people who are not as capable as you are.

An Educational Psychologist's report will include the student's intelligence quotient (IQ). This is necessary to determine whether the student is performing below his/her capability. It would be unfair to expect a student with a low IQ to perform beyond their capabilities.

An Educational Psychologist also assesses a student in order to identify the areas of strengths and weaknesses in their learning ability. Their report will detail the areas in which the student will need most help. The teacher, the school and the parent may use the report to design a suitable learning strategy for the student.

Whether you, or your child, have had an assessment, or you are contemplating having one, you will probably be aware of the difficulty in deciphering the written report given by an Educational Psychologist. The following Chapter attempts to explain a psychologist's report in layperson's terms. It is by no means a psychological debate on what defines intelligence or the use of psychometrics.
 




What is IQ?

IQ is an acronym for Intelligence Quotient. What constitutes intelligence has been a much-deliberated issue throughout the history of psychology.

Some of the earliest work in this field can be attributed to Alfred Binet at the beginning of the twentieth century. Binet, at the request of the French Government, devised a test to identify children who were too slow intellectually to benefit from a mainstream school curriculum. In 1905, Binet published a test consisting of a series of questions of increasing difficulty such that a bright child would answer questions in a category above his/her age group and a child who had lower intelligence than average would perform as a child of younger age. If a child answered all the questions for the seven-year-old category but not the eight-year-old category s/he was assigned a mental age (MA) of seven. This assigned mental age was compared to the actual or chronological age (CA) of the child to determine whether s/he was of low, average or high intelligence.

William Stern, a German psychologist, later devised the intelligence quotient (IQ) by expressing intelligence as a ratio of mental age (MA) to chronological age (CA).

Intelligence Quotient IQ = Mental Age (MA) X 100
Chronological Age (CA)

This type of formula always results in an average IQ of 100 for any age group. An IQ greater than 100 indicates a higher than average intelligence and similarly an IQ of less than 100 indicates a lower than average intelligence. Subsequent IQ tests have maintained this notion.

Current IQ tests are designed to yield a normal distribution, or a bell-shaped curve, similar to differences in height by age or weight.

normal-distribution-curve

 

As you can see from this chart, 50% of the population have an IQ between 90 and 110 and this is considered to be 'average' (or normal). An IQ between 110 and 119 is considered to be above average, between 120 and 129 to be superior and above 130 gifted. If an IQ falls between 80 and 89, this is just below average, between 70 and 79 is borderline and below 69 indicates a learning disability.

Note:
It is important to remember that having a higher or lower IQ certainly does not make one a better or worse member of society, or a more valuable or less valuable person. IQ reflects only one aspect of a person. A moderately high IQ may be necessary for success in some fields. However, successful people often have a capacity for original thought that IQ tests do not assess.

Howard Gardner and others have developed theories and practice regarding various types of intelligence or multiple intelligences e.g. linguistic intelligence, musical intelligence, logical-mathematical intelligence, spatial intelligence, bodily-kinaesthetic intelligence and personal intelligences. These types of intelligences are not necessarily measured in a standard IQ test.

Intelligence tests are continually being revised, improved and updated. Psychologists do not claim that intelligence tests are an accurate science but they do refer to confidence limits of around 90%.

 

What is the IQ test most commonly used and how do I understand it and make use of it?

The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-III)

This is the test most commonly used by psychologists worldwide to test a child's IQ and to examine the strengths and weaknesses of their learning ability. Only a trained Educational Psychologist can administer an IQ test!


The WISC-III is divided into two distinct sections:

(a) The Verbal Section
(b) The Performance Section

The Verbal Section of the WISC-III IQ test

The Verbal Scale measures how well children are able to express themselves verbally and how well they are able to understand what is being said to them.

The sample questions in each section below are illustrative of the type of questions asked of people between the ages of 16 and 74. They are not the type of questions given to younger students!

VERBAL SCALE

The following six areas are tested to determine a person's verbal scale IQ.

  1. Information

    Task: Recall facts
    Purpose:
    Establishes the amount of factual information acquired by the student in long-term memory - what people would describe as general knowledge. Such knowledge is dependent on school learning and accumulated life experience.
    Examples: Who was Charles Darwin? What does the stomach do?
  2. Vocabulary

    Task:
    Explain the meaning of words
    Purpose: To assess language development, knowledge and expression. Vocabulary is acquired through reading, school learning, environmental and cultural opportunity.
    Examples: What is a donkey? What does gamble mean?
  3. Comprehension

    Task: Explain the meaning of concepts
    Purpose: To assess commonsense, moral and social judgment. Comprehension is acquired through the development of conscience, moral sense and cultural influences.
    Examples:
    Why are criminals locked up? Why should a promise be kept?
  4. Similarities

    Task:
    Finding common elements
    Purpose: To examine categorical thinking, how things link together, abstract reasoning and verbal concept formation. These are skills are acquired through school learning, reading and general interest.
    Example: In what way are a hat and a shirt alike?
  5. Arithmetic

    Task:
    Mental arithmetic
    Purpose: To assess arithmetic reasoning and computational skill acquired through school learning and depending upon adequate attention span and concentration. How school based mathematics is related to real life situations.
    Examples: A workman earning €4 per hour was paid €36. How long did he work?
  6. Digit Span

    Task: Remembering and repeating numbers
    Purpose: To assess short-term memory which is dependent upon attention span and lack of distractibility.
    Example:
    Repeat the number 479
    Repeat the number 43687
    Repeat the number 15975
    Repeat the number 486251378


(b) The Performance Section of the WISC-III IQ test

The Performance Scale measures the nonverbal areas of being able to perceive spatial relationships, such as putting puzzles together and being able to transfer visual information rapidly.

PERFORMANCE SCALE

The following six areas are tested to determine a person's performance level IQ.

  1. Picture Arrangement

    Task: Putting pictures in the correct order
    Purpose: To assess ability to organise events in a sequence according to time and anticipate the outcome of a series of events. These skills would be acquired whilst reading comic strips and early reading books when many pictures are drawn to accompany the text.
    Example: Arrange four or five given pictures in a story sequence as in a comic strip or storyboard.
  2. Picture Completion

    Task: Establish what is missing in a picture
    Purpose: To measure the attention to detail when using visual memory. Visual memory is a major component used in retaining information in our long-term memory.
    Example: Find the missing item in a picture e.g. a ladder without a rung.
  3. Coding

    Task: Copy a code
    Purpose: To measure short-term visual memory, motor speed and accuracy. This is necessary when copying down words and numbers from the board in school.
    Example: Copy the number 159837642
  4. Block Design

    Task: Make patterns with cubes
    Purpose: To assess spatial visualization and the ability to see a pattern as a whole, rather than in sections. This also examines co-ordination of the hands and eyes.
    Example: Use the blocks provided to reproduce a design as shown.
  5. Object Assembly

    Task: Assemble jigsaws
    Purpose: To assess the person's ability to examine the jigsaw pieces of a picture, relate them to the picture and assemble as a complete picture. This requires visual perception and also hand eye co-ordination. These skills are acquired at an early age when playing with jigsaws etc.
    Example: Assemble the pieces of a jigsaw puzzle forming a face or a car.
  6. Mazes

    Task: Follow a maze
    Purpose: To measure the individual's ability to follow a visual pattern and to anticipate outcomes. Children playing with puzzle books at home or at school acquire these skills.
    Example: Follow a maze by tracing along with a pencil.

In addition to Verbal and Performance IQ scores, the following abilities can also be measured:

  • Verbal Comprehension
  • Perceptual Organisation
  • Freedom from Distractibility
  • Perceptual Speed
  • Cross laterality: having mixed dominance between hand, foot, eye and ear. 45% of children with a Specific Learning Difficulty or dyslexia are cross lateral.
  • Directional Confusion: being unable to tell the difference between left and right without some mental aid such as remembering "I write with my right hand".
  • Free writing: the ability to write a short passage, which is age appropriate for the student.
  • Reading Speed: the number of words read in a suitable passage within one minute, which is compared to the average amount read by a student of a similar age.
  • Two-minute spelling: The student is asked to write down spellings called out and the number and accuracy of the spellings are compared with that of peers.
  • Nonsense passage: the student is asked to read a passage, which makes no sense. Some children are very good at guessing what words come next from the meaning of a passage. This test nullifies this and examines whether the student recognises each word or not.

 

These can prove very useful in determining an overall picture of a child's learning ability.

 

PLEASE NOTE:

There may well be a marked difference between the individual scores in the above tests. The Wechsler Scales provide scores for each of the subtests, so that the psychologist has a clearer picture of the individual's strengths and weaknesses.

It has been noted in the past that "practising" IQ tests may improve scores and thus affect the reliability of IQ tests. However, this will not increase the actual IQ of the individual and may prove detrimental to the child's long-term welfare as areas needing to be addressed may be overlooked!

The tests described above establish an individual's IQ and learning profile. Are there other tests to measure the educational achievement of an individual?

The following are tests that can be given to measure the knowledge and educational achievement at school and should be addressed as such. Not all Educational Psychologists will use all or any part of these tests as they regard the learning ability to be paramount rather than what has been learned to date.


A sample of some tests for educational achievement

WECHSLER DIMENSION TESTS
BRITISH ABILITY SCALE
ASTON INDEX

In addition to the WISC III there are a number of other related assessments, which focus on particular dimensions of learning. They include:

  • The Wechsler Objective Reading Dimensions (WORD)
  • Test reading (single word recognition and continuous prose)
  • Test spelling (sentence completion, dictation)
  • Test handwriting skills (sentence completion)
  • The Wechsler Objective Language Dimensions (WOLD)
  • Listening comprehension
  • Oral expression
  • Written expression
  • The Wechsler Objective Numeric Dimensions (WOND)
  • Mathematical reasoning
  • Numeric calculation

The scores attained in the WORD, WOLD and WOND are combined to give the Wechsler Individual Achievement Test (WIAT)

 

Conclusions and recommendations of the Educational Psychologist's report

This is perhaps the most important part of the Educational Psychologist's report and should address the individual needs of the child in a perfect educational world. However problems can arise because of the following:

Inadequate resources of the national education system of the country

Inadequate resources within the school the child attends

Large class sizes, which minimises the time for any individual instruction, which may be advised

Inadequate time allowance with a teacher trained in remedial education
The teacher may not have been trained to teach the programme recommended by the Educational Psychologist

There may be a distinct difference of opinion between the Educational Psychologist who observes the child on rare occasions and that of the teacher who sees the child on a daily basis

The practicality aspects of the recommendations in the Educational Psychologist's report
 
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What do I do with an Educational Psychologist's report?

An Educational Psychologist's report is extremely useful in the sense that the tests are standardised for all students and given by a person thoroughly trained in the administration and measurements of the results of the test.

The child's IQ can be assessed and appropriate expectation of academic achievement established for the child, parent, teacher and the school.

The strengths and weaknesses of the child's learning profile can be established and possibly addressed.

By referring to previous Educational Psychologist's reports it offers a long term indication of the student's progress and the benefits or otherwise of various recommendations from previous reports. It is for this reason that all reports should be kept in the order in which they were obtained.

All interested parties and future schools and educational establishments should be furnished with the report(s).

On examination of the Educational Psychologist's report(s) it is essential that an agreed "plan" and methodology is adopted by the parent, the teachers, the school, the educational psychologist and national examinations authorities for the maximum benefit of the student.

N.B. Explain to the student, in terms they will understand, the results of the report and the implications and benefits of the future "plan" for him/her. If you do not discuss the report with the child then he/she will assume the worst. How would you feel if you underwent a test and the results were not discussed with you?