During the school closure, many school districts elected to suspend psychoeducational evaluations until some amount of in-person student interaction was allowed. Some school districts may have merely conducted a “record review,” and some may have even asked you to allow an evaluation to occur virtually, without an in-person session.
If your child was evaluated virtually during the pandemic, it is important that you consider the impact of the virtual testing versus in-person testing on the validity of the results and whether you should request that your school district conduct another in-person evaluation now that most students have returned to school.
Is An In-Person Reevaluation Necessary If My Child’s School District Completed An Evaluation Of My Child Virtually During The Pandemic?
The main reason a reevaluation may be necessary, now, after the school district has already completed an evaluation virtually is because most assessments used by school psychologists are not designed to be administered virtually. For instance, certain tests, specifically cognitive (IQ) measures, require very specific training to administer properly. The “answers” are not necessarily right or wrong but can be some variation of correct. Cognitive measures are not necessarily about what a child knows, but rather how they use what they know to figure out what they don’t know.
This is where the trained evaluator wants to look beyond the answers a child gives. They want to “read the signs” the child gives (what did their eyes “say”; how quickly was their foot tapping; how much did they squirm in their seat). They want to know how the child got to the answer or why they missed the correct answer.
They really need to be present with the child, in person, to capture all the valuable information a child offers about their learning style separate and apart from their answers. A good evaluator should want to tell you about your child, not just report a child’s scores to you. They should also want to offer parents and teachers insight about how a child learns and what obstacles inhibit the student’s learning. THIS is what leads to appropriate programming and THAT is what the evaluation is all about!
Additionally, as most school psychologists were not trained to administer virtual assessments before the school closure occurred, it is likely that the assessments used in a virtual setting were not administered according to the standards by which they were developed. Assessment standards are determined by administering the same assessment to hundreds, sometimes thousands, of students in order to identify patterns and frequencies in their performance (scores).
One of the most critical factors in creating an assessment standard is administering the assessment the same way to every student. That is why school psychologists are not only trained to score and interpret test results, they are trained to administer tests with integrity. So, when a test is designed using a standard administration and a psychologist alters that standard practice by administering the test virtually, then the results are less valid. The result is that you can’t make the same kind of decisions about the results obtained virtually, as if they mean the same thing as those obtained using standardized in-person practices.
While it is possible that the evaluator may have tried to make adjustments or mitigate the challenges of a virtual evaluation, even those adjustments are variations to the standardization and could compromise a student’s performance.
A few obvious challenges to virtual evaluations include:
- A child’s inability to attend to a screen rather than a real person.
- The instability of the internet connection.
- Voices in the background heard during the assessment, such as a young sibling crying.
- Even someone else in the room shouting out answers!
There are many factors that can undermine the results of a virtual assessment session and most of these factors cannot be controlled by the examiner from the other side of a computer screen.
There are also other less concrete challenges which may have nothing to do with the evaluation but everything to do with the school closure, such as stress, fear, and frustration. These are emotional reactions that are best observed in-person.
How Do I Know If I Need to Request Another In-Person Evaluation?
If your child was evaluated virtually during the pandemic, you should consider whether the results from the virtual assessment really offer an accurate picture of your child’s ability or achievement. In doing so, here are some questions you may want to ask:
- Was the school psychologist trained in virtual administration?
- Did s/he discuss or plan for extra time to handle potential problems in administration?
- What was your child’s experience during the virtual session? Was your child independent? Distracted?
- Were you present during the virtual assessment? What did you see?
- Were you satisfied with the reported findings?
- Did the evaluation report describe what you know and believe about your child?
When you’re not getting answers to your questions or are unsure which questions to ask, don’t hesitate to reach out for help. Our educational/legal team, including Elizabeth Filipe (a certified school psychologist and the author of this article), can review your child’s evaluation or reevaluation report and help you determine what action is needed. Please contact us for a free initial consultation with an educational law attorney and one of our special education professionals on our team.