Assessment for Exceptional Learners Research Paper Starter

Assessment for Exceptional Learners

(Research Starters)

Assessment is as much a part of education as teaching academic subjects. Regular and special education teachers must possess a wide range of skills, have diverse knowledge, and have good interpersonal skills in order to be effective in the school environment. Regardless of the student, with or without disabilities, the teacher must assume the roles of teacher, evaluator, interviewer, parent counselor, record keeper, and consultant. In assessment, best practice dictates that any and all decisions in educational programming should be based on information gained from multiple sources and stakeholders.

Keywords Assessment; At-Risk; Direct Observation; Dynamic Assessment; Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA); Evaluation; Exceptional Learner; Formal Assessment; Individuals with Disabilities Education Act 2004 (IDEA 2004); Informal Assessment; Interdisciplinary Assessment; Multidisciplinary Assessment; No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB); Related Services; Screening; Static Assessment; Trans-disciplinary Assessment

Special Education: Assessment for Exceptional Learners

Overview

Assessment is as much a part of education as teaching academic subjects. Regular and special education teachers must possess a wide range of skills, have diverse knowledge, and have good interpersonal skills in order to be effective in the school environment. Regardless of the student, with or without disabilities, the teacher must assume the roles of teacher, evaluator, interviewer, parent counselor, record keeper, and consultant. In assessment, best practice dictates that any and all decisions in educational programming should be based on information gained from multiple sources and stakeholders.

Medical

The medical and descriptive-developmental models of assessment are two of the approaches available in assessing the learning of children with disabilities (Paul, 2007). Many assessment practices in the field of special education operate from a medical model. The medical model follows the premise of identifying a deficit based on the symptoms of behavior (Paul, 2007). In other words, the medical model identifies common groups of deficits and makes a diagnosis based on these deficits.

The descriptive-developmental model is an assessment practice that is gaining momentum in public schools for identifying children with special needs. This model describes the student's current level of functioning in the school and home environment. Thus, the descriptive-developmental model describes the overall levels of an individual's functioning and compares the performance to developmental norms (Paul, 2007).

Goals

For the exceptional learner, assessment is an important part of the educational process of providing instruction. In fact, assessing an individual and determining the need for special education services is a tremendous responsibility. The Individuals with Disabilities Education Act of 2004 (IDEA) uses the terms evaluation and assessment to describe different aspects of identifying individuals with disabilities. Evaluation is referred to as the process of determining eligibility for special education services (IDEA, 2004; Paul, 2007). Assessment is the process that describes the individuals' levels of functioning; needs and strengths; and the resources or supports necessary to develop areas of need while maintaining or expanding areas of strength.

Individuals involved in the assessment process realize the tremendous undertaking and responsibilities involved. The ultimate goal in the assessment process is to determine the needs and strengths of the exceptional learner (Loeb, 2003; Richard & Schiefelbusch, 1991; Tomblin, Morris, & Spriestersback, 2000). Two major goals influence the assessment process:

• To determine the individuals' deficit area(s).

• To monitor the intervention process.

Often, needs are determined during the formal and informal assessment process. Current literature suggests that for individuals with disabilities assessment should not stop with the placement of a diagnostic label or identification of strengths and weaknesses (Hasson & Joffe, 2007; Haynes & Pindzola, 2004; Haywood & Brown, 1990; Loeb, 2003; Paul, 2007; Poehner, 2007; Tomblin, Morris, & Spriestersback, 2000). The determination and identification of an individual's needs should continue in the intervention stage as well (Haynes & Pindzola, 2004; Haywood & Brown, 1990; Poehner, 2007). Intervention services should be initiated as soon as a need is determined and should continue to be refined throughout the educational process (Paul, 2007; Poehner, 2007). In monitoring and assessing intervention, educators can determine additional needs and/or changes in the intervention program (Paul, 2007; Poehner, 2007).

Intervention is a dynamic process and not a single static procedure. Assessment is "a multilevel process, beginning with screening procedures and continuing through diagnosis, planning of intervention, and program monitoring and evaluation" (Richard & Schiefelbusch, 1991).

Tomblin, Morris, & Spriestersback (2000) conceptualized the goals of assessment as:

• Determining the nature of the compliant or referral;

• Determining if a disability exists;

• Determining the family and individual's attitudes toward the disability; and

• Determining intervention strategies.

Each point guides the evaluator in establishing if a disability does or does not exist.

Loeb (2003) stated that there are five purposes of assessment:

• Screening and identification;

• Diagnosis;

• Eligibility determination;

• Intervention planning; and

• Evaluating intervention progress (Loeb, 2003, p.189).

In diagnosis, formal procedures are typically referred to as standardized tests where informal procedures include direct observation, parent/teacher interview, or developmental scales or checklists.

Screening

In the assessment process, the mechanism that determines who should continue being assessed and who should not is referred to as screening and identification. The goal of this process is to determine who may or may not be at-risk for academic or learning difficulties (Paul, 2007; Tomblin, Morris, & Spriestersback, 2000). Screening should be a quick process that determines if a student is or is not functioning within normal age expectations. The question in this step of the process is: "Does the child need further evaluation?" Informal procedures used in screening and identification include: teacher observation, parent/caregiver observation, student request, or a combination of the three (Loeb, 2003; Richard & Schiefelbusch, 1991; Tomblin, Morris, & Spriestersback, 2000).

Formal procedures include any of the developmentally appropriate standardized screening tools such as the Early Screening Profile, Battelle Developmental Inventory Screening Test, or the Child Development Inventory. It should be noted that children who have established risks (medical, sensory, or physical deficits) should immediately be referred for a formal assessment of strengths and needs.

Diagnosis

Diagnosis, eligibility determination, and intervention planning occur simultaneously as part of the assessment process. In assessing children with disabilities, the diagnosis often determines eligibility for special educational services and appropriate educational placement, intervention, or teaching strategies. It is important to state that eligibility should never determine a diagnosis (Loeb, 2003; Richard & Schiefelbusch, 1991; Tomblin, Morris, & Spriestersback, 2000).

In order to arrive at the diagnosis, certain actions must be completed. Individuals (i.e., parents, teachers, caregivers) must be interviewed to determine concerns and information should be collected from multiple sources (i.e., observations, medical, and standardized tests). Once all information is collected about the individual from each and every relevant source, the information should be analyzed to describe the needs, severity, and prognosis of the individual. The single most important aspect in diagnosis is to obtain information that will allow appropriate intervention planning (Hasson & Joffe, 2007; Poehner, 2007; Tomblin, Morris, & Spriestersback, 2000).

Parents who seek assessment for special education purposes do so as they are concerned about a child's performance. Thus, one characteristic in conducting an assessment is to determine why the parent or caregiver is seeking an evaluation. In interviewing the parent or caregiver, the discussion should identify and discuss why a concern exists about the child's performance.

Eligibility Determination

Additionally, in order to receive special educational services, the assessment process must determine the existence of a disability and its effect on the individual and his or her educational program. However, assessment should always look at all areas of development (i.e., motor, communication, social) in addition to the areas of concern. In other words, assessment needs to focus on the whole individual not just the areas of concern as this will aid in determining the prognosis of the individual (Paul, 2007; Poehner, 2007).

In focusing on the whole, additional associated problems or factors can be identified that may be causing or exacerbating the disability (Hasson & Joffe, 2007)....

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