Assessment is a continuous part of the Montessori environment. Guides record lessons children receive, assess understanding through careful observation, and track the progress of each child. This focus on assessment is balanced with a respect for each child’s individual rate and pattern of growth. But what happens when a child does not fit within the span of what a guide considers “normal?” At Childpeace, guides not only consult with administrators, but they also have the option of requesting support from the school’s psychologist. For younger children, I am available as a second set of eyes to observe a child in the classroom and provide feedback for the guide. For older children who are behind or struggling with a particular subject or skill, I am available to evaluate both whether the child is behind his or her peer group and what the contributing factors might be. Psychologists working in the public schools use educational evaluation primarily to assess whether or not a child meets federal criteria for a specific learning disability and can therefore access special education services. But as a psychologist not working in the confines of the special education system, I can assess a child’s learning style much more broadly.
For example, approximately 5% of children in public schools are diagnosed with a learning disability using federal criteria. Studies examining Dyslexia, however, have found that up to 20% of children may have some degree of Dyslexia that makes it difficult to learn to read and write. Assessing each area of reading including basic word reading, phonemic awareness, reading comprehension, and oral reading fluency helps me to determine the specific areas of reading that are challenging. Then, assessing all of the contributing cognitive and neuropsychological factors of reading including language abilities, vocabulary knowledge, rapid naming ability, phonological awareness, orthographic awareness, processing speed, and working memory, among others, I can describe the specific mechanisms behind the reading challenges. (Interestingly, difficulty with phonemic awareness is a hallmark of Dyslexia, but because the Montessori method of reading instruction is ideal for learning phonemic awareness, few children I have tested who have Dyslexia have significant difficulty in this area). Assessing children in this way allows me to provide recommendations that are tailored not only to each child’s specific academic needs, but also to the child’s particular learning style and neurocognitive challenges as well.
The process of psychoeducational assessment at Childpeace begins with a meeting between the child’s parents and myself, where we talk about the parents concerns for the child and we discuss the assessment process. This step is important, because despite wanting their child to get the help he or she needs, most parents have apprehensions or questions about educational assessment. Then, after observing the child in his or her classroom, I begin meeting one-on-one with the child to complete the assessment measures. The specific tests given are dependent on the child’s particular areas of struggle and the assessment questions of the adults involved but can include IQ batteries, achievement tests, social, emotional, and behavioral measures, and neuropsychological tests. Neuropsychological testing includes attention, executive functioning, language, auditory memory, visual memory, social perception, visual-spatial skills, and sensorimotor skills. I then score all of the tests, analyze the data, and write a report. The final step is to meet with parents and guides to provide feedback and discuss the implementation of classroom and home modifications. Because I am on staff at Childpeace, this step can be ongoing, as I make myself available to guides to continue to discuss the needs of the children I have assessed.
Learning disabilities and other neurocognitive weakness can have profound effects on children’s learning, but with remediation and appropriate classroom accommodations, children with learning differences can be quite successful; especially if caught early.
Elizabeth Schwarz, PhD, School Psychologist
Childpeace Montessori School