Best Assessment Ever? You Get ready for spring testing season with these insights into selecting and evaluating standard assessments. School Matters
School Matters  |   March 01, 2016
Best Assessment Ever? You
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School-Based Settings / Professional Issues & Training / Language Disorders / School Matters
School Matters   |   March 01, 2016
Best Assessment Ever? You
The ASHA Leader, March 2016, Vol. 21, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.21032016.32
The ASHA Leader, March 2016, Vol. 21, 32-33. doi:10.1044/leader.SCM.21032016.32
Spring testing season is just around the corner. How does that make you feel? Excited? Nervous? Exhausted? Curious? Perhaps all of the above. No matter how you look at it, spring is a busy time for assessment in school-based practice.
As you prepare, know that no tool, test, procedure or external resource provides better evaluations than the sum total of your clinical knowledge and experience. You offer students their best assessment—your training, your clinical experience, your relationships and your insights into day-to-day life for a particular student.
With that confident approach in mind, consider some of these ideas when preparing for testing season.
Free yourself from a “standard protocol.” Don’t choose assessment tools prescribed by any list or anyone outside of the individualized context. You know the reason(s) for testing—you alone can make your best professional decision about the breadth and depth of tools you want to administer for each student. Yes, you may go back to the same favorites repeatedly, but you also know when a particular situation calls for something different. Your tool kit includes more than standardized, norm-referenced tests. Be ready to customize by understanding exactly what type of information you get from each tool.
Be responsive and respectful to yourself regarding the reality of available time. Best practice involves taking time to plan, administer and interpret assessments. Of course, there’s rarely enough time for everything, so get strategic about allocating minutes to each portion of the process for each student. Ask laser-focused questions of yourself and other key faculty during your planning phase. This lets you get to core issues you want to assess.
Choose tools—norm-referenced, criterion-referenced, dynamic, etc.—to get the most relevant and clearest data set. This process allows you to move forward in the shortest amount of time. Set aside a few minutes to accurately interpret all gathered data—your clinical decision-making, diagnosis and recommendations depend on it!

You know the reason(s) for testing—you alone can make your best professional decision about the breadth and depth of tools you want to administer for each student.

Triangulate the data. When gathering data in an assessment, look at a communication skill from multiple angles. How does it look in the classroom versus your office versus the student’s home? How do students respond to you versus parents versus peers? Or how well do they execute a skill versus explain it? What is the student’s general-education assessment performance? Triangulation of these data points produces powerful analysis and clues to the best intervention strategies and makes the most of your time later.
Observe and record, quantitatively and qualitatively. In addition to observing the student’s academic and social interactions in the clasroom, perhaps take a stroll through the lunchroom. Or retrieve something from your car by walking across the playground during recess. Swing by sports or music practice on your way out at the end of the day. Keep senses open during these detours, ready to record a behavior or overhear a communication situation.
End the blame game. “The assessment missed this kid … he didn’t qualify!” Left to its own devices, no tool—standardized or informal—is perfect and no tool accomplishes nuanced thinking for you. On its own, no tool responds to external eligibility criteria. Tools require you to master them—choose wisely and understand the outcome through analysis and interpretation. What does a standard score of 84 with a percentile rank of 14 really mean? Something simple on its own, but your student and your criteria are more complex than a score. Remember that eligibility results from more than one score or performance indicator. This is your work—own it.
Identify the probabilities of any one communication disorder. What most likely caused this communication behavior or gap? And what piece(s) of information move the least-likely cause up to the most likely? Your clinical skills provide these answers, not the tool. Prevalence numbers are your friends.
You are the expert. You’re the detective looking for clues to solve the mystery and answer “what now” questions. Favorite forensic television show characters, stand aside. You, school-based speech-language pathologist, offer the best assessment ever.
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March 2016
Volume 21, Issue 3