A Psychoeducational Evaluation? What’s that?

Honestly, most people have never heard of the word “psychoeducational” let alone a psychoeducational evaluation.  More often than not, people that come in for one have just been told to get it, with no real explanation of what it is and why they or their child need it.

Sounds frustrating right?

Well, a psychoeducational evaluation is (usually) recommended anytime a child is struggling in school and we don’t know why; or we need a definitive explanation for certain behaviors in order to provide accommodations.  It is different from a psychological evaluation, though they are sometimes used interchangeably.  A psychoed eval almost always includes some type of educational assessment, hence the name.  A psychological evaluation may or may not assess academics and, if it does, it will not be the primary focus.

Psychoed evals can include assessments for ADHD and Autism Spectrum Disorder but more often than not, they are related to the assessment for a learning disability.

What is a Learning Disability?

In short, a learning disability is an umbrella term describing how a person receives, processes, and uses information for learning foundational academic skills in reading, writing, and math.  The person’s performance in the affected academic area is well below average for their age, or acceptable performance levels are achieved only with extraordinary effort.

Learning disabilities generally affect people of average to above average intelligence but can also be diagnosed in those with lower cognitive ability as well as those identified as intellectually gifted.

Many children with learning disabilities struggle in school long before being diagnosed, which affects their self-esteem, motivation, and overall ability to learn. When not diagnosed or treated, it can build on learning deficits, affect future acquisition of academic skills, and produce lifelong impairments in activities dependent on those skills.   People don’t typically grow out of it, though they may receive intervention and accommodations and learn skills that make it more manageable. 

The most common types of learning disabilities involve problems with reading (dyslexia), writing (dysgraphia), and math (dyscalculia).

What does a Learning Disability Look Like?

While every child struggles with homework from time to time, if a specific area of learning is consistently problematic, it might indicate a learning disability.

Some signs of learning disabilities might be:

  • Trouble connecting letters and sounds
  • Letter reversals (i.e., mixing up “b” and “d”
  • Reading comprehension issues
  • Frequently misspelling or misreading
  • Slow and labored reading
  • Avoiding reading aloud
  • Trouble with quick math calculations
  • Struggling with math word problems
  • Trouble putting thoughts into words

How do we diagnose a Learning Disability?

While parents and teachers may suspect that a student has a learning issue, only a psychoeducational evaluation conducted by a qualified professional (i.e., psychologist, neuropsychologist, etc.) can result in a diagnosis.  A formal evaluation has the benefit of exploring all the factors of a person’s learning challenges and the level of impairment since we must establish academic skills that are well below average.

Parents should know that some schools have licensed staff who conduct psychoed evaluations in both public and private school settings while some schools allow or ask parents to seek evaluations from private practitioners.  However, schools are not required to accept outside (private) evaluations so it’s best for parents to consult with their child’s school and ask these questions before moving forward.

What goes into a Psychoeducational Evaluation (for Learning Disability)?

  1. A thorough clinical interview that explores and documents academic history, strengths, behaviors while learning, and overall psychological functioning.
  2. Review of relevant records including report cards, teacher notes, previous evaluations, and reports from supplemental interventions such as speech, occupational therapy, etc.
  3. Collateral information from teachers, tutors, counselors, and other professionals.
  4. Observations from the psychologist of overall behavior during the assessment, with particular focus of behaviors during academic tasks
  5. Standardized assessments of cognitive ability, overall academic skills as well as specific assessments of the learning problem area (i.e., reading, writing, math), executive functioning, and social/emotional/behavioral functioning to rule out any resulting emotional difficulties.

Upon completion of these assessment areas, parents meet with the psychologist to discuss their results, which includes an explanation of the assessments, outcomes, diagnoses, if applicable, and recommendations for resources to support success.

Depending on the child’s needs, psychoed evals can be relatively straightforward or they can be lengthy. However, what they all have in common is a focus on the strengths of your child and ways to use that to improve academic functioning and their overall quality of life.

Why wouldn’t that sound great right?

If you want to know how to support your child using a psychoeducational evaluation, check out the information and frequently asked questions on our website.  Also, see our other blog posts about ADHD and Autism if you think those could be concerns as well!