31 Jan What is GOOD Psychological Testing?
Psychological testing is a complex subject and can be overwhelming for parents and children. If you or your child have been referred for psychological testing, I imagine you have many questions about what type of testing you need and what to expect from the evaluation. My blog post will help parents make an informed choice about where to seek an evaluation.
Type of Evaluation (Terms Used):
The different terms used to refer to evaluations (“neuropsychological” vs “psychoeducational” vs “psychological”) all sound similar and can be very confusing. Sometimes the terms are used interchangeably, but there are some key differences. One main difference refers to the specific training of the clinician: psychological testing refers to testing conducted by a licensed clinical psychologist; neuropsychological testing is conducted by a neuropsychologist; psychoeducational testing can be conducted by a school psychologist. When testing is conducted in a school setting, pay close attention to the credentials of the evaluator. Sometimes, the tests are administered by a special education teacher who does not have proper training. Regardless of the term used, it is more important to ask the questions, “what are the credentials of the evaluator?” and “what areas will be assessed in the evaluation?”
Credentials/Training of Evaluator:
For a comprehensive evaluation, you must go to either a licensed clinical psychologist or a neuropsychologist. These are doctoral-level (Ph.D.) mental health professionals with extensive background training in normal human development as well as cognitive, emotional, behavioral, and mental health disorders. They have completed rigorous training consisting of 7-10 years of education and supervised clinical experience before being eligible to receive a license to practice independently. For instance, you can view my background training and credentials here.
At some larger private practices and hospital settings, testing technicians or psychometrists are used to administer some or all the tests. Testing technicians are often graduate students enrolled in a doctoral-level program who are obtaining supervised training. While this is great experience for the doctoral students (I personally did this throughout graduate school!), this may NOT be the best choice for your family. Testing technicians have less experience than a doctor in administration and interpretation of the tests. And, the best diagnostic tool available is really the clinician themselves- the clinical experience, behavioral observations, and intuition of a seasoned psychologist is irreplaceable. Therefore, I highly recommend ensuring that the person in the room with your child during the assessment is a licensed clinical psychologist.
Expertise of psychologist:
Not all psychologists are equal! Not only are the training and credentials important, but you must seek out a doctor with expertise that pertains to the kind of evaluation you need (i.e., ADHD, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, etc.). As an example, in the world of dyslexia assessment, going to a doctor with expertise is absolutely critical. Otherwise, the subtle signs of dyslexia can be so easily missed.
I understand that it can be tricky for parents to judge the level of expertise especially because so many psychologists (and practice websites) claim to be experts in seemingly everything related to mental health. As you conduct your search, here are a few simple tips:
**Ask about specific test measures used to assess ____ (whatever you are seeking an evaluation for). Depending on the diagnostic question (i.e., is it Dyslexia? ADHD? Language Disorder?), specific skills need to be assessed! This page provides an overview of necessary areas to be evaluated.
**Look for my future blog post about this topic pertains to assessments for dyslexia**
**Ask about the turnaround time for a report. Typically, an expert can perform a task much faster than a novice. For instance, I can compose a highly individualized (NOT templated) and comprehensive (25+ pages) report within one week.
When you have mastery of a subject area, the written document should not take longer than two weeks, let alone months to receive!! Fast turnaround time typically yields a more personalized report because the child is fresh in the clinician’s mind.
**Ask about what comes after the evaluation. An expert in an area will have a trusted network of professionals should you or your child need referrals for independent schools, educational advocates, tutors, and therapists.
An expert should describe the results FACE-TO-FACE with parents and in PLAIN LANGUAGE (not fancy neuropsychological terms). You should also be provided with MANAGEABLE and INDIVIDUALIZED recommendations (not a list of 100 things to do with no plan of action or guidance ).
STANDARDIZED TEST SCORES:
A comprehensive evaluation must include standardized test measures. These tests compare a child’s performance to that of similar children on a given set of skills and knowledge. It gives you valuable information about how your child is performing compared to others his or her age, and how severe a symptom level may be.
In contrast, schools and private clinics often use informal assessments that do not provide standardized scores. Instead, you may see a percent or even raw number of correct items on a test. This does not give us information about where your child stands relative to peers. Yet, such informal measures are wonderful tools for screening and progress monitoring.
*While standardized test measures are valuable, a comprehensive evaluation must provide information beyond just scores. A good report should give specific details about the child’s error profile. For example, a score can fall in the Average range, but the child’s errors may be consistent with a specific learning disability. A good report should also provide implications for real-life. For instance, reading that your child’s working memory falls at the 5th percentile may not mean very much to you as parents. However, it is much more informative to read examples of how your child’s working memory deficits are impacting him or her in daily life (i.e., how working memory has implications for following directions, learning new information, and later retrieving that information on tests… among many other things).
If you are have questions or would like to schedule a consultation, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or 703-679-8185. I look forward to hearing from you!