Marion Marshall is an Emerita Professor of Educational Therapy, the principles of which academic coaching at School Without Suffering is based on. In her book Assessment in Educational Therapy, she tells the story of asking her class to list the reasons that one might evaluate a student.
When a list of the class responses is written on the whiteboard for all to view, ten to fifteen reasons emerge from the educational therapist candidates, beyond determining eligibility [for special education]. Recently, the list included:
- Ascertaining actual skill levels.
- Establishing objective data about skills.
- Informing parents about “what is going on.”
- Identifying academic strengths and weaknesses in a variety of areas.
- As a means for understanding a complex student’s learning profile.
- Giving information that would allow parents to advocate for their child.
- Providing age-appropriate information that could allow a student to advocate for her/himself.
- Offering objective information that might empower the child and reduce stigma.
- Observing how a student perseveres through the challenging aspects of the tests.
- Individualizing future learning strategies.
- Identifying the need for accommodations and modifications.
- Helping the classroom teacher(s) understand and support the student better.
- Bonding with the student.
As the board fills with these responses, the murmuring from the special education teacher candidates becomes audible and full of disbelief, “No one does all that!”
I imagine that most parents would react with as much surprise as the special education teacher candidates did in that classroom. Very little conversation happens about educational evaluation unless and until a student has demonstrated a pretty extreme level of difficulty in school.
But the spectrum of students who can benefit from evaluation extends widely from students who are consistently failing their classes to students who are considered quite bright and don’t have much trouble with their grades, and everywhere in between.
You Are Here
Take, for example, Nikki, a high school student whose parents decided to have her evaluated because they happened to be doing it for her brother, who was showing signs of being Gifted. Though Nikki had never had any issues with her grades, her evaluation showed that she had some working memory issues. Uncovering that weakness in light of all of the strengths she’d been using for years to compensate for it sparked a transformation in her experience in school and in life.
Where before she received the expert suppose she needed, the only way for her to achieve the A’s and B’s she consistently did in school was to spend nearly every waking minute of her life studying, her evaluation results illuminated a path to success in school that replaced constant anxiety, burn out, and arguments with her family with free time, calm confidence, and happier home life.
One of the core tenants of our framework is that students need to see their own unique pathway to success. Evaluation is the first step that allows us to make that pathway visible for them.
We can’t know how to get them where they want to go until we know where they’re starting.
For decades, the message has been sent to parents that evaluation is a sign that something is wrong with their child, and it’s done a huge disservice to both kids and families. Instead, we should be thinking of evaluation as the “You Are Here” symbol on a map.
Assessment That Spurs On Success
Evaluation can be the first step to a student’s success in school when it uses an integrative process that creates a holistic view of the student. The data produced during this kind of evaluation process gives us the power to take the first steps on the road to success and know that they are the right ones for your unique child.
We evaluate to develop a complete learning profile for each student. And because that profile is descriptive, instead of diagnostic, it promotes greater self-understanding and self-advocacy for the student.
We answer the questions, “What are this child’s strengths? What are their weaknesses?” to help us determine appropriate learning goals and establish a baseline against which we can judge their progress over a given week or month.
Our evaluation process does not measure a single skill with a single test. Rather, evaluation takes place over multiple weeks using multiple measures as we actively work with the student on their schoolwork and deeply get to know who they are as students.
In addition to reading, writing, and math skills, we also evaluate for processing skill levels and attention issues to determine the best methods of working with a student.
And we never just rely on a set of test scores. We continuously evaluate how students self-regulate (or don’t) by observing how well they’re paying attention, how long they sustain attention, how much mental energy each task takes them, their effort, and their persistence in addition to how well they can plan strategically, solve problems, and use and understand language.
In other words, we get a very clear “You Are Here” and have the data that illuminate to everyone the pathway the student can take to effectively get from where they are to their first wins in school. And after seeing it so clearly, it’s very hard for students to resist taking those first steps on their path to success.
Founder & Principal Academic Coach
Laura Fragomeni, Ed.M.
Laura Fragomeni is a Harvard-educated master academic coach and the founder of School Without Suffering, an academic coaching practice specializing in helping struggling students around the world be happy and successful.