If you follow our blog, you know that one of the core tenants of our framework is that students need to see their 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 students where they want to go until we know where they’re starting.
I’ve written before about common concerns that can stop parents and caregivers from taking this vital step for their child’s education. Each of those concerns is related to a fear that the evaluation process will be a negative experience.
“We waited so long to receive these evaluation results, and I don’t understand it or how it will help our child!”
No one wants to receive their child’s evaluation results in a costly report over twenty pages long and not readily understandable.
But I’m here to tell you that there is a lot you can do to make sure your family’s experience is a positive one.
A little knowledge can go a long way. Here’s how to make sure you get clear, actionable results from your child’s evaluation that brightens their educational future:
Agree on the purpose
Different evaluations are conducted for different reasons. Therefore, the ways their results are reported to families are different. To make sure that you have a positive experience receiving the results and the end of the process, you need to make sure that you and the evaluator are on the same page at the beginning.
At School Without Suffering, this is the purpose for reporting evaluation results: To clearly explain to parents/caregivers and students what the student can and cannot do, demonstrate their patterns of strengths and weaknesses, and present recommendations for getting the student on their unique path to success.
We aim to clearly communicate how the student’s scores answer any questions that brought the student and their family to us in the first place. “Why is my ninth grader struggling to keep up in high school?” or “Why does my 7th-grader find math so very difficult?” or “Why can’t my highly verbal 5th-grader write well?”
The assessment report should resonate deeply with parents/caregivers. You should say, “Yes, that’s my kid.” You should experience a-ha moments of new insights about your child. You should think, “Now I understand why my child is having so much difficulty with X.”
In contrast, if an evaluation is being conducted for the sole purpose of determining eligibility for special education services, the language you see in the resulting report will be less precise. It often has a softened or “waffling” tone. “It may be that Samuel is struggling with math concepts” or “Lina seems to be having some difficulty with writing in complete sentences.”
These reports do not answer specific questions about a student’s abilities in one subject or another. And they do not provide definitive conclusions.
If those definitive conclusions are what you are looking for, make sure to state that expectation upfront so that you don’t have any unwelcome surprises when you receive the results.
Ask for a strengths-based report
Historically, most evaluation reports have focused on the deficits uncovered by the given assessments. This practice likely developed because students qualified for special education services by quantifying their deficits.
However, when you get only the negative results of your child’s evaluation, you get an incomplete picture of their learning profile. So you, your child, and the people who support them academically are set up to have an overly pessimistic (unrealistic) view of your child as a learner.
In contrast, a strengths-based report is designed to highlight the assets and abilities that can be leveraged to address areas of weakness. It is a shift away from the focus on “what’s wrong” and provides a more useful holistic 360-degree view of the student.
This shift is much more than a fluffy, feel-good change. It is not disingenuous positivity for the sake of positivity.
Instead, helping a student recognize strengths, preferences, and affinities (deep and abiding interests) increases the possibilities for greater self-awareness and greater self-advocacy.
Strengths-based findings also consider the student in the school, home, and community environments.
This approach can assist parents/caregivers, teachers, tutors, and coaches in seeing the student in a more positive light, which may initiate more empathy and motivate them to try holistic custom approaches with the student where they have not done so before.
Schedule a meeting to go over the report
The purpose of this meeting is to ensure that you understand the results of your child’s evaluation precisely as the person who assessed them intends. Even if the evaluator writes a clear, concise, jargon-free report of your child’s results, you don’t want to leave any room for misinterpretation.
In the meeting, the person who evaluated your child should link patterns in the results to the initial questions that you came in with. These explanations may feel bittersweet, but they should feel like moments of clarity.
Additionally, the evaluator should offer tools such as graphics to help you understand terms you might see in the report, for example, “high average scores” or ‘low average scores.”
Though the evaluator is the person presenting the information, they should not be the only voice in the room. You should feel listened to and be invited to ask questions and react to the information you are hearing. You should hear quotes from statements your child made while taking each test. And if there are any disagreements, the evaluator should welcome them and suggest ways to resolve them over time.
The evaluator should not position themselves as the sole expert on your child. Instead, they should welcome your holistic understanding and expertise about your child while sharing their unique perspective. And they should be sure to ask whether the recommendations they make in their report are possible and reasonable for your family and your child’s school.
Get clear, personal next-steps
This factor will significantly impact whether you feel that getting your child’s evaluation results was a positive experience.
Clear personal recommendations for what can be done to help your child moving forward are a roadmap for their future success. They should be strengths-based, clearly tied to the evaluation results, and achievable.
Beware: Some evaluators will present recommendations generated by the computer program that scored the assessments they administered. While they may be individualized, these computer-generated recommendations cannot take a holistic understanding of your child into account. They are likely to feel generic, impersonal, and disingenuous.
Custom next steps designed by an expert evaluator who has deeply studied your child’s learning profile are the gold standard.
To feel as secure as possible, it’s also beneficial to determine at this time who will be responsible for implementing each recommendation. At School Without Suffering, your child’s evaluator is also their Academic Coach. So they will be taking on most of this responsibility. But there may be some recommendations that should be carried out at home, or even some to be supported by the teacher.
At this point, your evaluator may recommend further testing or referrals to allied professionals such as an audiologist. They should give you a clear rationale for these recommendations so that you know the purpose of any further testing you may pursue.
The last thing to do to ensure that you end this process having had a positive experience is to determine when you will next meet with the appropriate stakeholders again to gauge progress and discuss continued next steps.
The more you know and the more supported you and your child feel on their journey to success, the more positive the entire experience will be.
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.