Category Archives: testing and evaluations

Psychoeducational and Neuropsychological Testing: What You Need to Know

As the new school year looms around the corner, many parents, students, and educators feel both trepidation and excitement about what to expect.  This can cause an uptick in anxiety for both parents and kids, especially with students who struggle academically. This is often the most true for students who are transitioning from elementary to middle school, or middle school to high school, and high school to college. Changing expectations and demands can be stressful.

Psychoeducational and neuropsychological testing can be very helpful in determining areas of strength and weakness, while providing accommodations and recommendations to help students level the playing field and perform academically in ways that most fit their learning style.

Psychoeducational evaluation determines if a child has a learning disability or other issues that negatively impact his or her ability to learn. It assesses the child’s cognitive (i.e. intellectual) abilities, academic achievement levels, information processing abilities, and overall learning style. These evaluations usually also include measures of emotional and behavioral functioning and the impact on the child’s academic success. Often, there is a discrepancy between intellectual ability and output, suggesting that there are blocks in the way of “showing what they know.”

Psychoeducational Evaluation includes, but is not limited to:

  • Specialized battery of testing instruments, such as:
    • the WISC – Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (for cognitive abilities)
    • the Woodcock-Johnson Test of Achievement for (academic levels)
    • tests of information processing abilities (visual-motor integration, phonological processing, etc.)
    • tests related to general emotional and personality functioning
  • interviews with the child
  • interviews with parents and other relevant people
  • a review of relevant records

A neuropsychological evaluation is requested typically when there are concerns that something more complicated than learning disabilities is negatively impacting a child’s overall functioning. Possible brain injury, trauma (Concussion or TBI), or inherent brain dysfunction are considered and evaluated.

Neuropsychological Evaluation generally includes:

  • Specialized battery of testing instruments such as:
    • the WISC – Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (for cognitive abilities)
    • Children’s Memory Scales (memory testing battery)
    • Specific tests for aspects of neuropsychological functioning
    • NEPSY Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment battery (for neuropsychological functioning such as attention, language, sensory-motor, and visual-spatial functioning)
    • Tests for executive functioning, attention, and metacognition (self-awareness of how one is functioning).
    • Tests related to general emotional and personality functioning
    • Self-report and Observational measures of the individual’s performance at school and at home
  • Interviews with the child
  • Interviews with parents and other relevant people
  • Review of relevant records

Who does these evaluations?

Psychoeducational testing or evaluations should be performed by a licensed psychologist (PhD) who has training in and experience doing these types of specialized evaluations.

This type of evaluation is most commonly recommended to diagnose ADHD or specific learning disabilities (reading, comprehension, writing, math) due to ongoing academic problems that are intruding on a student’s educational development. The referral for this type of testing often comes first from the school, but can also come from a pediatrician, therapist, or from a parent who has noticed their child’s poor academic performance or decline.

College or high school students are often referred for this type of testing by their academic advisor, because they are struggling in school for the first time and there are no known reasons for the challenges. For many other children, the process occurs in elementary or medical school.

What is being tested?

Psychoeducational and neuropsychological testing assess cognitive functioning, academic achievement, memory, attention, executive functioning, and social and emotional factors that could be affecting learning. Cognitive processes are examined, including verbal comprehension, non-verbal/visual spatial skills, working memory, processing speed, and fluid reasoning.

Sometimes, if individuals report memory problems, memory is also thoroughly examined, including verbal memory, working or everyday memory, visual memory, delayed recall, and recognition.

Do social and emotional factors affect learning and academic achievement?

Yes! Difficulty learning and achieving is not always associated with a specific learning disability. For this reason, it is important to assess these variables as part of a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation. Many children, teens, and young adults struggle in school due to friendship problems, family problems, anxiety and depression, experimenting with drugs and alcohol, perfectionism, trauma, or other personal reasons.

What is the process?

When conducting this type of evaluation, I administer age-appropriate psychological tests to clients to assess their emotional, social, and behavioral functioning and rule out all possible factors linked to the challenges a client is having. I also distribute questionnaires to parents, teachers, and other individuals when appropriate. Knowing how other people observe the client and their views of the clients problems is useful.

Once all of this information is collected, I analyze the data and produce an interpretive report that explains how all of these pieces are interconnected.

Most importantly, seeing the individual is key. Kids can have similar scores, for a myriad of reasons. They are not a bunch of numbers. My process approach is to see WHAT is happening in the room and in their life, and connect that with the data from the testing. I then provide recommendations that best address the nature and extent of the problems identified by the evaluation.

How is it used?

If the individual is in school, whether it be elementary school, secondary school, or college, it is important to compare cognitive functioning with academic achievement, i.e. compare the brain’s potential to learn with what has actually been learned in school. Comparing achievement and potential is quite important to assessing overall cognitive functioning. Sometimes individuals are very bright, but due to specific learning challenges, they are unable to keep up with school work or pay attention, and their performance falls behind due to their specific challenges.

This can be very stressful, and can profoundly affect self-confidence. Anxiety disorders, and even depression is not uncommon secondary to learning weaknesses.

What to expect:

Once you schedule an assessment, the intake process will help determine what the questions are that need to be answered, where the needs are most profound, and what accommodations or recommendations will be most helpful for that student.

The testing will usually be completed in multiple sessions, and test results will be given to the family and to the young person in a feedback session that is developmentally appropriate. Once you schedule an assessment, the intake process will help determine what the questions are that need to be answered, where the needs are most profound, and what accommodations or recommendations will be most helpful for whatever the developmental and academic stage is, for that student, as a unique young person.

Families then decide how they want to use that information: for medical, educational, therapeutic, and vocational guidance. Practical solutions matter.

Embolden Psychology