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DEC Recommended Practices: Assessment (Part 1)

Sofia just coordinated the worst assessment ever. With her head spinning, she takes a moment in her car to reflect on just what went wrong so that she can prevent it from happening again. In a nutshell, here’s what happened:

Sofia had originally met with Max’s father for the intake, who had planned to attend the assessment because he spoke English more fluently than his wife. Sofia had coordinated the assessment time slot with him, but when she arrived, she found the mother to be the only parent home. Concerned about the 45-day timeline and knowing that the family was eager for services to begin, Sofia decided not to cancel the assessment. One of the service providers conducting the assessment knew some very basic Spanish, so they all agreed to continue too. Unfortunately, each provider conducted the assessment by observing Max’s development and scoring the assessment protocols separately with minimal input from his mother. They focused on his performance on the test without consideration for how that performance translated into Max’s functional abilities in everyday activities. When they reported the results, both focused on what Max was not able to do today without consideration for his interests or his significant shyness. Max’s mother often shook her head in agreement but Sofia wasn’t confident that she had a clear understanding of the process or the results. Before moving to developing the IFSP, Sofia suggested that they wait to develop it another day when either the father would be home or an interpreter could be present. Not too long after the assessment had started, she realized she should have made this call much earlier. Whew, what an assessment.

DEC Recommended Practices for Assessment

Ever been in Sofia’s shoes? We’ve all had our worst assessment ever, but we’ve also probably had a best one too. Let’s take a look at the first five DEC Recommended Practices for assessment and think about what Sofia could have done differently.

A1. Practitioners work with the family to identify family preferences for assessment processes.

Sofia did try to work with the father and scheduled the assessment to honor his preference of being present, but as they say, even the best laid plans… When she arrived, Sofia could have asked Max’s mother what she preferred, but given the language barrier, the mother’s ability to understand and express her preference may have been compromised. Other family preferences could have been considered, including the time of day for the assessment, which types of service providers should attend, the location, and perhaps even which of Max’s toys or favorite activities could be included so that he felt as comfortable as possible.

A2. Practitioners work as a team with the family and other professionals to gather assessment information.

There seems to be a significant training need for the service providers conducting the assessment. They need to understand the importance of collaborating with the parent to gather good information and how to do that. The language barrier may have caused them to retreat into more clinical practices, but this is not really appropriate during an early intervention assessment. Perhaps Sofia could have spoken with them beforehand to prepare for how to conduct the assessment as a team. She could have prepared them for Max’s shyness and the family’s language differences. Ultimately, though, it’s not the service coordinator’s responsibility to ensure that team members who conduct assessment are qualified…that responsibility lies with the supervisor and local system manager. Sofia could share her experience with her supervisor, though, which could hopefully trigger the support these providers need. 

A3. Practitioners use assessment materials and strategies that are appropriate for the child’s age and level of development and accommodate the child’s sensory, physical, communication, cultural, linguistic, social, and emotional characteristics.

A4. Practitioners conduct assessments that include all areas of development and behavior to learn about the child’s strengths, needs, preferences, and interests.

Both of these practices are essential when the goal of assessment is to arrive at a holistic view of the child’s development, strengths, and needs in his everyday life. Adapting the assessment process to accommodate a child’s preferences, interests, and characteristics ensures a more successful, comfortable experience for the child and family. Adaptations also inform the professional team members about a child’s potential. Qualified assessors know that children aren’t a sum of their developmental parts and use the information they gather to translate assessment findings into functional information that connects to individualized outcomes and successful services. Gathering good information and knowing what to do with it is key.

A5. Practitioners conduct assessments in the child’s dominant language and in additional languages if the child is learning more than one language.

Here’s the big one…this assessment should have never happened. When the father wasn’t present to interpret, Sofia should have cancelled the assessment. This seems like an obvious decision, but it’s not an easy one to make in the moment, especially when the family is eager for services to begin. The 45-day timeline is always important, as is the family’s need for services, but the assessment really can’t be conducted without the family’s active and informed participation. Sofia should have rescheduled when either the father was available or an interpreter could attend. When in doubt, always ensure that the family can be active participants, even if that means rescheduling the assessment.

Now, take some time to consider what assessments look like in your experience. Does what you do match with the DEC Recommended Practices A1-A5? Use this resource to find out:

Engaging Families as Partners in their Child’s Assessment Checklist

Next month, we’ll continue thinking about assessment by illustrating the DEC Recommended Practices A6-A11. In the meantime…

What strategies do you use to implement these assessment practices? 

What did you learn from your worst assessment ever? What was your best assessment like?

What other recommendations do you have for Sofia? What would you have done if you’d been in her shoes?

Share your ideas in the comments below!

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2 Comments to “DEC Recommended Practices: Assessment (Part 1)”

  1. One thought, when I have been in this situation is to use Google Translate App. Or similar App. It is not perfect, but it does break down the language barrier somewhat.

    • Thanks Terri. I’ve always been encouraged to use caution with the translation apps, but I think in a pinch, it could be a really helpful resource. What’s been your experience – can you tell if it’s been pretty accurate? See, that would be my problem…I wouldn’t know if the translation was completely wrong! Thanks for the suggestion!

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