The Art of Testing: Some Personal Thoughts on Comprehensive Assessment
By Christine Voll, MA
Psychoeducational testing is based on science, but it is also very much an art. Each time I begin an assessment, I am reminded that testing is like opening a gift. I'm excited and curious as I start to test, slowly unwrapping the layers of how someone thinks. One path leads to another, often in unexpected ways.
As an examiner, I share in an intimate exploration of my client's thoughts and feelings. The core assessment tool I use, the Woodcock-Johnson III, is one of the most comprehensive test batteries published. I use the current test battery comfortably and can tailor the assessment to the needs of each individual. My client-partner's response to the testing process can be unpredictable. I always administer an extended standard battery consisting of 14 tests of cognitive ability and 10 to 12 tests of academic achievement.
As I unwrap layers of thinking, discovering surprises in the individual's cognitive processing, I decide where to go next. I may augment my assessment by administering additional tests from the WJ-III or other tests. These allow me to look further into the ways in which my client processes information. As I administer these tests, emotion plays across my subject's face. I empathize with his or her struggle to complete certain tasks. If I struggled like that with memory or reasoning or reading or math, how would I feel? My client's emotional response is yet another layer that needs to be considered and explored in the testing process.
Sensitivity to these nuances, to the person, is the "art" of the testing process, and it is built on mutual trust. I am using a scientific instrument to measure aspects of a person-how he or she feels and behaves in our social, complex, literate society. Yet, no test can ever measure all that a person is.
At the end of a comprehensive assessment, the gift of understanding is unwrapped. Test results should never be presented simply as a list of numbers or scores in a pat report. The process of testing has exposed what is inside a person. When I present my results, I show respect for the person, for the process we have shared. It is my job to convey, in a caring manner, what I have learned, how they learn, the unique gifts they have, strengths as well as weaknesses, and how they can be helped by this knowledge.
Assessment is a complex process. The wealth of information it provides serves as the basis of remediation and recovery. Good assessment provides a detailed road map, one that can smooth a client's path through life. It should answer fearful or burning questions, clarify concerns, and generate a sense of hope.
Christine Voll, MA, is a Lafayette-based independent educational evaluator and school psychologist for the Albany Unified School District. She teaches assessment classes through the University of California extension system and conducts workshops for psychologists, resource specialists, and other clinicians and educators on the Woodcock-JohnsonŽ Psycho-Educational Battery III and Stanford Binet 5. Ms. Voll is a board member of the Northern California Branch of The International Dyslexia Association. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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