Academic journal article The California School Psychologist

Comprehensive Assessment of Emotional Disturbance: A Cross-Validation Approach

Academic journal article The California School Psychologist

Comprehensive Assessment of Emotional Disturbance: A Cross-Validation Approach

Article excerpt

Assessing a student for emotional disturbance is a serious and complex task given the stigma of the label and the ambiguities of the federal definition. One way that school psychologists can be more confident in their assessment results is to cross validate data from different sources using the RIOT approach (Review, Interview, Observe, Test). Because each data collection process has advantages and limitations, using all four processes together allows for comprehensive assessment for emotional disturbance. Additionally, school psychologists should strongly consider a student's strengths, cultural factors, and the interaction between the student and the environment in order to interpret assessment findings. This approach serves to tailor interventions regardless of diagnosis.

Assessing a student for emotional disturbance (ED) is a complex task both because of the ambiguities of the diagnosis in the educational code and because of the seriousness of assigning this classification to a student. While it is tempting to want to use standardized assessments to make a definitive diagnosis of ED, other forms of data collection are equally important as they allow for the cross-validation of information from various sources. Leung (1993) first wrote about a method of comprehensive assessment using the acronym of RIOT (Review, Interview, Observe, Test). Leung acknowledged that each technique has flaws and advocated using information from all four data sources to support conclusions about diagnoses. By incorporating information from the cumulative folder, interviews with parents, teachers, and the student, and observations in the classroom and alternative settings along with data from instruments and tests, school psychologists can better justify their conclusions and present information in a truly comprehensive manner that allows parents and school personnel to have confidence in the results.

At the beginning of an ED assessment, most often, school personnel have already identified social, emotional, and/or behavioral problems as a primary concern and the reason for referral is to determine the extent to which such problems are contributing to the student's overall school functioning. While the school psychologist will collect copious amounts of data about the student's functioning over the course of the assessment, it is imperative that the school psychologist also consider the ecological context in which the student's behaviors occur (Wright, Gurman, & The California Association of School Psychologists/Diagnostic Center, Southern California Positive Intervention Task Force, 2001). This allows the school psychologist to understand the reciprocal relationship between the student and the environment (Landau & Swerdlik, 2005) and to examine whether adequate interventions were implemented during the pre-referrai process. Additionally, by conceptualizing the problems from an ecological perspective, school psychologists are better prepared to make recommendations for interventions at the conclusion of the assessment, regardless of the ultimate diagnosis.

REVIEW OF RECORDS

There is virtually no recent research literature on reviewing cumulative records; however, the diagnosis of emotional and behavioral problems should begin with an understanding of the student's prior school experience. A review of records provides the school psychologist guidance about what information needs to be gathered from other assessment procedures and about interventions that have been attempted to help the student be more successful in school. For example, if the school psychologist finds major changes in school functioning of a 10th grade student occurred during 701 grade, he or she will want to elicit perspectives on these changes during the parent and student interviews. Additionally, it would be helpful for the school psychologist to speak with the student's 7th grade teacher for more information and to find out what interventions, if any, were implemented during that year. …

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