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Stages of the Assessment Process

By: Janet W. Lerner
Because early intervention is so important, children who require special services need to be assessed at a young age. Here are six stages in the assessment process, from child-find to program evaulation.

Assessment means the gathering of information to make critical decisions about a child. A variety of methods are used to gather assessment information, including observations of the child, interviews with the family, checklists and rating scales, informal tests, and standardized, formal tests. Assessment information is useful for identifying the child as eligible for special services, planning instruction, and measuring progress.

Six sequential stages of the assessment process for young children are illustrated in the figure below:

Source: J. Lerner, B. Lowenthal, R. Egan (1998). Preschool Children with Special Needs: Children At-Risk and Children with Disabilities. Needham Heights, MA: Allyn & Bacon, p. 67

Stage 1: Child-Find/case finding

The initial stage, called "Child-Find", refers to procedures designed to locate those young children who might need early intervention services and programs. This stage is required because many parents do not know that services are available for young children, some parents may not realize that their child has a developmental problem, or the family may deny that a problem exists because of strong cultural beliefs and traditions.

Among the strategies that are used for locating young children in the community who may need special services are:

  • Building community awareness through public agencies and organizations
  • Setting up a system for referrals
  • Canvassing the community for young children who need screening
  • Maintaining local publicity and contacts with sources of referral

Stage 2: Developmental screening

Developmental screening is a cursory method for obtaining general information about a child's development and detecting any potential problems. The screening is not intended to be a comprehensive diagnosis, but rather provides a first quick look at a child. Screening procedures are typically used with large groups of children,. Screening tests should be brief, inexpensive, have objective scoring systems that are valid and reliable.

It is important that families understand the purpose of screening procedures and be informed about the results. When the screening indicates that a young child has potential problems, it is critical that the child receives a more comprehensive diagnosis.

Stage 3: Diagnosis

Diagnosis is a more intensive evaluation than screening. Information is obtained through observation, interviews, case history, and informal and standardized tests. The examiners strive to determine the nature of the child's difficulties, the severity of the problem, and the child's strengths and weaknesses. This information becomes the basis for determining eligibility for special education services.

The diagnosis is conducted by members of a multidisciplinary team. For example, if the screening indicates that the child has language difficulties, members of the multidisciplinary team could include a speech/language pathologist; a specialist in hearing, such as an audiologist or otologist, to evaluate hearing loss; and a psychologist to determine how the child's development related to language acquisition. A family interview would provide additional information about the case history, language performance at home, and the primary language of the family. Information collected through the diagnosis leads to decisions about the nature and severity of the problem and assists in planning intervention.

Stage 4: Individual planning of programs and interventions

If the diagnosis indicates there is a need for early intervention, the next stages involves assessment for the planning of programs and interventions. To closely link this stage of the assessment to the actual curricula of the child's early intervention program, curriculum-based or criterion-referenced instruments and procedures are used. The areas considered in the planning process for preschool children include:

  • Sensory/physical development
  • Language and communication abilities
  • Fine and gross motor development
  • Cognitive abilities
  • Adaptive or self-help skills
  • Social-emotional development

Stage 5: Program monitoring

After the child is placed in an intervention program, it is important that the child's progress in monitored frequently. Multiple checks include observations, developmental checklists, and rating scales.Collect data on a regular basis and analyze to determine mastery of targeted skills.

Note progress in meeting goals and objects on the child's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or Individualized Family Service Plan (IFSP).

Determine the effectiveness of the invention and changes that are needed in the intervention plan.

Stage 6: Program evaluation

It is also important to evaluate the intervention program itself. Program evaluation is objective, systematic procedure for determining progress of children and the effectiveness of the total intervention program. It may be necessary to make needed changes and modifications in the intervention program.

References

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Endnotes

Endnotes

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Lerner, J. (1998). Stages of the Assessment Process. Adapted from Lerner, J., Lowenthal, B., and Egan, R. (1998). Preschool Children with Special Needs: Children At-Risk, Children with Disabilities. Allyn & Bacon.

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