Month: June 2012

Is Your Child on the Smooth Road or Rough Road?

In about three weeks from now my new book, “School Struggles” is scheduled for release.  Over the next few essays, I will try and highlight some of the main points of the book.   One overriding theme of the book is looking to the smooth road vs. the rough road, an image that I continually return to with parents.

Probably about 50% of the population travels down a relatively smooth road.  For example, in preschool they share nicely and seem to be well liked by the teachers and other kids.  Reading development unfolds on time.  Homework is managed.  As school progresses the smooth road children take increasing responsibility with little adult involvement.

Then there’s everyone else.

For these children there are more potholes in the road.  These potholes can be there for a whole host of reasons.  There are social, reading, mathematics, behavioral, and attention potholes among the more common faced by children.  Some of the potholes can be very large, others barely visible.  The really big ones often lead to a child being classified in special education, but so often the potholes are viewed as just part of the road – kind of “average” potholes to just be ignored.

If your child is one on the rougher side of the road it can feel very overwhelming as a parent. 

What can you do?

One thing that can be helpful is to have a trusted a professional who you are comfortable with who you can talk to who knows the landscape and can help you prioritize.

Should you focus on the reading pothole?  If so, what’s the target? Decoding? Comprehension?

Perhaps reading isn’t the issue and you want to try and help the child get along better with others, to not be as pushy or demanding or to learn how to share better.

One takeaway point is to think of the “potholes” as skills not neurological deficiencies.  Most of these potholes are skill deficits that can be practiced with sensible approaches.  The first step is identifying which one you want to target.

You may not completely make the road a smooth one, but you certainly can fill in a couple of the holes.


Got “The Diagnosis”

Frequently, parents will come in to tell me that they got "the diagnosis" with the emphasis on the word "the" as if there is only one diagnosis out there.  Of course, I look puzzled when I ask about "what diagnosis" and they tell me "ADHD."

When I ask how the ADHD was diagnosed, usually I hear that a medical practitioner (physician or nurse practitioner) looked at the Connors rating scale and spend about 20 minutes with the child and parents.

It's then that I usually start to wonder about “the diagnosis,” whether other variables were considered.

Take young Emma, age 7.  Emma recently got “the diagnosis.” Her Connors rating scales certainly highlighted areas of ADD concern. However, when I evaluated Emma it struck me was how there were certain tasks that caused her great difficulty. For example, when I asked her to repeat a simple span of digits in a reversed order (even two digits, such  as 5 -3), she looked at me blankly and had absolutely no idea what I was asking. Even after bending the rules of standardization to try and get her to understand what repeating backwards meant, Emma had no clue how to respond.

Another example of difficulty was when I asked Emma, how many pieces there were after cutting and orange in half? Emma answered " four,” seemingly not understanding what was being asked.

Was the fact that she had such difficulty with these tasks ADHD?  Did “the diagnosis” explain her confusion?

While Emma may have had a helping of ADHD (actually I'm not so sure of this), she certainly had a large spoonful of language processing issues and clear confusion when asked to understand aspects of language. This confusion, from my point of view, was not explained by the simple "diagnosis."

The take away point is to be careful when accepting “the diagnosis” on ADHD.  There are many factors at work that need to be understood. 

Not Into Cats: The Variables of Comprehension Testing

In the last few posts we have been exploring different aspects of assessment.  With “NJASK: Don’t Ask” we discussed “Standardized Test Stress Disorder” and with “Assessing Comprehension: Know the Limitations” it was emphasized that each type of reading test may have different results because of the format or style of the test.

Staying on the comprehension assessment theme, it brings me back to my days as a young graduate assistant in the Temple University Reading Clinic.  I remember bringing data to my mentor Dr. Rosner.

Somewhat like Mickey Mouse approaching the Wizard in Fantasia, I asked Dr. Rosner about the results on the comprehension section of an informal reading inventory.

“Gee, Dr. Rosner,” I said in a squeaky Mickey voice.  “How can it be that the kid I tested got 30%  correct on the third grade selection (a passage about caring for cats), but got 100% on the fourth grade level selection (a story about a skunk family)?  How do you explain him doing better on the harder fourth grade level selection?”

Dr. Rosner shot me the wizard glare and in a booming deep voice, “WELL, MR. SELZNICK, PERHAPS HE’S JUST NOT THAT INTO CATS!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Ooh, sorry, Mr. Wizard, I mean Dr. Rosner,” as I slid out of his office with my little test results, trying to make sense of the data.

From that time forward I have seen many kids bomb out on “”comprehension” items for a whole host of reasons, some of which include, “just not that into cats.” 

Testing data is a snapshot in time.  That’s it.  The better tests have good predictive power and offer a roadmap as to where the kid is in a moment in time and what he/she needs next.  Much depends on the purpose for giving the test in the first place, as to what one should do with the data.

Takeaway Point

Tests have limitations and scores must be looked at cautiously. “Comprehension” is not easy to test or to get right no matter what anyone tells you in the field. 

Maybe he’s just not into cats.


Assessing Comprehension: Know the Limitations

Probably the major reason parents seek an assessment for a child centers around concern with reading or reading development.  Teachers and special education teams will talk about “comprehension” as if there is a standard agreed upon way to measure comprehension. 

There isn’t.

There are many different measure that assess reading comprehension under very different conditions.  Your child may show "comprehension" under one condition, but not in another.  All measures of reading have their own inherent strengths and weaknesses. 

Let’s take the Woodcock-Johnson,  one of the “gold standard” tests used for special education assessment.

Here’s how comprehension is measured on the W-J.  The child reads a sentence or two to himself/herself.  There will be one word missing from the sentence.  In order to demonstrate comprehension, the child needs to come up with the word.

Here’s an example:  “The boy was upset after he missed the three point _______ in the basketball game.”

The reading samples start at the lowest grade levels and extend beyond high school.  The format remains the same throughout.

Understand this, each measure of reading, even the “gold standard ones,” have their limitations.

Let’s say the child is a middle school child who has trouble understanding long extended and dense text material.  The same child also has trouble reading such material under timed conditions.

Since the Woodcock comprehension measure does not involve extended reading, that is one example of a limitation.  Also, there is no timed aspect to assessing comprehension on the W-J.  Yet, the Woodcock is one of the measures used in determining time accommodations.

Take away point – each measure of reading, even ones that are the commonly ones used in special education, have inherent limitations.

Don’t be afraid to ask your evaluation team about the tests they use and their inherent strengths and limitations.


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