Month: January 2018

Assessment: The Basics

It’s that time of year.  That time when we sense the summer fading and the press of the fall (the school year).

Since so many of you have questions about what is involved with assessment, I am to lay it out for you with basic food for thought regarding the essential issues involved with assessment.  Please do not hesitate

Many people come to me with basic questions about assessment.  As is true with much of childhood, psychology and education, I find there is often unnecessary complication taking place with regard to assessment and many other related issues.

Parents will share previous assessments that have been completed.  Sometimes they are upward of 30-40 pages!  Much of it is uninterpretable or meaningless to the parent (yet looks impressive in its overall weight) and they feel bewildered by it all.


As I thumb through the reports, I often quietly (sometimes not too quietly) wonder if the parents’ basic questions  were even answered that led them to seek the assessment.

What got me thinking about this for this week’s blog was a mom’s who was interested in having her child assessed.  She emailed me a range of very in-depth questions of the cognitive and neuropsychological processes that she hoped might be revealed or commented on within the assessment.

I didn’t want to disappoint her, but this is what I said with regard to the questions raised:

Hi Mary Beth

In some ways the question you are asking about testing is over-complicating in terms of the goals that I have. In somewhat simplified terms, the psychoeducational assessment provides us with a “snapshot” in a moment of time as to where your child is in terms of her development in key areas of cognitive, academic and emotional functioning.  The “snapshot” is a great starting point in understanding your child’s strengths and weaknesses.

Beyond that, there are basic questions that are typically raised when conducting a psychoeducational assessment.  Are there any identifiable “cracks in the foundation” that need to be understood or addressed going forward?   What are your next best steps in terms of helping her if there are identifiable cracks? Is the school a good fit for her? (The parents were considering private school.)  Are there any other treatments or interventions that make sense given the assessment?

Assessment should be a practical vehicle, a springboard if you will, that can help guide you in terms of your child’s areas of need.  Ideally the generated report should be practical and fairly straight-forward in conveying the findings in as much jargon-free language as possible.  That is you should understand the report and what the numbers mean.  (“Hey, I see a score of 7 in Similarities in my child’s assessment.  What does that mean?  Is it good or bad?”)

In the next couple of weeks I will elaborate upon the fundamental questions and issues being raised in a psychoeducational assessment process to try and demystify it for you.

Takeaway Point

More complicated, more pages and more expensive is not necessarily better in an assessment for you child.

Stay focused on the basic questions.


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Homework (and School) Hidden Agenda

Nine year old Lucas hates his homework.  On a fairly regular basis he meltdowns over any assignment that might take more than about 10 minutes to complete.  Whining constantly, rolling around on the floor, crying and sobbing are part of the nightly rituals accompanying homework. I had this problem with my older son when he was studying at university, and we used sites like buy thesis paper online, to help write his essays for him. So, I tried the same approach for Lucas. We’ve used some great homework helping websites and tutors such as to try and make homework less painful for Lucas.

Lucas’ teacher, Mrs. Hanover, believes homework is pretty important for kids and feels that fourth graders need to learn to stop being babies and begin taking responsibility for themselves.  She has clearly told that to the parents during back-to-school night and is pretty diligent assigning homework daily.

A professional with over 15 years’ experience, Mrs. Hanover is careful to make sure that the homework is within a window of time that would not take more than 30-45 minutes to complete (minus the crying and rolling around on the floor).  For the kids with identified  learning problems who are either classified or have 504 plans, she told the parents they could reduce the total amount assigned as long as the child was giving good effort.

Some kids do struggle with some subjects so if they need to take longer then normal then that’s fine. There’s even websites online that you could use to help you kid. For example, if they struggled with economics they could use a site that might offer economics homework help.

All that mattered to Mrs. Hanover was good faith effort, an honest 30 minutes or so.  She didn’t feel it was too much to ask.

Needless to lay Lucas’ parents are becoming extremely concerned with the thrill ride of nightly homework reactivity.  The mom finds herself waking in the middle of the night having borderline anxiety attacks, going on the school’s webpage to see what Lucas’ grades (kind of like checking the stock market) and how much homework he is missing.

Does homework help kids with learning?  Depending what research you read and what theorist you are going to follow homework falls somewhere on the continuum of totally useless to valuable.

Intuitively, though, as parents we know there is a hidden agenda to homework and we want our kids to buy in – to get the work done and hand it in on time.  We know that there are values in the doing regardless of the content of the homework.

What are some of the hidden agendas or values of homework?

  • Meeting a deadline
  • Facing your responsibilities
  • Planning
  • Having a goal (even a small one) and obtaining it
  • Taking care of your stuff
  • Organizing yourself
  • Learning to become independent
  • Growing up

There are many more like these, but you get the idea.

We naturally worry (well, at least the moms worry) when kids are not facing the hidden agenda of school and homework.  As kids get older we worry a lot, because the future (and adulthood) are looming.

So, we medicate.  We yell.  We punish. We harangue. We nag.We nag. We nag.

Recognize that school and homework are the vehicles we have used to transmit values like the ones listed..  Unless you are going off the grid and avoiding school altogether, then the hidden agenda of school (homework) is working every day.

Homework largely has little to do with real learning and much more to do with shaping these values.  It’s not the grades that matter all that much, but the values do.

What’s the answer to any of it?

I’m not saying that kids don’t (at times) need support  to get through their homework, but the message Lucas needs is a pretty simple one delivered in straight-forward, no-nonsense tones:

“Suck it up, Lucas. 30 minutes is not going to kill you.  I’m close by if you need any help.”


Not in the South Jersey area? For a free 15 Minute Consultation, contact Dr. Selznick: email –

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Mickey Mouse & His Too Soon Powers

Perhaps you’ve seen the Disney movie Fantasia, a cartoon movie from the 1940’s comprised of different shorts. One of them was the famous story of “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.” Mickey Mouse, as the apprentice, discovers the sorcerer’s magic powers and is delighted to start using them. Mickey quickly realizes he’s in over his head, however, and is overwhelmed by what he has unleashed.

Effectively, for Mickey, he’s not ready for these powers.

It’s too much too soon.

In a similar vein, what happens when kids are given relatively unmonitored access to the internet (as many of the kids that I know do)?

What are they watching? What are they doing?

Is the power they are given on the internet too much too soon?

Some time ago, when my kids were younger (with the internet emerging as a real presence in our lives) we comforted ourselves with the notion that the family computer was always in a public place. Whether we (as parents) were kidding ourselves or not, it seemed that the likelihood of our kids going on inappropriate sites was not something that could be easily done. The computer was just too visible.

Mind you, this was the dark ages, pre-smart phone and iPads. (Yes, there was such a time.)

Thanks to a summary of a study on kids and technology (“Kids & Tech: The Evolution of Today’s Digital Natives (Digital Natives ) here are a few fun facts to consider:

  • The average age for a child getting their first smartphone is now 10.3 years.
  • 39% of kids get a social media account at 11.4 years. 11% got a social media account when they were younger than 10.
  • 64% of kids have access to the Internet via their own laptop or tablet, compared to just 42% in 2012.
  • The autonomy and access kids have to the Internet in 2016 jumped significantly compared to just four years ago, across all electronic devices.

Bringing these facts closer to home, was the frank admission recently from two adolescents who were pretty honest with me about their porn-watching habits. Back when I was young, if a teenager wanted to watch porn they would have to watch on their TV when nobody was home. Long gone are those times.

One boy, Gerald, watched porn on websites like on his phone so frequently that by the time he turned 18 he was afraid that his sex drive was already diminishing due to overuse of watching porn. Effectively, he told me he was very bored. (Mind you, he still hadn’t had actual sexual relations, but was still feeling jaded.)

Another, Francis, aged 14 was struggling with his own sense of personal guilt going on adult sites like that he sensed were inappropriate for him with his anxiety was sky-rocketing along with his increased use of porn.

From where I sit we are facing the proverbial “Wild West” when it comes to kid’s access to the internet. I know there are controls and apps that can be put on the phone to limit internet access, but few do this and kids will find ways to beat it, like going on their friends’ phones to get on the sites.

The fact is we can’t monitor the behavior or the sites like we think we can.

I wish I could tell you exactly how to handle the Wild West of kids’ internet usage. My best advice is that you talk frankly and openly to your kids and let them know that there is a lot temptation out there. If they want the privilege of having a phone or iPad there is a built in trust with its usage.

It’s sort of the same thing when kids become of driving age. There’s an implicit trust that says something like “I will grant you the privilege of this device (or car) until you show that you can’t handle the privilege. Then you are inviting me in and I will have no choice but to remove the privilege until the time that you demonstrate that you can handle it.”

Takeaway Point

Don’t fall asleep at the wheel. Kids are being given many powers that they are questionably able to handle. Speak plainly and directly about these powers and privileges you are granting them.

My Worksheet Obsession

I try and find my weekly inspiration from my interactions as they happen from parents and kids.

This week’s comes from a seven year old second grader, Jonah, who told me he was not a big fan of school.  In fact, he was clear in stating that he “hated it.”

I pressed Jonah to tell me why.

“It’s all this testing,” Jonah started.  “The stories are nice, but the worksheets are really boring – they really get on my nerves.  I try and stay as focused as I can be.”

Mind you, he’s seven and my testing did not turn up any significant learning problems, no signs of dyslexia.  He just wasn’t into it – losing interest at seven.

We need to face that the “work-sheeting of childhood” is not working.   To so many kids worksheets represent one more compliance hurdle after another.  (“Do this worksheet and then do another and while you’re at it, here are two for homework.”)

Why does this worksheet stuff matter?  Why has this been a near obsession of mine over the years?

Beside the fact that I need to get a life, practically every day parents come in with large folders stacked with worksheets that their struggling child is asked to endure.  Sure, the kids on the “smooth road,” the ones lucky enough not to be struggling, tough it out like dutiful soldiers and they get one good grade and smiley face after another.

For the 30% or so who are struggling for a whole combination of reasons, they are also toughing it out, but the feedback isn’t so great.  Putting a frowny face on the page with a circled ‘F’ on a worksheet is helping no one.

It’s my impression that the boys in particular are disdaining school because of the constant drudgery.   (I’m not saying it’s any better for the girls, but maybe because 98% of the teachers are female, they feel a greater sense of connection and are more motivated to please their teachers.)

Worksheets are not motivating. No child ever came home saying, “Hey, mom, guess what? I got a great worksheet today in school.”

Math word problems are particularly confusing to a considerable number of children.  Even if the words could be read (many of them cannot be), the way the problems are written, they are confusing.

Here’s a sample of a one that a second grader who was struggling with reading had recently:

Jake bought some stickers at Sticker Station.  He bought 4 strips of ten sun stickers and 3 single sun stickers.  He also bought 2 strips of ten moon stickers and 5 single moon stickers.  How many stickers did Jake buy?

In this confusing attempt at being cute with the story of Sticker Station, there were at least eight to ten words that the second grader couldn’t easily read.  (Not to mention that the mathematic operation involved here ([4 x 10 +3= 43] + [2 x 10 + 5= 25] = 68), seems a bit heady for a seven year old, if I did the math right.)

There was a time in school when worksheets did not rule the education landscape, when real literature served as the primary instructional vehicle in the classroom with stories that captivated kids with imaginative experiences to get them connected.

Don’t you think seven is a bit young for disdain?


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