Assessment measures learning
Typically, assessments or tests result in numbers: percentages (such as with a classroom test), grade level equivalents or a standard score when compared to large groups. Since these tests usually involve multiple choice answers, it is possible to guess correct answers and score higher than a performance-based assessment.
Assessment is supposed to be a way to measure what an individual has (or has not) learned from instruction. Functional assessments target specific, critical skills rather than focusing on a score or a grade level equivalent.
Skills acquisition happens in sequential stages, each one being the basis for the next level of instruction. Educators often use two terms about learning: instructional and mastery. Instructional learning is what the teacher is teaching about and should involve a minimum of stress for the child to "reach". Without this stressful reach, learning would not occur. To benefit from instructional learning, the students must have mastered the previous levels (mastery level) where there should be no stress during performance.
Less widely known is the third level of learning: functional skills level. Many students do not have the same performance (functional) skills level as teacher expects them to have. Students may have taken in the instruction but not mastered it. The functional skills level is where the student "lives" on a daily basis, even though he may have received passing grades on his tests. This is similar to knowledge used (functional) vs. knowledge known (mastery). There are many examplesOne example is a child who is learning to walk. He has (hopefully) mastered crawling and standing, but is at the "instructional" level of learning to constantly re-balance while moving. He can stand holding onto something for balance, release that stabilizing object, and try to take some steps. He may or may not have mastered his ability to balance on his feet while standing. Without that sense of standing balance, moving balance is difficult. Children who incompletely master their standing balance often skip walking and move rapidly into running everywhere, because there is less likelihood of falling when moving quickly because re-balancing does not occur for any length of time.
Another example is a sixth grade student who reads at the low second grade level. The child's functional level is 2nd grade skills. He may have passed the tests (mastered) for skills in third through fifth grades, but he is certainly not able to benefit from his 5th grade skills instruction from textbooks. He may have some good coping skills (good listening skills or techniques that let others help him), but his functional skills level remains 2nd grade. The gap between functional and instructional skills may cause him more stress than he can cope with. The result may be failing grades, acting out (behavior problems), socially withdrawing, missing or incomplete assignments, etc. illustrating the wide gap between the functional and mastery skills levels.
The Functional Assessment process identifies the child's solid, performance level where learning is comfortable, not where it causes unnecessary stress. The goal is to identify which critical skills are present and absent, so instruction can fill in the gaps. When there are no gaps in learning, the child has mastery learning levels just below his current instructional level. Functional Assessments may be done in person or via the internet. An assessment yields information to help parents decide about the priorities for intervention to meet the child's needs.
An assessment appointment is for 1½ hours. Assessments include consultation time to discuss the results and explain any recommendations and/or intervention plans.
If the assessment is via the internet, materials will be emailed for the parent to download, print and organize prior to the actual assessment. The materials should not to be discussed with or shown to the child prior to the assessment. Discussion and/or prior exposure will invalidate the results and be a waste of your time and money. The child must have a flat surface for working in front of a camera and microphone. Someone must be there to adjust camera angles during performances and present the test materials as needed. The individual in the room must agree to be silent, sit or stand apart from the child, and provide no verbal or non-verbal cues to guide the child's performance or behavior. Any suggestions, support, comments, or physical clues may invalidate results.
Click here to listen to recordings of Dr. Jennifer Little discussing related education topics.
Assessment services can be purchased online by clicking the shopping cart icon. You will be contacted to schedule the date and time for the assessment.