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Brain-Based Assessment: An Interview with Steven G. Feifer (Part 2)

We recently sat down with Steven G. Feifer, DEd, author of the Feifer Assessment of Reading™ (FAR™) and Feifer Assessment of Mathematics™ (FAM™) for an interview to discuss how to use cognitive neuroscience to better understand why students struggle in school. This is the second part of a two-part interview. Did you miss Part 1? Catch up here.

How do the FAR and FAM go beyond just using an aptitude/achievement discrepancy perspective?

SF: The FAR and FAM represent a more ecologically valid way to understand the core psychological processes involved with both reading and mathematics. Many psychologists are used to measuring executive functioning, working memory, visual perception, and processing speed using stand-alone instruments, and then must clinically bridge these results into the worlds of reading and math. In other words, how does poor performance on executive functioning tasks impact the ability to read on grade level? These can be very difficult questions to answer.

The FAR and the FAM seek to measure these psychological constructs while the student is actually engaged in the academic skill itself, allowing the examiner to directly determine the impact of each neurocognitive process on the academic skill itself. Typical achievement tests are important to determine where a student is functioning with respect to a nationally normed sample, but the FAR and FAM were designed to explain why. This is the key to really bringing back the “I” into an “IEP,” so practitioners can more readily inform intervention decision making.

Do the instruments give you a reading/math level?

SF: Both the FAR and FAM give you an overall composite score, but the true value of these instruments lies within the factor scores. We chose grade-based norms due to the variability of ages in each grade and thought it was only fair to compare a student’s performance with students in the same grade-level curriculum. In other words, it did not seem fair to compare a 10-year-old in the 3rd grade with a 10 year-old in the 5th grade with two more years of formal instruction.

Academic skills should be based upon the current grade level of the child, especially when we have an educational system where 43 of 50 states follow a common core curriculum. If practitioners are uncomfortable with grade-based norms, there is a conversion by age proxy table included.

Do you need a neuropsychology background to administer and/or interpret any of these instruments?

SF: I think you need a reading or math background to administer and interpret these instruments, which is why these are B-level qualification instruments.  This means most teachers can readily administer the FAR and the FAM. It is not necessary to understand the neuroscience behind each learning disorder subtype, but it is necessary to understand the learning dynamics involved with each skill. For instance, most educators readily understand the role of phonics, fluency, orthography, and comprehension in reading. The FAR can catalogue the relative strengths and weaknesses within each of these processing areas to best inform intervention decision making.

To learn more about the FAR or the FAM, visit their product pages.

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Brain-Based Assessment: An Interview with Steven G. Feifer (Part 1)

We recently sat down with Steven G. Feifer, DEd, author of the Feifer Assessment of Reading™ (FAR™) and Feifer Assessment of Mathematics™ (FAM™) for an interview to discuss how to use cognitive neuroscience to better understand why students struggle in school. This is the first part of a two-part interview. Come back next week for the conclusion.

 

What influence did neuroscience and research in this area have on your work in test development?

Steven Feifer: I have spent most of my career as a school psychologist trying to coalesce the fields of neuropsychology and education. I suppose it stemmed from my utter frustration in trying to explain learning simply through the lens of an IQ test score. After all, when was the last time somebody wrote a meaningful goal and objective on an IEP because a psychologist said a child’s Full Scale IQ was 94?

Why was an instrument like the FAR needed?

SF: The FAR was created for a number of reasons. First, I am especially grateful to PAR for recognizing the need for an educational assessment tool based upon a neuropsychological theory: the gradiental model of brain functioning. Second, I think the FAR represents a new wave of assessment instruments that does not simply document where a student is achieving, but explains why. This allows practitioners to better inform intervention decision making. Third, with the reauthorization of IDEA in 2004, school psychologists and educational diagnosticians no longer have to use a discrepancy model to identify a learning disability. However, most examiners are a bit leery about switching to a processing strengths and weaknesses model because of the sheer complexity and loose structure of this approach. The FAR identifies the direct processes involved with reading and makes the process easy without having to rely on a cross battery approach. Lastly, many states have now required schools to screen for dyslexia in grades K-2. The FAR Screening Form is ideal to function in this regard.

How did using a brain-based perspective guide you when developing the subtests and subtypes for the FAR and the FAM?

SF: I have conducted more than 600 professional workshops worldwide to both educators and psychologists. Most educators readily understand that there are different kinds of reading disorders, and therefore different kinds of interventions are necessary.

By discussing reading, math, or written language from a brain-based educational perspective, I try to point out specific pathways in the brain that support phonemic awareness, decoding, fluency, comprehension, and other attributes inherent in the reading process. I also illustrate what a dyslexic brain looks like before an intervention and then after an intervention.

Cognitive neuroscience greatly validates the work of our educators and reading specialists. In addition, cognitive neuroscience also provides the foundation for various subtypes of reading disorders based upon the integrity of targeted neurodevelopmental pathways.

Come back next week for the second part of this interview!

 

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The RIAS-2 is Now Available on the Training Portal!

Interested in learning more about the new Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales, Second Edition (RIAS-2)? Now you can enroll in a free training course on the RIAS-2 through PAR’s Training Portal. Whether you have already purchased the RIAS-2 and want to learn more about it or are looking for more information to help you make your purchase decision, this training course will give you a quick overview of the product, explain what changes were made in this edition, and provide insight into scoring and administration. And, best of all, the Training Portal is always available, so you can get training on your schedule.

The RIAS-2 can be used to assess intelligence and its major components in individuals 3 to 94 years.

To access the Training Portal, use your parinc.com username and password to log in. Don’t have a free account? Register now. Training courses are also available on the Vocabulary Assessment Scales™ (VAS™), the Test of General Reasoning Ability™ (TOGRA™), the Reynolds Adaptable Intelligence Test™ (RAIT™), the Academic Achievement Battery™ (AAB™), and more!

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National Alcohol Screening Day is April 7

Approximately 14 million Americans have alcohol disorders. As prevalent as the disorder is, much can be done to assist those who are dependent on alcohol, and their loved ones.

In 1999, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration partnered to create a community-based intervention to target alcohol abuse: National Alcohol Screening Day (NASD). Screening is held annually on the first Thursday of the first full week of April. For 2016, screening will be held on April 7. NASD’s objectives include:

  • Educating the public on the effect of alcohol on overall health
  • Administering anonymous, free alcohol screenings to the public
  • Providing referrals for those whose screening determined their drinking is at an unhealthy level

Thousands of organizations nationwide offer either on-site and online screenings to college students, military personnel, and the general public. Each organization receives the appropriate resources to help them conduct the program, such as videos, posters, educational handouts, and screening forms. On the day of screening, a 10-question screening scale is administered that was developed to identify those who consume alcohol at hazardous or harmful levels. Those who score above a specified cut-off score are referred for further evaluation or treatment.

Those interested can get started by visiting the website, How Do You Score? There they can take an anonymous self-assessment or search for on-site screening locations, which are located in screening centers across the United States. Those who are screened will be asked a series of questions to determine whether symptoms of alcohol abuse are present and whether medical help is required. At the end of the session, they receive immediate feedback and will be provided resources to assist them in getting the help they need.

At-risk drinking can be identified based on how much a person drinks on any given day, and how often a person has a heavy drinking day. In general, the following limits identify at-risk drinking:

  • Men: More than 4 drinks in a day or 14 per week
  • Women: More than 3 drinks in a day or 7 per week

As with any illness, early detection is the key to increasing chances of swift recovery. Alcohol abuse is misunderstood and is, therefore, often not considered a legitimate disorder that can be treated. National recognition goes a long way toward educating the public and reducing the negative effects of alcohol abuse for those affected and their families.

Share your thoughts on alcohol abuse risks and screening. PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

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Using cognitive neuroscience to understand why kids struggle in school

The term dyslexia has been a part of the education lexicon for decades. When it was first “discovered” in the 1970s, there were no technological processes yet in place to prove it was a brain-based condition.

However, writes Martha Burns, PhD, in a Science of Learning blog, “psychologists, neurologists, and special educators …. assumed dyslexia [had] a neurological basis. In fact, the term ‘dyslexia’ actually stems from the Greek ‘alexia,’ which literally means ‘loss of the word’ and was the diagnostic term used when adults lost the ability to read after suffering a brain injury.”

At the time, the cause, “was deemed not important,” continues Burns. “Rather, the goal was to develop and test interventions and measure their outcomes without an effort to relate the interventions to the underlying causation.”

However, using neuroscience to pinpoint exactly why a student struggles in reading or math can help educators come up with specific and effective interventions.

School psychologist Steven G. Feifer, DEd, ABSNP, became interested in neuroscience as it relates to reading when, early in his career, he had an opportunity to evaluate a very impaired student named Jason.

“His IQ was 36,” recalls Dr. Feifer, “but he was an incredible reader.   This was pretty difficult to explain using a discrepancy model paradigm, which falsely implies that an IQ score represents a student’s potential.  I made a concerted paradigm shift, and tried to find a more scientifically rigorous explanation for Jason’s amazing skills.  This quickly led me to the research library at the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

“As it turned out, Jason was quite easy to explain,” he continues. “He had a condition called hyperlexia. After much research, I presented information about the neural mechanisms underscoring hyperlexia at Jason’s IEP meeting.  The IEP team was incredibly receptive to the information and immediately amended Jason’s IEP so he received inclusionary services in a regular fifth-grade classroom.

“Jason turned out to be the single highest speller in fifth grade. I was convinced that discussing how a child learns from a brain-based educational perspective, and not solely an IQ perspective, was the best way to understanding the dynamics of learning and inform intervention decision making.

“The following year, I enrolled in a neuropsychology training program and was fortunate enough to study with the top neuropsychologists in the country.”

Dr. Feifer, who has 19 years of experience as a school psychologist, was voted the Maryland School Psychologist of the Year in 2008 and the National School Psychologist of the Year in 2009. He is a diplomate in school neuropsychology and currently works as a faculty instructor in the American Board of School Neuropsychology (ABSNP) school neuropsychology training program.  He continues to evaluate children in private practice at the Monocacy Neurodevelopmental Center in Frederick, Maryland, and consults with numerous school districts throughout the country.

Dr. Feifer has written several books and two assessments that examine learning disabilities from a neurodevelopmental perspective—the Feifer Assessment of Reading (FAR) and the Feifer Assessment of Mathematics (FAM).

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Now Available! The Feifer Assessment of Mathematics!

FAM_ManualCover2Identifying and addressing characteristics of a math learning disability gives clinicians and educators the tools they need to develop appropriate interventions specific to the individual child, so he or she can succeed in math.

The Feifer Assessment of Mathematics™ (FAM™) isolates, measures, and quantifies three subtypes of developmental dyscalculia to explain—from a neurodevelopmental perspective—why a child may have difficulty in math.

The 19 subtests of the FAM help determine not only if a child has the characteristics of a general math learning disability (MLD), but also his or her specific subtype of dyscalculia:

  • Procedural: A deficit in the ability to count, order, or sequence numbers or mathematical procedures.
  • Verbal: An inability to use language-based procedures to assist with arithmetic skills.
  • Semantic: A core deficit in both visual-spatial and conceptual components.

Created by Steven G. Feifer, DEd, author of the Feifer Assessment of Reading™ (FAR™), the FAM is:

  • Unique: It’s the only math assessment that identifies specifically WHY a student is struggling in math by identifying his or her specific type of dyscalculia.
  • Fast: The available Screening Form takes just 15 minutes, and comprehensive testing can be completed in less than an hour.
  • Easy: Administration and scoring are straightforward and streamlined.

Take advantage of introductory pricing! Order now and get the FAM Comprehensive Kit for only $445 or the FAM Screening Form Kit for just $235!

To learn more or to order your FAM kit, visit www.parinc.com or call 1.800.331.8378.

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The Growing Field of Telepsychology

In every area imaginable, technology has paved the way for innovations that make life more convenient—from the first television, to the microwave oven, to smartphones, the list is constantly growing. And the field of mental health is no exception. People who desire to speak with a psychologist can now do so from the comfort of their homes. Telepsychology is a method of therapy that provides psychological services using technology such as telephone, e-mail, online chat, text, and videoconferencing.

Telepsychology allows more flexibility, increasing access between doctor and patient because the session isn’t limited to face-to-face visits. However, questions remain as to its legitimacy and effectiveness. In response to these questions, the American Psychological Association (APA) has prepared eight guidelines to educate psychologists and their patients regarding the opportunities and challenges to using telepsychology. The guidelines were developed by the Joint Task Force for the Development of Telepsychology Guidelines for Psychologists, established by the following three entities: The APA, the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards, and the APA Insurance Trust.

The guidelines for psychologists using telepsychology are as follows:

Guideline #1: The Competence of the Psychologist – Take appropriate trainings to ensure they are competent to use the technology and that they tailor the technology to the needs of the patient.

Guideline #2: Standards of Care in the Delivery of Telepsychology Services – Ensure the same ethical and professional standards of care are followed as when providing in-person services.

Guideline #3: Informed Consent – Obtain consent, following applicable laws, regulations, and requirements that specifically address the unique concerns related to providing telepsychology services.

Guideline #4: Confidentiality of Data and Information – Protect and maintain the confidentiality of patient data and inform patients of any potential risk in loss of confidentiality due to the use of telecommunication.

Guideline #5: Security and Transmission of Data and Information – Ensure security measures are in place to protect data from unintended access or disclosure.

Guideline #6: Disposal of Data and Information and Technologies – Dispose of data and the technologies used to prevent unauthorized access and dispose data safely and appropriately.

Guideline #7: Testing and Assessment – Consider the unique limitations inherent in administering tests and assessments that are normally designed to be implemented in person.

Guideline #8: Interjurisdictional Practice – Comply with all relevant laws and regulations when providing telepsychology services across jurisdictional and international borders.

These guidelines are intended to offer the best guidance for incorporating telecommunication technology into the doctor/patient relationship. As telepsychology evolves, these guidelines can help psychologists to provide their telepsychology clients with the same level of professionalism as their in-person clients.

Do you use telepsychology in your practice? What tips can you share? PAR wants to hear from you, so leave a comment and join the conversation!

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Need to Change Your Qualification Level?

In accordance with the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing and PAR’s competency-based qualification guidelines, many tests and materials sold by PAR are available only to those professionals who are appropriately trained to administer, score, and interpret psychological tests. Eligibility to purchase restricted materials is determined on the basis of training, education, and experience. Customers may find, however, that they must update their qualifications as they progress through their career.

If you have received licensure from an appropriate agency or have additional training and experience that meets the requirements of a higher Qualification Level, you may update your Qualification Level in two ways.

If you are registered on our Web site, please sign in. Once you are signed in, click on Update Qualifications on the right of the page in the PAR Shopping Cart to supply us with your additional information.

If you are not currently registered on our Web site, you may send your update request directly to Customer Support. Be sure to include your current PAR Customer Number and all relevant information about your additional credentials.

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Assessing Gifted Students: An Interview with Cecil R. Reynolds (Part 2)

Cecil R. Reynolds, co-author of the Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales (RIAS) and recently revised RIAS-2, is one of the leaders in the field of gifted assessment. The following is part two of a two-part interview conducted with Dr. Reynolds concerning the use of assessments in gifted and talented programs. Did you miss part one of this series? Click here.

Q: What originally prompted you to design an assessment for gifted identification?

CR: To reduce the confounds present in most traditional measures of intelligence. We wanted to have better instrumentation for identifying the intellectually gifted using methods that are less influenced by culture than most tests—the RIAS is not “culture-free,” nor do such psychological tests exist, and the desirability of a culture-free test is questionable conceptually as well. We live in societies, not in isolation. That said, confounds such as motor coordination, especially fine motor coordination and speed, interpretation of directions that have cultural salience, and even short-term memory can all adversely influence scores on intelligence tests, and these variables are not associated strongly with general intelligence. For programs that seek to identify intellectually gifted individuals, the RIAS and now RIAS-2 are strong choices.

Q: The RIAS (and now RIAS-2) has been one of the most popular and widely used assessment instruments for gifted testing. Is the instrument useful for other types of assessments?

CR: The RIAS-2 is useful any time an examiner needs a comprehensive assessment of intelligence, especially one that is not confounded by motor speed, memory, and certain cultural issues. When understanding general intelligence, as well as crystallized and fluid intellectual functions, are important to answering referral questions, the RIAS-2 is entirely appropriate.

Q: What makes the RIAS-2 unique from the previous version?

The unique feature of the RIAS-2 is the addition of a co-normed Speeded Processing Index (SPI). It is greatly motor-reduced from similar attempts to measure processing speed on other more traditional, lengthy intelligence batteries. In keeping with the original philosophy of the RIAS, we do not recommend, but do allow, examiners to use this SPI as a component of the Intelligence Indexes, and we worked very hard to reduce the motor-confounds that typically plague attempts to assess processing speed.

Q: Originally there were no processing speed subtests on the RIAS. Why is that?

CR: Processing speed represents a set of very simple tasks that by definition anyone should be able to perform with 100% correctness if given sufficient time. This conflicts with our view of intelligence as the ability to think and solve problems. Processing speed correlates with few variables of great interest as well—it is a poor predictor of academic achievement, and tells us little to nothing about academic or intellectual potential. It is useful in screening for attentional issues, performance of simple tasks under time pressures, and coordination of simple brain systems, and as such can be useful especially in screening for neuropsychological issues that might require follow up assessment, but processing speed tasks remain poor estimates of intelligence.

Many RIAS users asked us to undertake the development of a motor-reduced set of processing speed tasks. Students who ask for extended time as an accommodation on tests are often required by the determining agency to have scores form some timed measures as well, and we felt we could derive a more relevant way of providing this information without the motor issues being as salient as a confound. The ability to contrast such performance with measured intelligence is important to this decision-making process.

Q: What advice do you have for psychologists and diagnosticians when it comes to assessing a student for giftedness?

CR: When choosing assessments to qualify students for a GT program, be sure you understand the goals of the program and the characteristics of the students who are most likely to be successful in that program. Then, choose your assessments to measure those characteristics so you have the best possible match between the students and the goals and purposes of the GT program.

 

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Assessing Gifted Students: An Interview with Cecil R. Reynolds (Part 1)

Cecil R. Reynolds, co-author of the Reynolds Intellectual Assessment Scales (RIAS) and recently revised RIAS-2, is one of the leaders in the field of gifted assessment. The following is part one of a two-part interview conducted with Dr. Reynolds concerning the use of assessments in gifted and talented programs.

Q: Theoretically speaking, what do you believe would be the most effective way to identify a gifted student?

Cecil Reynolds: I am often asked what tests or other processes should be used to identify children for participation in a gifted and talented program in the schools. My answer is almost always something along the lines of “What are the goals of the program itself?” and “What are the characteristics of the children you wish to identify?” The most important thing we can do is match the children to the program so they have the highest likelihood of success. So, for example, if the program is intended to promote academic achievement among the most academically able students in the school, I would recommend a very different selection process and different tests than if the program was intended to take the most intellectually talented students in the school and provide them with a challenging, engaging curriculum that would enrich their school experience, motivate them to achieve, and allow them to fall in love with something and pursue it with passion. While the students in these programs would overlap, the two groups would not be identical and certainly the academic outcomes would not be the same. But, the point is that we must know what characteristics we need to assess to identify and to place students in programs where they will be successful, and that requires us to first know what it is our program is intended to do.

Q: What are some of the challenges that psychologists and diagnosticians face when attempting to identify a gifted student accurately?

CR: Regardless of the program and its goals for students, the tremendous diversity in the American schools is our greatest challenge. We have an obligation to be fair, and just, and to promote the best in all children, and that is our intention. However, no schools in any country serve the range of backgrounds and abilities such as are served in our schools. The demands upon school staff to be culturally competent in so many areas, and to devise methods of teaching and accurate measures of intelligence, academic outcomes, behavioral outcomes, and school success generally, and to understand and to motivate such a wide array of eager young minds, are just incredible and require a commitment from the school board on down to the teacher aides. Maintaining this commitment and acquiring these competencies are undoubtedly staunch challenges to us all. These challenges can be magnified in the domain of gifted education because how “giftedness” is defined and valued may vary tremendously from one cultural group to another. The biggest concerns I hear from practitioners and diagnosticians center around the lack of proportionate representation of some ethnic minority groups in GT programs and how it can change assessment practices to overcome these issues. The RIAS and RIAS-2 are well suited to assist in identifying more minority students for GT programs since the minority-white differences on mean scores on the RIAS and now RIAS-2 are smaller by about half the differences seen on most traditional intelligence batteries.

Q: A lot has been written about the idea that just because a student has been identified as academically gifted, it does not mean he or she will be successful. Identifying them is simply step one. What things do you find tend to hinder their progress in our schools?

CR: Often it is the mismatch between the program and the student. It is hard to overemphasize the importance of the match between the program goals and methods of achieving them and the students in the program and their characteristics. We simply have to get the right students into the right programs. We also have to attend to students’ motivation to achieve academically as well as focus on study skills, time management, organization skills, listening skills, and other non-intellective factors that go into academic learning. IQ generally only accounts for less than 50% of the variance on academic achievement, and that is one of the many reasons we also developed the School Motivation and Learning Strategies Inventory (SMALSI). Just because a student is bright does not mean he or she knows how to study and learn, has good test-taking skills, or is motivated to engage in school learning—we should assess these variables as well and intervene accordingly.

Come back next week for the second part of this interview!

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