This week’s blog was contributed by Jeremy Sharp, PhD, licensed psychologist and clinical director at the Colorado Center for Assessment & Counseling and the host of the Testing Psychologist Podcast. Dr. Sharp earned his undergraduate degree in experimental psychology from the University of South Carolina and earned his master’s degree and doctorate in counseling psychology from Colorado State University. He specializes in psychological and neuropsychological evaluation of children and adolescents and provides private practice consulting for psychologists and other mental health professionals who want to start or grow psychological testing services in their practices. He lives in Fort Collins, Colorado with his wife (also a therapist) and two kids.
Have you seen that social media meme on “The last normal school year” that’s been going around? It has one column listing kindergarten through Grade 7 (students’ current year) and another column showing their last “normal” school year, which was, at this point, THREE GRADES AGO. Essentially, a kid who is now in seventh grade hasn’t had a typical school year since they were a fourth grader. The math makes sense, but it truly blew my mind. That means that current kindergarteners, first graders, and second graders have never experienced a typical school year. Eighth graders are just now getting a real sense of what middle school is like (for better or worse). Though the pandemic is far from over, psychologists and other mental health folks have several considerations to keep in mind as students encounter their third school year of the pandemic.
First, the impact of the pandemic cannot be underestimated. At baseline, children are generally more vulnerable to the stress of a pandemic because they have more difficulty understanding the scope and circumstances of a global event than adults. Studies around the world are consistently documenting the negative effects on kids. A variety of personal and environmental issues have been proposed as contributing factors. For example, authors cite increased parental stress, increased risk of abuse and domestic violence, and increased exposure to social media as potential reasons for elevated mental health symptoms. Physiologically, there is some evidence to suggest that kids and adolescents are experiencing higher levels of cortisol, eating poorer diets (or experiencing notable food insecurity), and missing out on the brain development that comes from participating in novel social and academic situations. And children have varying responses to the pandemic. Variables that contribute to a child’s response include prior exposure to traumatic events, socioeconomic status (SES), and disability status. Regarding specific mental health symptoms, research shows that anxiety, loneliness, and depression are the most common mental health concerns to arise from the last several months. Others have described increased clinginess, distraction, irritability, and fear for family members’ safety. I’ve experienced this firsthand, as my eight-year-old daughter developed significant and acute separation anxiety upon going back to school this fall.
What about the impact on academic skills during the last 18 months? Data is still emerging, but some have attempted to estimate the decline in achievement. Researchers suggest that kids, on average, may have acquired about 65% of the reading skills and 37–50% of the math skills they would have gained in a typical school year. Studies that look at the influence of missing instructional days have shown that crystallized intelligence decreases by 1% of a standard deviation for every 10 days of missed learning. These numbers are simply estimates, however, as many highlighted the fact that kids didn’t only miss out on instruction, they also missed out on timely assessment and the resulting feedback or adaptation to their learning that comes from knowing their level of achievement in real time. But again, individual and environmental characteristics matter. Learners with a growth mindset adapted more quickly to online learning compared to those with a fixed mindset approach. Motivated learners and those from higher socioeconomic backgrounds experienced less decline or even made gains in some cases (i.e., reading skills in higher-SES kids).
Given these concerns, how can we adjust our expectations for this school year? First, we must keep in mind that kids will be coming into this school year with widely varying degrees of achievement and learning from the past year. This exaggerated version of the typical “summer setback” will likely show wider gaps between the kids with access to food, internet, financial stability, and parental stability and those without. Kids with identified learning or mental health concerns are also likely to be further behind. Social–emotional needs may be higher across the board.
As mental health folks, we need to recognize that our assessments and interventions for the next 6–12 months have a huge asterisk beside them. We should be less confident identifying learning and behavior disorders, knowing that kids are in an ongoing period of adjustment (at best) or trauma (at worst). We can test academic and social–emotional functioning more frequently to keep a handle on kids’ evolving needs. Children will likely need more instruction and more review. Providing stability and predictability will be important. Giving kids the benefit of the doubt and being deliberate as we consider more externalizing disorders (i.e., oppositional defiant disorder) is also crucial. Our report recommendations may shift from providing numerous, long-term recommendations to making sure we are only recommending what kids and families need right now. Relatedly, we can assure families that our findings may not be permanent, and that we can help them navigate the next several months by providing updated, brief evaluations throughout the school year.
RELATED POST: Dr. Sharp discusses trauma-informed assessment
Finally, a brief word on assessment using personal protective equipment (PPE). We don’t know much about whether or how the use of PPE affects assessment results. Limited research with adults (using the Neuropsychological Assessment Battery [NAB]) showed lower scores on the Language Index but no other differences. If you’re still testing with PPE, like many of us are, try to choose the option(s) that provide the most protection for you and the client with the least amount of deviation from standardization.
Ultimately, kids going back to school is a positive step for the vast majority of us. As assessment clinicians, this is just another time for us to practice flexibility and think outside the box with our jobs. It won’t do for us to administer tests and interventions robotically—we need to be cognizant of kids’ individual needs as we do our best to support them.
RELATED POST: Assess trauma symptoms exhibited at school
Catch up with the Testing Psychologist podcast on their website, via Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, or on Spotify.
Tomorrow is Veterans Day in the U.S., a day we pause to pay tribute, honor, and thank those who have served in the branches of our armed forces.
PAR would like to sincerely thank each and every one of you who made the choice to serve our country and defend our freedom. You chose to leave familiar surroundings, family, and friends in service to your country. Your sacrifice has made a true difference in the life of every American and is a debt we can never truly repay, but we can certainly tell you just how much we value and appreciate your selflessness. It is the foundation that our country is built on.
We’d also like to give a special thanks to the members of our PAR staff who have served in our military.
Thank you for your service and thank you to all veterans on this special day!
PAR’s University Partnership Program (UPP) is dedicated to assisting you and your students as they pursue advanced degrees.
Our program consists of eight essential elements, all focused on providing you support. Take a look at our Circle of Support to learn how the UPP takes on tasks that give you time—time that you can invest in your students.
The UPP program can be used by those in a number of degree programs that teach assessment.
Many offers and services are provided under the UPP program, such as reduced time spent reviewing tests thanks to our concierge service, discounts for students and researchers, and free products. Plus, PAR guarantees your order will be shipped the same day you order it, and if you’re not completely satisfied with your purchase, you can simply return it.
Interersted in becoming part of the UPP program? Call 866.727.2884 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
PAR is proud to announce that our Executive Chairman and Founder, R. Bob Smith III, PhD, has been honored by the Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology (SCCAP), a division of the American Psychological Association (APA). SCCAP has named a new award after Dr. Smith to recognize his efforts in supporting and producing evidence-based psychological assessment measures and procedures. In a further honor, the award will be presented annually at the APA national convention, beginning at this year’s convention, Aug. 8–11 in Chicago.
The Bob Smith III, PhD Psychological Assessment Award will be given each year to an individual, a group, or an organization that has advanced the field of scientific assessment in individual psychological functioning, mental health, learning, or social and intellectual development.
Another unique feature of this award is that recipients will have the opportunity to present a workshop at the APA national convention designed to instruct practitioners in the use of a cutting-edge psychological assessment product or procedure, or on a topic clinically relevant to psychological assessment.
To ensure the award will continue in perpetuity, SCCAP, industry colleagues, and friends of Dr. Smith have created and funded an endowment. If you would like to support the Bob Smith III, PhD Psychological Assessment Award and its contribution to society, please consider a tax-deductible donation. For more information on how to contribute, please contact PAR Customer Support or call 1.800.331.8378.
Spoken by nearly 40 million people, Spanish is the second-most widely used language in the United States. For Spanish-speaking clients and students who need psychological assessment, a test in English can be a real obstacle. Options such as interpreters, translation services, or referral to outside agencies are sometimes available, but come with their own set of concerns. You can best serve the needs of your clients and students when you have the right assessment instruments. That’s why PAR is proud to introduce our new Spanish language product listing.
PAR offers more than two dozen assessment products in Spanish, available directly for purchase, that cover all categories of assessment. Please refer to this brochure as a reference for your Spanish testing needs. The brochure contains general information on each assessment product as well as information on the specific items available in Spanish. We’ve also included a link to each instrument’s product page on our website for your convenience.
We are happy to offer you this resource and hope you’ll refer to this brochure as a reference for your Spanish testing needs.