Sometimes, a child struggles in school. While a little bit of struggling is part of learning, as a child often has to grapple with new material to learn and advance his skills, there is often a point at which the child feels overwhelmed and is clearly not able to achieve results commensurate with his or her potential. While in the past, such situations were usually blamed on the child's laziness or, worse, his or her stupidity, today, we are enlightened enough about learning disabilities to understand that a child's learning issues may interfere with his or her ability to learn. These learning issues can include, but aren't limited to, dyslexia and ADHD, and other issues such as autistic spectrum disorder. Such issues are common--even among very bright students.
When to Have Your Child Evaluated
If you believe that your child has a chronic problem learning that may be in part because of a learning issue, you may choose to have your child evaluated professionally. When considering whether to have your child evaluated, you should consult with the teachers and professionals at his or her school, including the school psychologist and learning specialist. While these professionals cannot diagnose your child without an evaluation, they might be able to tell you whether it's a good idea to have your child evaluated and if there is enough evidence to make an evaluation worthwhile. You may be able to have the evaluation conducted by the local school board, or you may ask your private school for the names of private evaluators.
What an Educational Evaluation Measures
An educational evaluation measures a child's potential against his or her academic achievements. Children are given an intelligence test, such as the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), which has verbal, perceptual, and other sub-tests. In addition, the evaluator administers achievement tests to measure the child's achievement in different academic areas. The evaluation often also includes separate tests of cognitive functions, such as attention, memory, and executive functioning, which refers to the ability to plan and execute one's work. The evaluation can include tests of other cognitive functions and also some measures of the child's emotional functioning. The purpose of these tests is never punitive; instead, the tests look in a standardized way at the child's cognitive and emotional functioning in a humane attempt to understand how the child learns, what might be getting in his or her way, and how to help him or her learn better and improve. A good evaluation considers the child in a holistic way; rather than just numbers or test results, a child is an individual who is affected not only by his or her cognitive functions but also his or her environment and emotions.
The Results of an Evalution
An evaluation should conclude with a set of recommendations about how your child's teachers can help him or her improve. The evaluation should document the nature of your child's disabilities and, if warranted, request accommodations, or changes in the curriculum that are specifically tailored to your child's learning issues. Private schools that don't receive federal or state money aren't required to grant accommodations, but many schools offer reasonable accommodations based on the results of evaluations, such as extended time on tests or use a computer to write essays, for students with documented learning issues. Many private schools have psychologists and learning specialists on staff who can help students with learning issues organize their work and refine their study skills. The goal of these supports is not to imply that your child can't learn but instead to help your child learn how to remediate or improve his or her areas of weakness and to function independently over time.