School psychologists play a vital role in identifying preschool students who may need special education supports and services. Preschool evaluation and assessment can be complex and challenging because many of the characteristics that are typical for preschool children can make assessment difficult.
A Collaborative Assessment Process
The preschool evaluation process should always be collaborative with other members of early childhood service teams including the school psychologist, speech and language pathologist, occupational therapist, general education teacher, special education teacher, and parents. Multiple assessors may be observing or taking turns interacting with the child within the same assessment time window.
The Preschool Evaluation Timeline
While procedures are similar across the nation, specific processes and methods vary, so it’s important for school psychologists to adhere to their state and district’s methods for evaluating young children for special education services.
In the state of California, for example, children who have received Regional Center services will need to have their school-based evaluation and IEP meeting completed before their third birthday. School psychologists will also need to collaborate with the Regional Center service coordinator to receive previous reports from the child’s past assessors, doctors, and service providers. These results will be summarized in the school-based psychoeducational report as well. After the child turns three, the school district will then provide required special education services for the child.
Methods for Preschool Assessment and Evaluation
In California, a comprehensive and thorough preschool assessment should evaluate multiple domains, including: cognitive/early academic, adaptive, social-emotional, communication, and fine and gross motor. Information should be gathered from multiple sources and using the RIOT model (record review, interviews, observations, and testing). Social, behavioral, and learning observations may take place at a designated classroom/playroom at the assessing school, and also at the child’s current preschool.
The child’s parents and current teachers will be valuable sources for interviews and rating scale data. A comprehensive evaluation like this will allow for the identification of a student’s strengths and weaknesses across all developmental areas. School psychologists are typically in charge of the evaluation in the cognitive, adaptive, and social-emotional areas. Below are some suggestions on assessments that can be administered in each of these areas:
- DAYC-2: Offers parent and teacher input forms in all five domains (cognitive, adaptive, social-emotional, communication, and motor) as well as observation tools.
- DP-3: Offers parent and teacher input forms in all five domains (cognitive, adaptive, social-emotional, communication, and motor).
- BASC-3 (overall functioning)
- ASRS, GARS-3, or CARS-2 (autism-specific)
This list is not meant to be exhaustive, but rather to serve as suggestions for common assessments used in preschool evaluations.
For more information, see NASP’s position statement on assessing young children and this link for more assessment recommendations.
Thanks for reading our resource on preschool special education assessment and evaluation. We hope it is a useful addition to your school psychologist toolkit.
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