Coronavirus and Schools: Resuming Evaluations
As our county has transitioned into the “yellow” phase, in terms of COVID-19 imposed restrictions, we are hoping that our school psychologists may resume in-person assessments for the evaluation process. Although this procedure would entail mitigating measures, such as social distancing precautions and the wearing of face masks, we would like to be able to complete evaluations during the summer months, as long as our county remains in the yellow phase, or even transitions to the coveted green stage. Could you please provide your insight regarding this plan, as well as your expert advice?
This issue is on many of your minds. Many private evaluators, even in “red” counties, began offering independent evaluations earlier this month, prompting demands from a few parent attorneys either for LEA-provided in-person evaluations or for IEEs if those evaluations were refused. We struggle with the idea that direct testing and assessment during which both examiner and child are wearing masks, are at a distance of six feet, or are separated by Plexiglas will comply with standardization requirements for most norm-referenced instruments. The private evaluators and parent attorneys who are arguing for testing under these conditions appear to believe that testing meets standardization as long as the condition in question is not expressly prohibited by the publisher’s manual. Of course, most test publishers do not bother to prohibit administering their tests while standing on your head, or swinging from a chandelier, or facing in the opposite direction and looking at the child in a mirror. The likelihood is that administering the test under those conditions would not yield a valid or reliable result. It is near certain that in field studies of most standardized instruments, examiners did not wear masks or require the child to do so and did not work with six feet of separation or with Plexiglas screening between themselves and the child.
Equally certain is that obscuring a child’s face with a mask will limit the ability to accurately assess any task requiring oral accuracy and that masking the examiner and requiring either a barrier of six feet of separation will adversely affect the ability of the child to understand the standardized verbal prompts. Presentation of manipulatives or stimulus objects or picture will also be impaired. Many children—particularly those with sensory issues—will resist wearing a mask or be highly distracted by the conditions.
Nevertheless, we recommend that LEAs wishing to proceed with testing in accordance with CDC guidelines contact the test publishers to determine whether these guidelines are consistent with their test administration recommendations. The IDEA, after all, requires only that tests be administered in a manner consistent with the recommendations of the test publisher and that, if they are not, the non-conformity be acknowledged in the evaluation or reevaluation report. If the publishers do not respond definitively (hard to imagine they could), you should assume that you are administering tests under non-standardized conditions and should acknowledge that fact both in the permission to evaluate or reevaluate and in the evaluation report and reevaluation report.
We recommend that the permission include the following statement:
To comply with safety guidelines of the Centers of Disease Control, the following tests will be administered under conditions that will not or might not conform with the standardized criteria: _________________________________________. These conditions might include, protective masks on both the child and the examiner, adherence to safe distancing, and use of Plexiglas shielding. The inability to adhere to standardized criteria could affect the validity and reliability of the results.
The ER or RR should include, with the discussion of the results of each test administered in non-standardized format, the following:
Adherence to infectious disease safety precautions required administration of this test under conditions that were either inconsistent with the recommendations of the test publisher or that violated standardized conditions. Any results must be interpreted cautiously and any recommendations based on this testing must be considered provisional.
If observations during testing give any reason to doubt the results, the examiner should not report standard scores, percentiles, or any other score derived from the base rate data of the test. Test responses should be reported anecdotally and used in that manner when making recommendations. Teams should refrain from using such testing to diagnose a child either as ID or SLD, although using another label provisionally is possible. The label selected should not depend on the ability to compare standard scores—as ID and SLD do. The redoubtable OHI comes to mind.