In this second installment of our series, “My Kid Needs Testing….Now What?” we bring you two wonderful Educational Diagnosticians in our community: Stacey Cherry Hardwick, M.Ed. and Marian Hunnicutt, M.Ed. Stacey and Marian have teamed-up to bring you incredible access to two amazing brains puzzling over the testing results of your sweet child at once. It’s really wonderful that they are doing this together, you guys!
The two joined forces in 2016. As Stacey says, “We were two diagnosticians with the same educational background, and we thought two heads were better than one when assessing and diagnosing children in the community.” Logistically, Marian and Stacey each typically do part of the assessment and then collaborate to write the report, diagnosis, and accommodations. This way, they feel they can bring multiple years of classroom knowledge and experience to the evaluation, and really make sure they are as thorough as possible.
Stacey and Marian both trained at Starpoint School, the Lab School at TCU for children with learning differences. Story Stage is lucky to be an integral part of the Starpoint curriculum for the past three years, so we know first hand the value that working amongst the beautiful minds in this building can bring.
A Starpoint parent we adore recently commented that she never could have imagined the things that are coming out her son’s “sweet, beautiful mind,” after attending Starpoint and Story Stage. Her words have stuck with me…. “his sweet, beautiful mind.” Yes, indeed, sister. He does have the most sweet, beautiful mind; and\ how blessed we are to be a part of it.
There are many people who have nurtured the sweet, beautiful minds at Starpoint School, and we hope to introduce you to many of them. This week we start with Stacey Cherry Hardwick and Marian Hunnicutt:
What does an Educational Diagnostician actually do? Don’t psychologists do some of the same testing?
An educational diagnostician is a former teacher that has taken specialized classes at the graduate level, and become certified to assess and work with students with learning problems. Yes, psychologists also assess children using some of the same assessment measures that we do. However, psychologists are trained to work with children who have behavior or emotional problems, in addition to their learning issues. As educational diagnosticians we often work closely with psychologists whenever this is the case.
What kinds of students can benefit from being tested by an Educational Diagnostician?
Any student could potentially benefit from receiving a psycho-educational assessment because the results provide a pattern of strengths and weaknesses that gives parents and educators information about how a student learns. Typically, though, we evaluate students who are experiencing academic difficulties. Most students have had ongoing struggles, or have not responded well to academic intervention in a specific academic area when they decide to reach out to us.
You both trained as teachers at Starpoint School, a school in Fort Worth for students aged 6 - 12 years with learning differences. In what ways has that experience shaped your practice?
Marian and I both earned our masters degrees while teaching at Starpoint School. This was the foundation to our journey as educators, and ultimately what led us both to a career as educational diagnosticians. There, we learned how vital it is to monitor the academic progress of students with learning differences every year. That’s how you know that the intervention is working and that appropriate progress is taking place! For me, seeing students thrive in such a unique environment sparked my interest in going back to school for my educational diagnostician certification. Without the specialized training Marian and I received at Starpoint, neither of us would be where we are today.
Will your testing tell me if my child is autistic?
No. Although we can let you know if there are red flags for Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), we are not qualified to diagnose ASD. A psychiatrist, psychologist, pediatric neurologist, or developmental pediatrician will be able to make an ASD diagnosis.
Someone said my child needs “dyslexia testing.” What is that? Can you do that?
So, let’s start with defining dyslexia. Here’s a very formal definition:
“Dyslexia is a specific learning disability that is neurological in origin. It is characterized by difficulties with accurate and/or fluent word recognition and by poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties typically result from a deficit in the phonological component of language that is unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the provision of effective classroom instruction. Secondary consequences may include problems in reading comprehension and reduced reading experience that can impede growth of vocabulary and background knowledge.” (Adopted by the IDA 13 Board, November 2002. This definition is also used by the National Institutes of Child Health and Human Development [NICHE; 2002]).
In plain English, that means dyslexic students have trouble processing letters and sounds. That usually means it’s hard to break words apart into individual sounds, like “big” = b + i + g. And it’s even harder to see a word, assign sounds to all those letters, and blend them into a word. When we diagnosis dyslexia, we gather information from family history, teachers, and observations in addition to the actual testing. Once we see your student for testing, we first test to determine his cognitive functioning. Next, in order to assess specific areas of academics, we include a broad battery of achievement testing. Finally, to identify dyslexia or a specific reading disorder, we use specific tests of phonological processing and orthographic processing that are an essential part of the testing battery.
What are your top 3 recommendations for a parent of a child with a learning difference?
You are your child's biggest advocate. Educate yourself on your child’s specific learning difference and don’t be afraid to ask questions of her teacher and school.
Be consistent with your child and follow the recommendations of the evaluation, teacher, school, and therapist.
Be patient with your child. Set clear boundaries, but be careful not blame her for being lazy or unmotivated. She may truly be struggling, and sometimes it is best to find another person to help rather than taking it all on yourself.
What do you enjoy most about testing students?
Working with families and helping them find the “best fit” school, academic therapist, or game plan is the best part of what we do. We love to help alleviate the stress in family life and help a child become a kid again.
Do you think having been a teacher helps you when evaluating a child?
Yes, definitely! Having taught for many years gives us the ability to understand the teacher’s perspective, the parent's perspective and the student’s perspective. Being able to visualize what a student with a specific profile looks like in class is invaluable when determining what recommendations and accommodations might be most effective for success.
In what ways do you work with teachers in helping to implement accommodations in the classroom?
We are always happy to meet with a student’s teachers to help explain the results of the evaluation, as well as the recommended accommodations. This team approach allows the teacher and/or administrators to ask questions, discuss additional accommodations specific to the child’s classroom or curriculum, and to establish a game plan for success. It is also helpful for us to hear from teachers in terms of which accommodations they feel work best for different learning challenges.
A FEW QUESTIONS FROM PARENTS:
My fourth grader goes to a public school, and we requested that he be tested because he is struggling to organize his ideas for writing. He was screened, but the school said they do not think he needs to be tested right now. Would it help us to have you test him?
Public schools in Texas are required to use a Response to Intervention (RTI) framework to determine if a child needs testing. This process can take time and may ultimately end in the school determining that the student does not need a full evaluation. If you have a concern and believe that your child has a learning difference, go ahead and have her tested. Early intervention is key. Ultimately, you do not want your child to struggle in school and miss out on appropriate accommodations needed to reach her highest potential.
It makes me nervous for my child to have a formal diagnosis. I don’t want her labelled, and I’m not sure I want to go the medication route. Should I have her tested?
Don’t be afraid of a formal diagnosis. Teachers love to know how students learn and can provide the best intervention in the classroom with a full evaluation. An evaluation also gives you, the parent, insight into your child’s rights and how to support her at home. If your child needs accommodations, you will alleviate frustration by learning more about her strengths and relative weaknesses. Medication is not the “right” choice for everyone. When other interventions have been exhausted and your child continues to struggle with ADHD, medication can be a great tool; but it is not the answer to all academic achievement problems. Remember that only a medical doctor can diagnose and prescribe medication.
I have a junior in high school, and he has already taken the SAT. We’ve never had him tested, but suspect he may have ADHD. Is it too late to have him tested? How could we help him at this point?
Although the majority of students with an attention disorder are diagnosed in childhood, some students are able to compensate when they are younger. However, they may then “hit a wall” in terms of being able to manage the increased demands of high school. If a high school student is demonstrating symptoms associated with ADHD, it is definitely not too late to have him tested. If a psycho-educational evaluation is performed and results indicate a high probability of ADHD, then a consult with a psychiatrist would be recommended to confirm the diagnosis and make recommendations. An older student with ADHD would likely be struggling with executive function. Executive skills are processes that allow a student to self-monitor and manage his resources in order to achieve a goal. They are the neurologically-based skills involving mental control and self-regulation. Older students with ADHD who are preparing for college or work can benefit greatly from executive skills coaching. Because the symptoms of ADHD frequently persist into adulthood, learning to manage attention difficulties through coaching, counseling, or self-education can have a positive impact on all areas of person’s life.
THANK YOU STACEY AND MARIAN!! Be sure to check back next Monday when we will take you Christmas shopping with us! Get in on the best games and books that make learning fun!