To understand why our All-In! School Psychologist have been so interested and excited about the potential of making this switch, let’s take a brief look at these other models. First, let’s look at Discrepancy Model, still widely used nationally and by many of the school psychologists in our program. The Discrepancy Model compares a student’s full scale IQ score to academic test scores. If the academic tests scores are lower than the IQ score by a predetermined number (our school psychologists use 22 points, which is a frequent norm), then the student is considered eligible for services. While our school psychologist often utilize a cross-battery approach to assessment and look not just at full scale IQ, but also processing scores, does this model adequately assess whether or not a student a learning disability? I think in some cases it does; however, in the case of an intellectually gifted child, they may show a relative academic weakness based on their superior full-scale IQ, but this is not a true disability.
The Response to Intervention model focuses on student performance. If the student does not perform at a set level, the he or she is placed in an intervention group. If the student does not respond to the Tier 2 level of support after a particular time (typically six weeks), then they are either referred for evaluation or more intensive intervention. This model is often utilized in many of our schools implementing the RTI approach to intervention; however, there are many challenges for our school psychologists. Several of our psychologists ask: when students are identified for Tier 2 intervention groups, has a skill deficit been identified? Does the intervention address/target the specific area of deficit (i.e. reading fluency)? How is progress monitoring data collected? Is it collected with fidelity and does it adequately identify a student with a disability? Lastly, are practices among practitioners and schools consistent?
The Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses model generally uses cognitive evaluation, which breaks out the student performance into key areas: processing speed, ability to reason, long-term memory retrieval, short-term memory, working memory, auditory processing, and phonemic awareness. As I mentioned above in the Discrepancy model, our All-In! School psychologist also assess in all of these areas of functioning when evaluating a student for a specific learning disability; however, where our practice differs is that we don’t fully use this model to interpret student qualification for services. In order for a student to qualify under this model, the student must show a set number of cognitive strengths (often three), plus at least one cognitive weakness. The student must then additionally show an associated academic weakness in an area which matches the cognitive weakness (i.e. cognitive weakness in phonemic awareness and academic weakness in areas of reading).
The benefit of the Patterns of Strengths and Weaknesses model is that it gives those designing interventions to the student the ability to identify specific cognitive areas of weakness. Say for example that a student demonstrates a weakness in phonemic awareness. It helps the teacher have better understanding of why the student is struggling with reading fluency and better design specific strategies to address the issue. Similarly, if a student demonstrates a weakness in processing speed it informs both teachers and parents that the student will need additional time to process information before responding to questions.
Knowing about the Patterns of Strengths of Weakness not only equips our School Psychologist and other team members with a tool for Special Education identification, but it also helps us as educators understand more deeply why a student is experiencing learning challenging. Additionally, the information ascertained from the Patterns of Strength and Weaknesses evaluation helps to inform our parents as to why their child may experience difficulties in other environments and aspects of their lives. This model is something many of School Psychologists already do; however, we need to take it to the next level and begin using the model for interpretation and identification of services.
Meka Tull, Director of School Partnerships/Director of Special Education at Lighthouse and Lodestar