The Power of Psychological Testing
The main purpose of psychological testing is to gain a better understanding of a person and her/his behavior. The goals of psychological assessment are to better understand a person’s strengths and weaknesses, identify potential problems with cognitions, emotional reactivity, and make recommendations for treatment/remediation.
All types of psychological evaluations measure an individual’s functioning at a specific point in time and provide a “snapshot” of a person. Almost all psychological testing is administered by a licensed psychologist (or trainee) and is a formal process that requires extensive training and expertise. Psychologists are the only professionals that are expertly trained in administering and interpreting psychological tests.
Psychological testing is not one single test, but a series of scientifically developed tests and procedures that assess various aspects of a person’s psychological functioning.
Tele-Assessment During COVID-19
Given the recent pandemic, Dr. Corelli has expanded his practice into tele-assessment, and has been conducting the majority of his evaluations remotely. Adapting to remote administration was an extremely time-intensive process, and he spent countless hours in technical training, as well as specific training in telepsychology, pragmatics of tele-assessment, and ethics for telepsychology.
At present, several treatment programs and many families are opting for remote versus in-person administration due to COVID-19. Tele-assessment allows us to provide this critical service at a time when in-person testing is not possible or advisable. Another advantage of tele-assessment is that it offers greater flexibility in terms of administration times and number of testing sessions available to the student.
One of the downsides of tele-assessment is, of course, that testing was originally designed to be a face-to-face endeavor. Tests were developed and normed in this modality and, until recently, little research has examined the validity and reliability of tele-assessment methods. And though the virtual versus in-person assessment issue seems like a very recent problem, mental health professionals have grappled with this issue for many years, particularly in regards to providing access to much-needed services in rural or otherwise underserved areas. Given the COVID-19 crisis, tele-health is now being used much more extensively and clinicians and researchers are attempting to catch up to this demand. The good news is that emerging research is supporting the validity of many widely use tests of cognitive, academic, and psychological functioning. Furthermore, testing companies are releasing guidelines and tips for virtual administration of their measures.
One of the things I have done to replicate face-to-face testing has been to use technology to my advantage. For example, my office space is provided very high speed, fiber optic internet access, which assures me of seamless testing from a technical perspective. I use high definition microphones, high definition webcams, and HIPAA compliant video conferencing software to administer the tests. I have found this to be extremely helpful in providing the clearest sound and picture throughout the testing. Ensuring this happens on the child’s end is equally important.
There are several considerations to take into account when determining whether a tele-assessment is appropriate. First, some tests are simply not suited for this type of administration and some are impossible. Some testing companies have advised against administering their tests virtually or require multiple cameras and facilitators for valid administration, which is often not logistically feasible. As always, my goal remains to administer appropriate, valid, and reliable testing. Remote administration should never come at the cost of ethics or integrity. Privacy and test security must be maintained, we must only take on clients that are appropriate for this type of assessment.
I am encouraged that the testing companies and other agencies have been so supportive throughout this process. Furthermore, I abide by and follow the guidance provided by the American Psychological Association with regard to tele-assessment during the COVID-19 pandemic, which can be found on the APA website.
Dr. Todd's Comprehensive Evaluation
Interviews – Unstructured or semi-structured conversations with the client, caregivers, teachers, and other individuals familiar with the client. Interviews allow observation of social, language, and communication skills.
Norm-Referenced Measures – These are tests that are standardized (“normed”) over clearly defined groups with representative characteristics of age, gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, or other features. These tests allow us to compare the client we are assessing with a broader “normal” group (e.g., comparing this teenager with the “average” teenager).
Behavioral Observations – Observing the client’s behavior during the assessment and, when possible, in his or her natural environment such as the classroom, home, playground, etc.
Informal Assessment Procedures – These adjuncts supply supplementary information to support formal test procedures and may include things such as school records, standardized test scores (SAT/ACT), medical records, informal background questionnaires, and personal documents.
Testing is An Art
There are many nuances to testing, and although much of it is technical and standardized, there is an art to testing as well. It is, in fact, the art of testing that has always been my love. The art of assessment includes, among other things, encouraging the young person to open up to you in a short amount of time, and talk with you about deeply personal, often painful issues. Quickly developing rapport and trust are critical to the quantity and quality of information you can get and are key in providing the child with a positive assessment experience. The art of testing involves recognizing patterns that you’ve seen so many times before and knowing how those patterns fit within the context of this particular child’s history. It includes observing considerable nonverbal communication, such as body language, facial expressions, and mood changes. There is an art to synthesizing data, clinical observations, and collateral information in a way that captures, yet does not over-pathologize, a child’s difficulties. The art of assessment extends beyond the testing session itself, and includes how you communicate the findings to the readers and how you translate testing results into useful recommendations and interventions for the child and family.
When all is said and done, we test because we want to know how to best help this particular child or young adult, and this is where my heart has always been. It is why I have spent so much time recently, trying as best I can, to replicate the process of face-to-face testing. What I have discovered and been pleasantly surprised by is that many young people find this type of video interaction to be quite natural, as this is how they’ve been interacting with their peers for most of their lives. For most of the cases I’ve worked with so far, I have found that the art of testing has not been lost like I initially worried it might be. The kids I have tested this way have been remarkably open, comfortable, and engaged. There have been moments of intimacy marked by laughing, tears, and talking about painful issues. I’m pleased that virtual testing has preserved genuine human connection.