Student Assessments on Hold?

Schools around the country are grappling with how to fulfill their mandates to conduct assessments before the school year begins in our strange new world. In the current environment, traditional face-to-face assessments aren’t an option in many areas due to social distancing restrictions.


This means that online assessments are the only option for many. And some administrators are unenthusiastic or skeptical that those results will be as valid as traditional face-to-face assessments. This concern is causing many of these administrators to shy away from the online option.


But the concern is based primarily upon certain prevalent myths regarding the online delivery of therapy in general and the online delivery of assessments in particular. These myths have spread without consulting published research nor drawing upon the experience of clinical teams like those at Global Teletherapy that have delivered hundreds of online assessments over the past few years.


Myth #1 Technological Complications

A popular objection to or, let’s face it, “fear” of online assessments is that, since they are computer-based, the entire success or failure of the assessment rises or falls on the flawless performance of the technology. And many school administrators ask, “How can I take that chance with my students?”


Truthfully, the technical requirements of online assessments are relatively modest compared to many other online activities that most of us engage in daily. The only elements of the video communication involved in an online assessment are a webcam, video conferencing software, secure web-based programs, headsets or speakers, and an internet connection.


And yet their “fear” often boils down to two things: internet speed and connectivity. If anything could jeopardize the assessment, it is a slow connection or erratic connectivity. To assuage that fear, consider the following in determining an appropriate strategy in maintaining high internet speed and uninterrupted connection:


If the download speed is calibrated correctly, the connection should be optimal for the session and screen sharing. As a precaution, establishing an alternative connection (e.g., telephone, email) enables troubleshooting or rescheduling the session. Also, a hard-wired connection is optimal in a shared Wi-Fi environment.


Myth #2 Compromised Clinical Observations

Clinical observations are a critical component in gathering information about the student during the assessment. And it may seem difficult to grasp how this can be done effectively through a computer screen when the therapist isn’t physically present with the student.


In reality, abundant valuable information can be gleaned just as well online as in a face-to-face assessment. Either way, it’s essential to consider the student’s environment during testing, paying careful attention to details of what the student is doing vis-a-vis the environment. This includes factors such as the workspace, student’s seating, and posture, and whether there are background distractions that may create a challenge.


Take, for example, an occupational therapist assessing a child’s handwriting. By carefully placing the webcam, the therapist gains a “closer look” at different aspects of the student’s handwriting function in “real-time.” And the clinician can enhance the “real-time” assessment by obtaining writing samples to get a baseline measure of the student’s handwriting skills, especially if the student is not performing well during the assessment.


Myth #3 Sacrificing Student Engagement

Truthfully, many of the problems afflicting client engagement in the online venue are unrelated to the fact that the assessment is conducted online. These problems could exist even when the assessment is face-to-face. And many of those challenges can be solved by following some simple guidelines that will enhance client engagement.


To name but a few, these guidelines include eliminating distractions such as a barking dog or a loud sibling in the background, taking short breaks, supplying heavy doses of positive reinforcement, and ensuring that the student is comfortably seated at a desk or table with ample lighting.


Alternatively, the online venue can often help to engage the student. A perk of the virtual setting is that the student may be sitting in his/her own home, feeling more comfortable, and be quicker to engage with the clinician than in a school setting. This promotes more natural observations, making a more accurate assessment in a less obtrusive way.


The Bottom Line

Global Teletherapy has vast experience in delivering online assessments in our partner school districts throughout the country. Because of this, we feel qualified to dispel some of these common myths and bring a more seasoned perspective to this ongoing dialogue.


While it must be recognized that not every student nor every circumstance is appropriate for an online assessment, our experience at Global Teletherapy has found that the vast majority of students are excellent candidates for online assessment. Therefore, it would be an unnecessary disservice to students and their families to recommend pausing assessments during this period without giving ample consideration to those assessments that can be validly completed.