By:  Carol Kramer, Northeast Regional Representative for WSPA

           Many years ago the Wyoming State Department of Education requested feedback from some of us in the trenches regarding the Chapter 7 Rules and Regulations Governing Services for Children with Disabilities.  At the time, it didn’t take me too long to create an extensive list of feedback, as the special education paperwork was not understandable by all in the state and the language used in the paperwork was terribly confusing.  I honestly cannot remember if the SDE solicited feedback from every school district in the state or if they had asked for feedback from the WSPA board members.  I do recall, however, that I was extremely excited to correct some of the semantic errors in the special education paperwork to reflect what we were actually doing in our schools; consequently, my suggestion regarding the difference between an ‘assessment’ and an ‘evaluation’ was put up for discussion. 

           The SDE had used the terms ‘assessment’ and ‘evaluation’ interchangeably and it was quite apparent to me, and other school psychologists, that the terms referenced different procedures.  If a person wanted to find a synonym for the word ‘evaluate’, the word ‘assess’ would immediately surface and vice versa.  I’m sure that’s why the SDE used those words interchangeably ~ they looked for synonyms and used them accordingly, whether that was ‘evaluate’ or ‘assess’.  I do believe that there are subtle differences between the two words and fortunately the SDE was agreeable to those differences. 

           My computer, which happens to be a rather old laptop, produced the following synonyms for ‘evaluate’: assess, appraise, estimate, calculate, weigh, value, etc.  The following synonyms were created for the word, ‘assess’: measure, evaluate, judge, weigh, calculate, consider, etc.  I personally believe that an ‘evaluation’ is what we do when we ‘appraise’ all of the past testing done with a student, put a ‘value’ on that past assessment, and then ‘weigh’ all of that data as to whether the student requires any additional testing.  If the decision is made to complete further ‘assessment’, then we set out to ‘measure’ the student’s skills, ‘calculate’ the various standard scores and scaled scores, ‘consider’ the student’s strengths and weaknesses, and then make a ‘judgement’ as to whether the student requires special education services. 

           As was recently stated in a previous blog for this website, Scot McGuire shared that a re-evaluation is not always necessary for a student who has been in special education.  Sometimes a comprehensive review of records and input from a special education teacher, parents, and even the student is enough of an evaluation to make the decision that no additional assessment needs to be completed with the student.  I do believe that his perspective on this matter is summed up very well when he wrote, “A good place to start is by asking the teacher, student, and parents if they continue to have concerns.  Based on the stated concerns how are they being addressed?  Would additional information in the form of an assessment, change how the IEP services would address the concerns?”

I have spent countless hours reviewing high school students’ files weighing the past test results, only to suggest that further assessment be completed.  When we went into the assessment phase, I knew the students quite well from my review and I knew what I was trying to assess because I had extensive background information on those students. 

In this day and age where there seems to be a huge shortage of school psychologists nationwide, it makes very good sense for us to take the time to ‘evaluate’ whether ‘assessment’ is necessary for our students.