School district employees do not actually diagnose behavioral or cognitive delays: licensed medical and clinical professionals must do that. So, the term “educational diagnostician” is a bit misleading, and most school districts prefer to use the term “educational assessor” instead. Although many special education professionals are trained and qualified to assess students, they are not licensed to present a formal diagnosis to parents. Instead, they look for indicators that align with cognitive or behavioral deficits, and then use that data to address educational concerns.
School psychologists and speech and language therapists are usually the most qualified educational assessors within a school district. School psychologists can assess students for a range of problems, including learning disabilities, behavior and emotional deficits and cognitive delays. Speech and language specialists primarily assess receptive and expressive language deficits.
A Day in the Life
Depending on the size of the school district, school psychologists and speech and language specialists may work on one campus or travel to several locations. Assessors who focus on the primary grades often travel, while those working at the secondary level tend to have offices on a single campus. While their duties and schedules can vary greatly, most will spend at least some of their day managing the following responsibilities:
- Hours one and two: Conduct formal assessments. School psychologists and speech and language specialists are highly skilled in administering and interpreting formal, norm-referenced tests. Psychologists can perform a variety of assessments including cognitive (IQ) tests, social/emotional assessments and academic evaluations. Speech and language assessors usually evaluate for difficulties with receptive and expressive language.
- Hours three and four: Observe students in class. These “informal assessments” are also very valuable tools as they enable the assessor to watch the student interact in an everyday educational environment. This provides insight into behavior and response to interventions, and helps the assessor gain a clear picture of the student’s everyday academic performance. Assessors use data they collect during these observations when suggesting behavior and academic goals.
- Hours five and six: Present data in individualized education program (IEP) meetings. Assessors spend a great deal of time in meetings. In these meetings they must provide parents, teachers and administrators with copies of the data they collect during formal and informal assessments. They must also be able to explain what the numbers mean, and provide suggestions for new IEP goals that address deficits uncovered during the assessment process.
- Hours seven and eight: Provide services. Assessors manage a caseload of students whose IEPs require time meeting with a school psychologist or receiving pullout speech and language therapy. Speech and language specialists may spend more than two hours per day providing services, while psychologists often spend less time doing this; however, this varies greatly depending on the size of the school and on the number of students on the assessor’s caseload.
General Licensing Requirements
Though specific credentialing and licensing requirements vary by state, most states require educational assessors to have at least a bachelor’s degree and to complete an accredited school psychologist or speech and language preparation program. These programs embed assessment training into their curriculum, and provide opportunities for candidates to practice formal and informal assessment techniques. School psychologists can also become Nationally Certified School Psychologists (NCSP) by completing anorganized graduate program in school psychology, completing a 1,200-hour internship, successfully passing a qualifying Praxis examination and meeting the standards of the National Association of School Psychologists.
Many school psychologists and speech and language therapists have graduate degrees, although these degree are not necessarily required. In some districts, school psychologists are considered administrators; in these cases, the district may require school psychologists to have additional licenses, graduate degrees or administrative credentials.
Areas of Specialization
Educational assessors generally evaluate a wide range of students, rather than focus on a particular area of specialization. Still, there are professional development opportunities that enable them to bolster their assessment skills for students with specific needs. For example, new data about autism spectrum disorder regularly produces new and better ways to assess students, and educational professionals can always add to their testing portfolios by obtaining additional certifications.
Educational Assessors on the Career Path
Many school psychologists hold undergraduate degrees in psychology or other behavioral sciences; others enter the profession after working as special education teachers. Speech and language therapists often have similar backgrounds, although many hold undergraduate degrees in English or linguistics. Anyone interested in becoming an educational assessor should take some time to learn about students with special needs, as well as begin to familiarize themselves with the current best practices for assessing and evaluating students, including cultural sensitivity and ways to blend formal and informal evaluation.
Many educational assessors find their jobs very satisfying since these positions provide so many opportunities for new and challenging experiences. Still, many of these professionals move into administration and management roles in which they can help drive programs and services.
National Organizations of Interest
The following organizations serve the interests and needs of educational assessors: