I served as a state senator in the Utah Legislature from 2012 to 2016. Utah is a local control state and very sensitive to government overreach in schools. During that time, the battle over the Common Core and the role and frequency of assessment in the classroom was at its political peak.
I remember sitting in our public education committee meetings, reeling over the fact that our students appeared to be spending way too much time being tested and too little time learning. That pendulum continues to swing back and forth politically, as policymakers figure out how to use assessments in the most effective and beneficial ways for students in the classroom.
Since then my own knowledge of the assessment industry has dramatically increased, and my attitude about the potential uses and positive impact of clinical and classroom assessments has fundamentally changed. I now understand how important high-quality, valid and reliable clinical assessments (such as aptitude, ability, cognitive behavioral, emotional, and other psychological assessments) can be when used at the right time, in the right frequency and for the right purpose — to help students maximize educational outcomes and to inform effective education policy in every community and state.
Today, I lead a team of assessment experts at Pearson Clinical Assessments. I now have a much deeper understanding of the various types of assessment, from behavioral, cognitive and intelligence assessments to various learning progress assessments. Each of these tools is critical to helping educators, administrators and policymakers maximize the potential to help students while achieving a higher return on investment in educational budget dollars each year. The value of clinical assessments has become much more compelling to me as a policymaker than ever before.
That’s because there is long-term, positive academic and economic impact from using assessments to ensure prevention and early intervention. Just properly screening and identifying students at risk for dyslexia to ensure access to early intervention can directly influence the school-to-prison pipeline.
At the end of the day, every student brings diverse social, emotional, mental and intellectual barriers and gifts when they come to school. A one-size-fits-all policy just doesn’t work for many students. As policymakers, we need to understand the needs, abilities, challenges and barriers (social, mental and emotional) for each student as cost effectively as we can to achieve the best possible academic outcomes. Data from clinical assessments helps families and leaders understand these needs.
In that context, I ask the question: What is the role of clinical assessment in the formulation and implementation of effective educational policy? The data from these assessments — behavioral, emotional and cognitive — can help identify the interaction between school, student and societal factors that positively or negatively impact achievement. Clinical assessments answer not just the “what,” but also the “why” in understanding the unique needs and challenges facing each child.
By focusing on policies that use these assessments to find and cater to the unique needs of all children, state policymakers can produce actionable data that guides policy development and implementation for maximum return on investment of educational dollars. I look forward to talking more about this at the National Forum on Education Policy.