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Breaking Down Dynamic Assessments

The Alternative to Standardized Assessments

With Spring Break just around the corner, April will be here before we know it! With April comes the assessment period for Wolf School students. During assessments, Occupational Therapists and Speech and Language Pathologists assess any student with OT or speech goals. This is done to assess the student’s current skill level and determine goals for the next school year.

As a parent of a Complex Learner, you understand the importance of assessments but it’s natural to have some questions or even concerns. Many Complex Learners struggle with test taking due to processing speed, auditory issues, anxiety, or a variety of other reasons. You might ask yourself if your child struggles with test taking, how can an assessment accurately reflect their skill level? 

Typically, standardized assessments have been the go-to practice. But as the American Speech & Hearing Association (ASHA) explains, “assessing individuals…can be complex because they bring unique cultural and linguistic identities that don’t fit one mold.” In response to this, a new type of assessment has been growing in popularity in contrast to standardized assessment – the dynamic assessment. We spoke with Speech and Language Pathologist, Jay Still to learn more about dynamic assessment. 

Dynamic vs. Standardized

Dynamic assessment is an alternative to standardized assessment. While both assessment types are used to gather critical information about a student’s progress, a dynamic assessment uses a combined approach of individualized modifications. These modifications, which we’ll dive into below, are not permitted in a standardized assessment. This is something that many see as a pitfall of standardized assessments because every student, regardless of diagnoses or learning preferences, is expected to be able to access the information in the same way. 

Breaking Down Dynamic Assessment

With standardized assessment, there are specific instructions that must be followed such as not rephrasing any of the questions, only reading the instructions once, etc. Each student is given the assessment in the exact same way. 

Dynamic assessments, on the other hand, allow for more flexibility so the assessment can be adapted to the student’s needs and allow the skill in question to be focused on. Below are examples of the modifications allowed during dynamic assessments. 

  • Repeat or reword directions

Dynamic assessment allows the student to be able to access the material in a way that works for them, so if students need to hear the directions more than once or have the directions explained in a new way, that’s allowed. 

  • Modify or add

The OT or SLP doing the assessment is able to add additional practice items, give examples, rephrase the question, or ask a question relevant to the student that targets the same skill. This allows the focus to be on a specific skill, like word processing, but judges that skill in a way that allows the student to be able to showcase their ability. 

  • Record

Dynamic assessment allows staff to record responses for the student or allows the student to explain their response to elaborate on what they were thinking. This allows for responses to be looked at on a deeper level to see if the target skill is being understood.

  • Evaluate accuracy

During a standardized assessment, students might lose points if an answer isn’t grammatically correct. This isn’t the case with a dynamic assessment. The list of appropriate responses isn’t limited and students are able to receive credit for any amount of accurate responses. 

All of these modifications allow staff to identify the skills that students need to continue to work on but equally important, dynamic assessment can also be used to highlight the best method of instruction going forward because the staff is able to see what modifications helped the student access the material. 

The Results

With standardized assessments come standard scores. This can sometimes be viewed as only part of a student’s story because it’s just a number. Dynamic assessments do not use standard scores but instead offer a narrative explaining the findings. This can be seen as a more accurate representation of a student’s skill. 

Having a narrative as opposed to just a standard number can also be very beneficial for parents. This allows families to really understand what specific goals their child is doing well with and what areas continue to be a challenge. Not only does this allow for a deeper understanding of the results but it also gives parents a chance to celebrate their child’s progress!

With dynamic assessment continuing to be brought to the forefront, there’s no doubt this style of assessment will continue to grow in popularity at Wolf and beyond. 

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