The What, Why and When of Assessment-Level Tools

In settings where children have elevated risk for developmental-behavioral problems and where longitudinal progress monitoring is needed, screening tools are less than optimal, given their emphasis on cutoff scores (e.g., refer/don’t refer) and minimal ability to view strengths and weaknesses fully. Diagnostic tools are often too expensive and time consuming because they generally require a professional multidisciplinary team: And, use of diagnostic tools, is not only a bottle-neck to swiftly ensuring access to programs, but rarely needed when the immediate issues are monitoring progress and confirming whether or not a child is eligible for services.  A more cost-effective approach is to use assessment-level tools.

Assessment-level tools:

  • Present more items at once than do screens
  • Ensure that strengths and weaknesses in skills are probed
  • Offer scores in a range of domains
  • Typically include ways to monitor progress
  • Provide a continues metric, typically age-equivalent scores (as opposed to binary cutoff scores used in screens or the static metric of quotients which tend not to change over time)
  • Enable use of a wide and richer range of statistics for research studies
  • Take less time and thus cost less than diagnostic measures
  • Do not require sophisticated, multi-disciplinary teams to administer (e.g., a psychologist, speech-language pathologist, physical therapist, etc.)
  • Can be administered in much less time than diagnostic tools, although they do require a bit more time than screening measures, i.e., 30 - 45 minutes is common for assessment-level measures, while screens are typically 5 - 10 minutes, and diagnostic measures usually require 1/2 to 1 full day.