Assessing Learning Needs and Strengths
June 7, 2017 by Michelle Reynard
Determining Learning Needs and Strengths
Even when a learning difficulty is suspected early, the next steps can be unclear. Challenges can be developmental and often occur alongside other concerns. Coping strategies can mask symptoms or even create new ones. Determining what to ask and where to seek additional information can be scary and overwhelming. Consequently, many families wonder where to turn for guidance.
In previous interviews, we highlighted several assessment alternatives for specific learning challenges. Doctors Donna Geffner and Lynn Sirow addressed speech, language, and hearing challenges and the auditory processing evaluation. Dr. Nancie Spector explained the psychological assessment process and recommendations that can result. And Dr. Linda Lipstein enlightened us on how a more extensive eye exam can identify the need for vision therapy.
At Gemm Learning, for families who are curious about reading skills, we also offer an assessment. This free reading assessment measures phonemic awareness, decoding, vocabulary and comprehension.
This week we focus on an online learning assessment from Mindprint Learning. It was designed for all students, not just students with potential learning differences. This assessment can be a good option for the student who doesn’t have a learning disability, yet, for some reason, isn’t quite meeting his/her potential. The assessment aims to provide families with more information about individual learning needs and strengths.
The Founder of Mindprint Learning
Nancy Weinstein has an MBA from Harvard Business School and degrees in bioengineering and finance from the University of Pennsylvania and Wharton School of Management. She founded Mindprint Learning, along with her husband, Eric, and is the CEO. The company offers a comprehensive online assessment for parents seeking additional information about their child’s learning strengths and challenges. The one hour evaluation was developed by physicians and researchers at the University of Pennsylvania. Assessed skills include verbal, visual, and working memory, attention, abstract reasoning, and spatial perception. It does not diagnose, but can help parents make informed decisions about next steps. I recently spoke with Nancy about Mindprint’s online assessment.
On how Mindprint Learning came about…
Nancy shared that she and her husband are very similar minded, academically; however, they have two children whose minds work very differently from their own. Coming from a science background, she found this very confusing. Their oldest was doing well in school, but a trusted teacher suggested there still might be something holding her back and that more information was needed. As a result, Nancy went through the difficult process of trying to find the right professional who could provide quality results and have a rapport with her child, but the end result was disappointing. Nancy felt the information she received did not accurately describe her child. She spoke to other parents and professionals afterwards and was surprised to discover that her experience was fairly common.
They set out to create a shorter, more efficient, and less costly way for parents to confirm concerns and receive objective data. Accessibility and confidentiality, achieved by allowing students to complete the assessment at home, were also priorities. Nancy believes every parent’s dream is for their child to live up to his or her full potential. Moreover, Mindprint seeks to help them achieve this by finding out what the student needs and providing information about the appropriate support.
On the Mindprint team…
There are multiple psychologists and learning specialists on staff, and a professional looks at every student’s report.
Who can take the comprehensive assessment?
The norms go from age 8 to 21. But there are students who may not be fully ready to sit in front of the computer and follow instructions at 8 year’s old and those students should wait. Because more learning differences are currently diagnosed in middle school or high school, Mindprint hopes to highlight concerns earlier, so that they can be addressed before students miss out on some level of learning.
On what the assessment is like…
Parents are given very clear instructions and encouraged to provide reassurance, not guidance. There is a brief background questionnaire for parents about school and diagnostic history which they can either complete or bypass. Students then take a series of mini tests. Directions are spoken aloud and written on screen with an opportunity to repeat them. There are also sample questions for each section.
Uses for results…
For students who don’t have major concerns, Nancy hopes parents will help students use the strategies in their personalized toolbox. The strategies can make learning easier, homework go more quickly or memorizing a lot more efficient. In cases where it seems like a student might be struggling and need professional support, Nancy suggests [using the data] following her team’s recommendations in the report to determine the appropriate professional to visit and pinpoint what parents would like that professional to look at. If parents aren’t certain who to see in their area, they can bring the report to their pediatrician or the Child Study Team at school to decide on the best next steps.
Nancy acknowledges that the online assessment is not for everyone, and there are students who should go straight to a clinician based on the severity of concern or prominence of relevant symptoms. The assessment is not a replacement for a multi visit evaluation administered by a clinician, and a parent, who is in agreement with other assessment results, may not need an alternative. However, the Mindprint assessment can show the full potential for students who might be otherwise inhibited when evaluated by a stranger. It can also help parents understand how a child performs on medication or relative to a diagnosis.
Nancy notes that students who go through lengthy professional evaluations are expected to be reassessed every few years. She believes Mindprint can help determine if there have been significant changes before scheduling that next assessment.
On what she would like parents to understand about the comprehensive assessment…
The assessment is a tool to help them. As a psychologist and friend explained to her when discussing how to talk to her daughter about testing, “It’s a gift to objectively understand how your child learns, so you can meet him where he or she is and support them. Mindprint’s goal is to provide a path for success. There’s never an excuse for a child not to be learning and not to learn.”
As with all of our blog posts and interviews, Gemm Learning’s goal is to present parents with relevant and helpful information, not to endorse any one product or view.
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