The “Why” of Ecological Assessment

A child in a Rifton Pacer looks at a communication device with his therapist.In 2004, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) was reauthorized with language that supports participation in the natural environment. This has challenged school professionals to use the natural environment as a basis for evaluation, using activities that occur in those learning environments as the focus of our goals, objectives and interventions, and to measure and describe outcomes within the context where those activities occur. . . It is important for professionals to make the connection between students’ performance and their ability to participate in school-related routines that are aligned with classroom expectations and are age-appropriate.1

The intersection between participation and performance as articulated by International Classification of Functions (CIF) can be evaluated using a top-down approach. A top-down approach is preferred because it supports the student’s need to engage in a situation and the design of interventions that will support the student’s mastery of meaningful tasks to support engagement in that situation or activity.

By focusing on participation and assessing the impact of environmental and personal factors on participation, the ICF framework provides a foundation for school-based evaluation. Leveraging the student’s environment and personal factors can facilitate access and participation in the school environment, meeting IDEA mandates. Additionally, the ICF supports a holistic view of the student; Its application can broaden the focus of evaluation; distancing it from the student’s health condition to support greater possibilities for participation in educational experiences and achieving educational benefits. Use of the ICF can support the provision of services and supports based on a student’s functional profile rather than administrative categories or medical diagnoses.2

Because learning environments are complicated by a multitude of factors such as the number of students, the type of programming and curriculum, as well as changing expectations and inclusion, your evaluation must understand what makes a classroom tick. , how the student interacts with the teacher and staff and vice versa, the student’s ability to access the environment and the curriculum, their level of commitment to classroom expectations, and the sense of being included in that environment. The ecological assessment is the perfect option. “Ecological Assessments have a focus on both the environment and the student. Ecological Assessments study the nature of all behaviors that must be reinforced in a particular environment and the specific circumstances under which those behaviors must occur. “Then compare these requirements to the student’s skills and experiences.”3

The concepts of ecological assessment come from the work of Urie Bronfenbrenner, a developmental psychologist and father of ecological theory. He posits that child development is the intersection of concentric systems of influence that become more complex as the child develops: the microsystem, the mesosystem, the exosystem, and the macrosystem. The microsystem, the closest to the student and the most influential, includes the immediate family, teachers and classroom staff, teaching practices, the classroom ecology, and the two-way relationships within that system. The mesosystem includes the student’s interactions with those events and staff members outside of the classroom. The exosystem is formed by the climate and inclusion of the school and by those who influence the ecology of the classroom. The macrosystem is composed of cultural contexts and the socioeconomic status of the student and his or her ethnic origin or race. “The important developmental indicator for assessing children’s growth is how their behavior develops to match or more closely approximate that of others within the social and cultural contexts (systems) in which they would naturally be participants.”4 Bronfenbrenner’s ecological theory recognizes the quality and context of a child’s environment and its impact on his or her development.

Applying concepts from ecological theory to school practice challenges us to think differently about how to approach assessment. IDEA, the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) mandate, and the focus on inclusion reinforce the need for a paradigm shift regarding the evaluation of students with disabilities for special education and related services. To support the LRE, potential barriers to inclusion must be identified. Literature Identify childhood factors and environmental factors. that can present challenges to the success of inclusion.5 Student participation in inclusive environments should influence how we assess and instruct, plan and deliver services; therefore, assessment should be conducted through ongoing assessment of a student participating in typical activities and routines.6

A child standing on a Rifton Prone Stander, using a communication device with his therapist.The United States, along with many other countries, adopted inclusion as a standard of educational practice in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in 2006.7 Despite support for inclusive practice, one challenge that remains is the preferred method of assessing children with standardized psychometric diagnostic tests. These tests can influence students’ rankings by making presuppositions about what they can and cannot do. This type of assessment is based on a medical deterioration model and a static “how we’ve always done it” model, resulting in an assessment that may not be useful for educational planning. “Psychometric tests may be valid in determining dysfunction, but their validity in determining educational needs may be questioned.”7

When we begin to look at the needs of our students in relation to what they are expected to do in relation to their peers and their environment, we begin to examine how students interact with those who teach and support them. We begin to look at what the student can do in relation to his or her peers and their expectations, and examine barriers to engagement and achievement. We look at students’ personal factors and how those factors impact learning, access, and participation. This approach helps us look beyond the student’s disability or medical diagnosis and embrace the role of related service provider, using corrective, developmental, and supportive services to strengthen student access, participation, and benefits in the learning environment. Introduce the application of the ICF and the interrelationships within the framework domains; Ecological theory fits with the application of ICF since both examine the student’s interaction with the environment and the people in that environment, knowing that these factors influence growth and development.

See Part 2: The “What” of Ecological Assessment and Part 3: The “How” of Ecological Assessment.

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