Collaborative/therapeutic assessment in the school context : engaging students in the special education determination process



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Whereas traditional models of psychological assessment have emphasized the use of standardized data to inform treatment or communicate about a client, collaborative/therapeutic approaches have focused on engaging clients in a relationship based on mutuality and alliance, wherein the assessment process is experienced as accessible and beneficial – potentially acting as a therapeutic intervention in and of itself (Finn, 2007; Finn & Tonsager, 1997). Although various forms of collaborative assessment have been practiced with adults, adolescents, and children, and have shown promise clinically, research is scant regarding the efficacy of this approach in the school context. The dearth of research evaluating the use of collaborative/therapeutic assessment models in schools is a valuable area of inquiry, both because psychological assessment is practiced frequently in schools, and because, beginning in 1997, amendments to the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) called for increased student involvement in special education processes (Texas Education Agency, Office of Special Education, 2004). Such increased student involvement could be facilitated through the use of collaborative/therapeutic assessment methods in schools.

The present study used a multiple baseline, single-case design to explore how participation in a school-based psychological assessment utilizing elements of collaborative/therapeutic assessment would affect six Central Texas high school students. The assessment was hypothesized to be an intervention that would positively affect the youths’ perceptions of their self-determination, self-efficacy, and internal locus of control. The study also explored how the intervention affected students’ self knowledge, and feelings of therapeutic alliance with the assessor, as well as their satisfaction with the assessment. Results indicated that, following their participation in the assessment intervention, students evidenced: (1) shifts towards a more internal locus of control, (2) increased ratings of therapeutic alliance, (3) increased ratings of self knowledge, and (4) satisfaction with the assessment intervention. This study offers a promising framework for the use of collaborative/therapeutic assessment methods within the school context as a means through which to empower students receiving special education services.