A comparison of the traditional, standardized assessment model with the transdisciplinary, arena assessment model in early childhood special education

Myers, Carl
Major Professor
Susan L. McBride
Daniel J. Reschly
Committee Member
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Early childhood special education services have typically adopted traditional assessment methods, namely, multidisciplinary or interdisciplinary teams using standardized tests. Numerous disadvantages of the traditional assessment approach for infants and toddlers are cited in the literature. In recent years, the transdisciplinary, arena assessment model has started to gain popularity in this country. Unfortunately, empirical evidence to support the use of the alternative assessment method is sparse. This study randomly assigned children under the age of three years to one of two assessment models: a traditional, standardized assessment model or a transdisciplinary, arena assessment model. Parents' and professional staff members' perceptions were obtained on a variety of issues surrounding the evaluations. Ratings were high for both models. The arena assessment approach was found to have significantly higher ratings on certain variables. In the arena assessment group, parents' post-evaluation ratings were significantly higher than pre-evaluation expectations, suggesting their expectations were more than met. Parents' ratings also indicated they felt freer to ask questions during the arena evaluation and the goals identified were what they perceived as important. The professional staff rated the arena evaluations as providing significantly more information on communication, social, and motor skills than the standardized evaluations. Two disciplines in particular, Speech and Language Pathologists and School Psychologists, rated the arena evaluations as more valuable than standardized assessment procedures. The number of days to complete the evaluations and the time spent on arena evaluations by staff members was significantly less using the arena assessment model. Greater congruency in assessing a child's developmental skills was found with the arena assessment model as evidenced by higher levels of agreement on the developmental ratings and many more significant correlations between pairs of raters. The assessment reports generated by the arena evaluations resulted in significantly higher ratings of functional utility compared to traditional assessment reports. Due to the disadvantages of standardized assessment procedures for young children described in the literature and the positive aspects of the arena assessment approach demonstrated in this study, transdisciplinary, arena assessment procedures are highly recommended for early childhood special education services.