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Ditch psychoeducational testing, use teachers to guide students to secondary pathway - Hickling

Published:Monday | May 9, 2016 | 12:00 AMPsychoeducational assessment of students subject to misdiagnoses

A move by the Ministry of Education to undertake psychoeducational assessment for grade-six students averaging below 50 per cent is being critiqued by eminent psychiatrist, Professor Emeritus Frederick Hickling.

Hickling is of the view that the ministry's plan to use psychoeducational testing as a way to decide which secondary pathway students will go on, under the Alternate Pathway to Secondary Education (APSE) programme, may not be the most appropriate.

"My opinion is that our teachers have excellent culturally based skills to be able to predict the direction that a child should be developed. I don't think we are using the skills and knowledge of our teachers effectively," he said in response to questions from The Gleaner.

While he agrees that psychoeducational testing is valuable before children enter high school, he is concerned that Jamaica does not have nearly enough trained psychologists to carry out the assessments on a large scale, "nor do we have the financial resources to carry them out properly and effectively on a large scale".

The psychiatrist has also taken issue with the fact that only students averaging below 50 per cent have been singled out for testing and has urged the ministry to extend its programme of psychoeducational assessment to all students.

"If they are going to be used for large-scale programmes, they should be used for all children, not restricted to the worst-performing children. Many children who earn above 50 per cent may have significant psychoeducational problems that are in major need of treatment," he said.


The Ministry of Education last month requested that schools submit the names of grade-six students who have been averaging below 50 per cent so that they can be identified for psychoeducational testing and directed to the appropriate pathway under the APSE programme.

"In keeping with the continued development of APSE, the Ministry of Education will be conducting psychoeducational assessment of ALL students at the grade-6 level who have been averaging below fifty percent based on continuous assessment scores," the ministry said in a bulletin issued to schools.

Hickling further argued that psychoeducational assessment can be discriminatory. While advocating a team approach to evaluation for the assessments planned by the ministry, the psychiatrist noted that even that method is not a fail safe against discriminatory practises.

"It is often subject to misdiagnosis and when mistakes are made, the student is placed at significant risk," he said.

According to Hickling, "Evaluations are best carried out first as a proof of concept, using small numbers, then as a scale-up, using larger numbers ... longitudinal follow-up is also required, not only of small numbers but also as a cluster randomised trial."