Why consider functionality when selecting a clinical assessment

Consider this scenario: you run a landscape company and have recently purchased a brand new lawn mower. It’s a beautiful machine with top of the line technology and cosmetic features that make it stand out from all other mowers on the market. And it supposedly cuts grass with ease. However, once you actually get on it you realize that it only turns left. So it technically does what it claims to – cut grass well – but isn’t actually a functional tool for your business.

Now apply that same thinking to purchasing clinical assessments. On the surface an assessment may seem like the perfect choice for a given individual but without properly vetting its functionality you may end up with an assessment that appears useable on the surface but in practice leaves much to be desired.

To ensure you avoid a situation like this you need to have proper steps in place to verify an assessments fit with your needs before purchasing and implementing.

According to Dr. Shirag Shemmassian, Ph.D., when reviewing an assessment you should ask yourself “Is this assessment easy to use, and does it offer the resources I need to make my job and life easier?” Answering this question will allow you to decide if the assessment is functional.

It’s important to note, however, that an assessment’s functionality will differ from professional to professional, meaning that what has worked well for your colleague may not work as well for you. According to Dr. Shemmassian, instead of relying on the experiences of others as your main source for functionality evaluation you should consider these factors: administration, scoring, reporting and intervention resources. In his piece “How to Select the Assessments You Use with the Population You Serve” he goes into detail how each applies to assessment functionality.

Administration – level of ease for both clinician giving the assessment and individual taking it; questions to consider are:

  • How easy is it for the clinician to administer and how long does it take?
  • Is it easy for the assessment taker to understand and finish?
  • Is the assessment available in multiple languages?
  • Can it be effectively administered to individuals with special needs, such as deafness or blindness?
  • What format is it administered in? Paper or online?

Scoring – understanding if the scores provided accurate, relevant and easy to understand; questions to consider are:

  • What scores do you actually get from the assessment and do they measure what they claim to?
  • Does scoring take a long time? Can you score the assessment electronically to save time?
  • Is the scoring process easy to understand?

Reporting – ease of interpreting the assessment’s scores in terms of use for treatment decisions and understanding how effective the assessment is across multiple raters; questions to consider:

  • Are the assessment’s scores easy to interpret or does the assessment offer score interpretation?
  • Can you monitor an individual’s progress during the assessment?
  • Can you empirically compare different raters’ scores?

Intervention Resources – what the assessment offers to help guide clinician through unexpected results or concerns; questions to consider:

  • Does the assessment include specific intervention guidance for areas of concern?

If you are able to affirmatively answer the above questions about a given assessment it is most likely functional and will work well for the rater it is intended for. However, because of the immense number of clinical assessments available, weeding through them to actually find ones that pass the functionality test can be a daunting task.

Working with a professional provider of clinical assessments for a given construct can help reduce the leg work necessary to selecting an assessment. For example, a quick review of the Adaptive Behavior Assessment System, 3rd Edition from Western Psychological Services lets a clinician know that this assessment is available in three formats (online, software and print), is “easier to administer and score” than the highly popular second addition, and reports on “daily living skills—what people actually do, or can do, without assistance from others.”

Of if you’re more concerned with evaluating patients with potential problems with language skills development starting your search for a clinical assessment through a trusted provider like WPS will provide you with choices like the Comprehensive Assessment of Spoken Language, Second Edition. Once again you will find descriptions that allow you to ensure it meets your functionality criteria, like ages of raters meant to take the assessment, what the assessment measures, and what is included in the assessment purchase.

These all help you verify the functionality of the assessment by providing answers to some of the questions recommended by Dr. Shemmassian. Once you feel you’ve answered these questions thoroughly you can decide if an assessment will work for you and the individuals you plan to administer the assessment to or if you need to continue searching.

By John Mason

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