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Special Education and Ecological Assessments

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  1. 0:07 Special Education and…
  2. 0:44 Definition of Ecological Assessment
  3. 1:38 Information Included
  4. 3:30 Use in Individualized…
  5. 5:35 Lesson Summary
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Taught by

Erin Long-Crowell

An ecological assessment is one type of assessment that is used to help students that have special needs. In this lesson, we discuss ecological assessments, what they entail, and how they are used.

Special Education and Ecological Assessments

This is Dave. Dave attends Cornerstone Elementary and is in the second grade. Dave's a pretty smart kid, but he has a behavioral disorder which can adversely affect his educational performance. For example, when Dave first started at Cornerstone, he sometimes acted very inappropriately in certain classes.

However, now that certain adjustments have been made, Dave appears to be much happier overall and behaves more appropriately. This is partly due to the special education ecological assessment that was performed not too long after Dave started.

Definition of Ecological Assessment

An ecological assessment is a comprehensive process in which data is collected about how a child functions in different environments or settings. Sometimes, students eligible for special education perform or behave well in some environments but have difficulty in others. For example, at school, a student may be calm during class time but is always upset in the cafeteria. Our friend Dave was normally very well behaved during math and science class but could act very inappropriately during language and art. Other children even have school phobia, which is an irrational, persistent fear of going to school. These children seem fine at home but consistently become anxious, depressed, or scared every time they have to go to school.

Information Included

Information for an ecological assessment is often obtained through observation. However, information can also be gathered through student records and interviews with the student and his or her family.

Information for Dave's ecological assessment was first collected through observation by a specialist. She observed his behavior in all of his classes and breaks during school and even observed him at home and at the park. Additional information was then collected through interviews with Dave, his parents, and his teachers. The type of information collected in an ecological assessment includes (but is not limited to) information about the physical environment, patterns of behavior and activity, interactions between the authority figure and child, interactions between children, and expectations of the child by parents, teachers, and peers.

An ecological assessment can help determine why the child functions differently in different settings. Maybe he or she misbehaves when the environment is too stimulating, or maybe the expectations of the authority figure are drastically different from one environment to the next. If you remember, Dave used to be very well-behaved during math and science class but could act very inappropriately during language or art class. Dave has a behavioral disorder, and his ecological assessment revealed that he tended to act up during the same time every morning, regardless if he was at school or not. So, his behavior was affected by the time of day instead of a specific environment. Having this information was crucial in determining and accommodating Dave's needs.

Use in Individualized Education Programs

In fact, the completed ecological assessment was used to help create Dave's Individualized Education Program (IEP).

An IEP is used in special education. It's a document that is drawn up and agreed upon by teachers, parents, specialists, and (if possible) the student. The document describes the assessment results and present achievement level of the child, then specifies goals for the school year as well as any support needed to achieve those goals or accommodate any special needs. An IEP for each child is required under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). In other lessons we discuss the IDEA and IEPs in more depth. For now, let's go back to Dave's IEP.

Dave's behavioral disorder makes him eligible for special educational assistance, which is why he received an ecological assessment. Once his IEP was created, it helped his support team - which consists of Dave's parents, teachers, and specialists - to work together to focus on things that could improve his educational performance. One goal on his IEP was to stabilize his behavior while at school. If you remember, Dave's ecological assessment revealed that he always acted up during a certain time every morning, regardless if he was at school.

Long story short, Dave had been taking his mood stabilizer medication in the morning, and it doesn't take effect very quickly. It was determined that he should try taking his medication before bed, and once he started doing so, his behavior during the day stabilized. Now, Dave appears to be much happier overall, behaves more appropriately at school, and has greatly improved his educational performance.

Lesson Summary

An ecological assessment is a comprehensive process in which data is collected about how a child functions in different environments or settings. It is normally used as part of a special educational assessment. The data is usually collected through observation, interviews, and student records and is used to help determine why a child may act or perform well in some environments but have difficulty in others.

Ecological assessments can reveal if the child's behavior is affected by the physical environment, interactions with other people, expectations by an authority figure, or something else that's unrelated to the environment. This helps a student's support team work together to help improve educational performance.

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