Roles in the Assessment Process

Interpretation of test data provides a major means of getting to know the student. Yet there has not always been clear determination or agreement among allied professionals on the MPT regarding who assesses what. Physical education assessments of persons with disabilities have not historically been undertaken by adapted physical education...

Interpretation of test data provides a major means of getting to know the student. Yet there has not always been clear determination or agreement among allied professionals on the MPT regarding who assesses what. Physical education assessments of persons with disabilities have not historically been undertaken by adapted physical education personnel. It is not particularly uncommon for persons with disabilities to have been assessed for physical education by general physical education teachers, occupational therapists, physical therapists, mainstream classroom teachers, special education teachers, and sometimes psychologists. The person responsible for adapted physical education must be thoroughly familiar with the test, test content, and test administration procedures. The person conducting adapted physical education assessments should also be firmly grounded in adapted physical education and its relationship to special education and related services in the school setting.

At times, there will be honest differences of opinion among allied professionals regarding who makes up the MPT. For example, flexibility is one component of physical fitness, and as such, it is typically addressed in a physical education curriculum. Flexibility is also addressed in physical therapy. The occupational therapist may assess throwing because he perceives throwing as a manipulative skill. Yet the same skill might be assessed by an adapted physical education specialist, who sees throwing skill development as being within the purview of her own profession.

Often, there are no clear-cut boundaries for determining if a given activity belongs to a specific profession. This perhaps is how it should be, since professionals who worry more about territorial imperatives than about students may be putting their professions ahead of the very persons whom the professions are trying to serve. Individuals who serve the same students must strive to create a working environment characterized by communication, mutual respect, and, foremost, the development of specific goals in the best interests of the person being served.

Physical education teachers are involved in assessment at a variety of levels. The elementary physical educator may be responsible for conducting initial posture or scoliosis screening at the preschool or kindergarten levels. Screening is a type of general assessment administered to all students in a class. At early age levels, motor screening becomes part of a larger, more comprehensive screening of general cognitive, affective, psychological, and social development. Individuals diagnosed as having disabilities at early age levels are usually referred for more in-depth diagnostic assessment.

The physical educator and other members of the MPT may also conduct screening tests at the primary and upper elementary grades. General fitness tests, such as FitnessGram, are often administered by the elementary physical education teacher. FitnessGram has health-related items that reflect healthy zones and areas to be improved. Its use as a placement tool among persons who have disabilities may be of somewhat limited value in relation to norm-referenced tests that specifically address individual needs and level of functioning. Teachers make decisions and plan instruction around areas of strength and need. Results of such assessments can help determine whether an individual with a disability meets entry or exit criteria for placement in adapted physical education.

At middle and high school levels, physical educators may administer tests corresponding to certain curricular units of instruction. For example, the teacher may select a soccer skills test for use at the end of a soccer unit. In a skills test, individuals are asked to demonstrate proficiencies in specific skills presented during the physical education class. Secondary-level physical educators may also administer group fitness tests and sometimes may administer written tests to assess knowledge of physical education concepts.

Today, most physical education curricula are objective based, with clearly defined achievement criteria for each grade level (Horvat, Kalakian, Croce, and Dahlstrom, 2011). Objective-based curricula readily lend themselves to ongoing criterion-referenced assessment. In some schools, physical education teachers must report their classes’ percentage of mastery on curricular objectives taught during the school year. Objective-based programs with curriculum-embedded assessment provide a clearly defined system for evaluating programs, individualizing instruction, and monitoring pupil progress toward objectives. Objective-based instruction has had tremendous impact on physical education. Curriculum planning, accountability, and curriculum-embedded assessment are now integral parts of a field in which, for some, individualization had seemed next to impossible.

Members of the MPT are faced with the challenge of conducting diagnostic tests. Assessment for diagnostic purposes requires that the teacher gather data that help determine the specific nature of individual motor difficulties or why individuals are having problems in physical education. For example, diagnostic motor testing is utilized to pinpoint particular motor development problem areas such as agility or eye - hand coordination. In-depth diagnostic assessment of motor functioning is usually administered individually. Diagnostic instruments may be formal (e.g., norm referenced) or informal (e.g., criterion referenced). Formal diagnostic tests tend to be more time consuming and may require a separate session for each objective area.

Because diagnostic tests are usually administered to students individually, it is difficult for the general physical educator to find time to test each student. In some school districts, adapted physical educators or other MPT members assume responsibility forall movement-related individual assessments.

The content of skills tests administered by physical educators can vary and may include tests of sports skills, fundamental motor skills, or perceptual-motor abilities. The content of these tests should directly reflect skills taught in the physical education curriculum, and skills in the curriculum should directly reflect skills needed in community- and home-based settings.

In recent years, schools have become more interdisciplinary in providing opportunities for individuals who have disabilities. An important manifestation of this trend is that occupational therapists (OTs), physical therapists (PTs), and vocational trainers have undertaken contributing roles in public schools. Pursuant to federal mandates, these therapies are provided as related services when determined necessary to facilitate a student’s special education program. When therapists are members of the MPT, portions of motor assessment can be conducted by the OT or PT. Traditionally, OTs and PTs have functioned within a medical model, while physical educators have functioned within an educational model. Physical education teachers primarily assess observable, measurable motor skills, while OTs and PTs tend to assess processes underlying movement. For example, the physical educator might assess throwing skill, while the physical therapist might assess range of motion, which to some extent underlies the ability to throw skillfully. The OT might also assess manipulative abilities that facilitate ball handling, which in turn affects throwing proficiency.

These individuals must work together to facilitate appropriate assessments that identify a student’s functional performance levels in the following areas:

  • Gross and fine motor skills
  • Reflex and reaction development
  • Developmental landmarks
  • Sensorimotor functioning
  • Self-help skills
  • Prevocational skills
  • Social interaction skills
  • Ambulatory devices

Several assessment areas overlap between adapted physical education and special education. This sort of overlap of professional responsibilities has been the subject of some controversy. The MPTs, however, can work cooperatively to avoid gaps in both assessment and service. Upon receiving and reviewing the referral of a student for assessment, it is vital that physical educators and therapists cooperatively plan and decide who will administer each type of assessment. Each professional brings unique, relevant information to the team meeting. The MPT approach to assessment emphasizes sharing, respecting, and learning from each team member’s contribution. For example, the OT, adapted physical education teacher, and vocational trainer can work together to develop the specific intervention strategies needed for the individualized transition plan (ITP) by assessing components of the tasks required in the workplace and the physical skills needed to accomplish these tasks.

In some schools, physical therapists are available to assist in motor assessment, providing valuable insights for planning appropriate physical activities. For students who have physical disabilities (e.g., cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy), motor assessment may be based primarily on a medical model. Physical therapists can evaluate tonus and persistence of reflexes that interfere with range of motion, posture, and movement patterns. The results of a clinical evaluation by a physical therapist can then be combined with information gathered by a physical educator to develop the program plan. In cases involving physically disabling conditions when only early diagnostic information is available, an evaluation by a physical therapist may shed light on present functional capacity and subsequent implications for physical education programming (e.g., by determining head movements that may induce a reflex). In addition to identifying physiological (motor), topographical (affected parts of body), and etiological (causative) factors used in classifying physical disabilities, physical therapists can also conduct supplemental evaluations, including the following:

  • Posture evaluation
  • Eye - hand behavior patterns (eye dominance, eye movements, fixation, convergence, grasp)
  • Visual status (sensory defects, motor defects)
  • Early reflexes
  • Joint range of motion and strength
  • Stability skills (locomotor, head control, trunk control)
  • Motor symptoms (spasticity, athetosis, ataxia, rigidity, tremors)

All the members of the MPT can provide information vital to the intervention process. Since the therapist’s intervention is minimal, the adapted physical education teacher needs to translate relevant evaluative information into appropriate educational goals for each student. Within this context, the objectives defined from the evaluation of MPTs must be observable and measurable, and they must be used to develop an appropriate intervention plan based on individual needs.