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Special Education and Ecological Assessments

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Instructor: Erin Long-Crowell

Erin has an M.Ed in adult education and a BS in psychology and a BS in management systems.

Ecological assessments are a type of assessment used with students with special needs to see how they perform in different settings. Explore the definition of ecological assessment and how it gathers students' information, check the different particularities of special education, and discover how ecological assessments help students with special needs and what is an Individualized Education Program. Updated: 08/20/2021

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.

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  • 0:07 Special Education and…
  • 0:44 Definition of…
  • 1:38 Information Included
  • 3:30 Use in Individualized…
  • 5:35 Lesson Summary
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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).

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