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Blog

Are You Paying Attention?

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

It appears as if children are consistently being flagged with having trouble attending in class to the point where teachers are suggesting diagnoses.  First, let me specify that many children do suffer from neurological, biological disorders that affect their attention.  Some children benefit from a medical intervention to assist them in focusing in the classroom, on homework, and the like.

However, our society and medical community are quick to diagnose attention disorders.  It is so easy to assign the causal variables of “lack of attention” to somewhere inside of the child as opposed to seeking out environmental causes (e.g., interactions with others, context, etc.). 

One recent complaint I have heard was that a student lacked attention during reading class and, as a result, the teacher threw out the term “ADD.”  However, when asked how the student performs in other contexts (e.g., math class, science class, etc.), attention is not a problem.  An attention diagnosis is, unfortunately, not selective.  If a student organically has ADD, symptoms will be evident in multiple contexts; not just in one area.  Further, the lack of attention symptoms must be clinically significant to the point that it drastically effects his/her day.

There are many environmental factors that can contribute to a lack of attention.  For this one example, the student struggles with reading.  Therefore, the academic deficit creates a situation where attending to nearly anything other than reading is more interesting that reading itself. 

Another environmental factor could be the student’s interaction with the people in a particular context.  Does that student sit next to other students that affect his/her attention?  How is that student’s interaction with the teacher? 

Finally, there are environmental factors that could impact attention that occur outside of the school context.  For example, what does the child typically eat for breakfast?  Are there any significant changes that are going on at home?

When presented with attention complications, parents should not only look at the environmental variables but also realize that a medical intervention is not always a sure fix.  A recent article was published in the New York Times highlighting how the drugs prescribed for ADD only have short-term, temporary effects.  “To date, no study has found any long-term benefit of attention-deficit medication on academic performance, peer relationships or behavior problems, the very things we would most want to improve” (Sroufe, Jan. 28, 2012).

Teachers, when you are conducting your parent meetings, ask the sort of questions that look at environmental causes regarding attention.  Please be cautious about throwing around possible diagnoses as they carry a lot of weight and can easily scare parents.

Parents, if the teacher is not looking at environmental causes, it is your responsibility to do so.  Ask the appropriate questions:  Is my child lacking attention in other classes/subjects?  Is my child struggling with the content of the material or is the material too easy, which then causes him/her to loose focus?  Am I doing anything to provoke the lack of attention?

The diagnosis or suggestion of diagnosis shouldn’t be handed out so frequently and easily as handing out a lollypop.   There are many factors that parents and teachers should take into account when evaluating a student’s lack of attention.  Be the person who is asking the right questions!

Learning Disorders: What perspective do you take?

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

Traditional education takes the perspective that learning disorders are innate traits.  These learning disorders are treated like eye color or height: organic traits that are not susceptible to change.  When diagnoses of learning disabilities are given to children, educational standards are often lowered and curriculum is “dummied-down.”  It is as if the student is given a crutch to cope with the handicap as opposed to physical therapy.

However, there is another view where these learning disorders are not issued as lifetime sentences.  Behavior Analysis, or the science of behavior, views that these deficit behaviors can be strengthened to the point where there is no difference between the academic performance of a child with learning disabilities and those behaviors of the student’s peers without diagnoses. 

An example comparing the two perspectives deals with sports.  Jessie wants to play soccer, but is exhausted after two minutes of running and cannot kick a ball to save her life.  Is Jessie destined to live a life without soccer simply because she has no cardiovascular endurance and coordination?  Or, through training, could Jessie’s cardiovascular endurance and coordination strengthen so that she may become a decent soccer player?  The perspective that Jessie will always struggle with soccer or sports in general is the traditional education view of learning disorders, while the view of training behaviors, any behavior, to levels of success is the perspective of Behavior Analysis. 

Many individuals would agree that athletic behaviors can be trained and strengthened.  Ask any person who has run a marathon, played a musical instrument, raised a child, or played sports.  For example, Michael Jordan did not make the cut for his high school varsity basketball team for his sophomore year.  However, with dedication and endless hours of training, he is now known to many as the best basketball player of all time.  If it is widely accepted that athletic behaviors can be trained, why is it that training academic behaviors is such an uncommon perspective?  Michael Jordan did not want the life sentence of being an inadequate basketball player; why should any student have to live with the life sentence of never being a good reader or able to work with numbers? 

The perspective of Behavior Analysis, Behavioral Education specifically, is that academic deficits are behaviors that need more practice and training to meet the same standards as the rest of the class, just as it is necessary for Jessie to train more than those who play soccer well.  In the short run, it is easier to lower the standards required for individuals diagnosed with learning disabilities as opposed to training the deficit behaviors.  The child may get A’s with the adjusted standards, but what happens when he/she is out of school and cannot perform to the level of his/her colleagues?  The long-term advantage of all the effort and time devoted to training these behaviors is far greater than the short-term easiness.  By building successful academic performance, the student is given an amazing gift of endless possibilities for a career.  If academic performance is not trained and is served as a handicap, then the student will have a more limited selection of future opportunities. 

The behavioral view is not one of an idealist.  A great amount of research has demonstrated the ability to train deficit academic performance to meet or surpass those behaviors without deficits (e-mail PrecisionTLC@gmail.com for specific references).  Precision Teaching and Direct Instruction (see http://www.binder-riha.com/PT_DI.pdf for more information) are scientifically researched technologies whose methods have been found effective in numerous scientific studies, clinical settings, and classrooms since the late 1960’s.  Although there are proven methods to strengthening academic performance, unfortunately, such methods have not been adopted by the educational system.  Luckily, parents can have an amazing amount of influence over the education of their child.  If your child is given a crutch and you do not want them to depend on the prop for the rest of his/her life, demand a change to ensure your child immediate and future success.

Learning Does Not Stop at 100%

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

Percent correct is the unit of analysis that is most commonly used in traditional education.  However, it is not clear as to why 100% accuracy the only criterion.  Does a student automatically have full mastery of the material the first time they achieve 100% accuracy?  Not necessarily.

I believe I have given this example before, but I’ll give it again since it is a good one.  Bobby and Sally take the same test.  The two students both obtain 100% accuracy on the test.  However, Bobby takes 15 min while Sally takes 1 hour.  A percent correct measure does not capture the difference between these two learners.

Performance on a test or on any academic target is a behavior.  All behavior occurs in time.  However, when one takes time out of the equation, it only gives a fraction of a description of what is actually occurring (i.e., how this student performs or learns).  Proficiency of a particular skill cannot be simply measured by percent correct measures alone.

Today, I just had an assessment meeting with a parent of a 5th grade boy.  His mom reported that the school indicated that he was performing at grade level for math.  However, my assessment indicates that he is performing at the end of 2nd grade for math.  The difference between the two assessments is that the only criterion for the school is a percent correct measure.  The student is highly accurate, but is very slow and reliant on aids that serve as crutches.  He has relied on these crutches for so long, they will never fade out unless they are specifically targeted.  Although he is surviving in the classroom right now, this does not mean he will be able to get by with these aids in the future.  Relying on such aids and not being fluent at a skill independently yield significant problems in more advanced classes (e.g., writing, algebra).  This student will be spending more time with these aids for foundational skills than comprehending new and more complex material.

If you really want to capture how well your child is performing on a particular task, you need to include time, count, and accuracy.  These three units, when combined in a particular way, give a true definition of fluent performance.  In other words, you want n amount of responses (e.g., problems, answers, words) in x amount of time with 100% accuracy.  When you see the same amount of responses occurring in a less amount of time while maintaining 100% accuracy, you are seeing more proficient performance.  Another way to view this relationship is when more responses are occurring for the same amount of time while maintaining 100% accuracy.

Therefore, learning does not stop at 100% accuracy, and doing so is rather limiting the student.  Accuracy is the first step.  However, working on speed is the second step.  Once performance is similar to that of someone who is considered proficient (e.g., a parent or teacher) with respect to count and speed, the skill is more likely mastered than when it was just occurring at 100% accuracy.  If you require more, you will get more.  Challenge your student to go beyond 100% and they will thank you for it in the long run.

Behavior Analysis: The Couture Approach to Learning

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

At Precision TLC, we mention how our services are different than the other learning centers out there.  However, the largest difference is that our practice is governed by the Science of Learning and the technology of Precision Teaching.  We have mentioned Precision Teaching in previous articles, but we want to spend just a minute on what the Science of Learning is and why your child benefits from receiving services from someone who is trained in this area of psychology.

Just last month, I defended my dissertation in Learning Science, or Behavior Analysis.  Florida is blessed to know a portion of Behavior Analysis with it being one of the states in the country to support Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) services for children with autism.  Some of you may remember Behavior Analysis from a Psy 101 class that reviewed B. F. Skinner.  However, Behavior Analysis extends well beyond the basic studies of Skinner and autism. 

Behavior Analysis is the science of the interaction between and individual and the environment.  Although a simple statement, it packs a bit of weight.  “Individual” means that we are focusing on the whole person, not a diagnosis, not a letter grade, but the complexities that create each person unique and special.  “Environment” is all around us.  It is the classroom, it is what we eat, it is the lack of sleep we had last night, etc.  These are the conditions that we have more of a control over versus the biological or neurological ones that are often out of our reach.  “Interaction” means how that unique person with his/her own unique history relates to relationships, settings, events, etc. 

When we apply this approach to education, we are able to look at each student at a highly individualized level.  We are able to see how each student learns, where the strengths and weaknesses lie, and the best possible method to transform him/her into an efficient learner.  Therefore, each student has a distinctive individualized learning plan, regardless of his/her similarity to our other students.  We incorporate novel incentive systems and create unique curriculum that is specific to that one student.

Therefore, when choosing a learning center, think about the services that are provided.  Others may be cheaper than us.  Others may want to see your student for less time than we do.   However, we provide an unmatchable service with Ph.D. level expertise and intimate supervision that produces positive results every time.   We can make such claims because of our roots in Behavior Analysis – the science of the individual.  Its like buying a dress: you can buy one off of the rack and hope it fits, or you can get one made for you and know it was tailored just for you.  Although saving money on a dress is an easy choice, can you make the same risk when it comes to your child’s education and future?

The Importance of Numeracy

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

The importance of literacy is never disputed.  To function in society, one must read and write.  However, the importance of numeracy is rarely mentioned.  Numeracy, or quantitative literacy, is the flexible ability to understand numbers and their relationships. 

At Precision TLC, we focus on building a strong understanding of numbers before working on larger, more complex tasks, such as multi-digit computation.  Through our component/composite model, we build the fundamentals, or components, that will strengthen the more general composite skill.  For example, components of the multiplication composite include 1) identifying numbers, 2) identifying symbols (x, =), 3) skip counting, 4) understanding the product (answer), 5) knowing the commutative property of the smaller numbers (3 x 4 = 4 x 3) and 6) knowing what each number in the problem represents (4 groups of 3 equals 12).

Luckily at Precision TLC, we have the luxury to focus on the components for as long as the individual student’s needs require us to strengthen numeracy. The curriculum advances only when the student is completely fluent with the components.  Furthermore, we only target those components at which the student is not masterful.  Everything that we do, therefore, is individualized to cater to each student’s needs.  This flexibility and individuality ensures that we build a strong numeracy repertoire with each math student. 

Parents, do not forget about numeracy!  Does your child know that 123 is smaller than 321?  Can you child skip count by 5’s beyond 100?  If you said that 10 is half of 20, can they tell you what that means?  If not, please schedule an assessment so that we can strengthen your child’s numeracy repertoire!!

 

 

 

 



Summer is Coming!

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

 

Too Early to Think About Summer?  Never!

You must think that I am crazy to be talking about summer plans.  However, before you sign up your student for five summer camps, I want to throw out an alternate idea.  Enroll with Precision TLC to prepare your student for the fall! 

Many parents are hesitant to enroll their student because of schedule conflicts: the student gets home at 5pm and doesn’t have time for anything other than homework; the student is involved in some sport or dance after school; the student is just so tired after school.  Fortunately, these are no longer excuses come summer time!  The day is open with possibilities to have your child enjoy the summer, but still receive academic fulfillment to prepare him/her for the next grade.

However, I write to you now about the summer because the summer can get just as busy as the school year with all the added activities.  Visit our assessment page on our website to do a brief test at home.  If, from the test, you determine that your student needs an assessment, schedule one now to see if you student even needs our services over the summer.  If he/she does, all I will ask is an hour per subject, 3-5 days a week, so that your child will not fall behind the following year.  One to two hours a day is nothing in comparison to the 7-hour day to which students are accustomed. 

Thinking about a summer enrollment now and opening up a dialogue with the family is being that proactive parent I talked about last month!  Enroll your student when the schedule is open: do not wait until the last minute when your student brings home the C’s and D’s and has a full schedule because of baseball practice and a greater homework load.  In the summer, there are no more excuses to putting off the solid education for which your child needs.  Ensure he/she is successful in the following school year and enroll with Precision TLC.  Let us transform your student as a learner during the easy months of summer.

 



Be Proactive!

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

At Precision TLC, many of our clients are students who are falling behind in school or have been diagnosed with a learning disability.  Families are more inclined to invest in our services when the need becomes so great that they have no other option.  We also get families who have tested the services of our competitors, invested a significant amount of money already, and are at the end of their rope.  Their decision to enroll their student at Precision TLC is reactive: responding to the already established learning deficit.  However, Precision TLC encourages parents to be proactive: ensure academic success for your child by enrolling him/her early on in his/her academic career.

There are a few scenarios that Precision TLC can help you to be proactive.  At the very first signs of learning difficulty, call us!  Don’t wait to try various interventions that may or may not work.  Choose a service provider that is guaranteed to produce the results that your student needs and deserves.  At Precision TLC, we are able to advance typical students up to 2 grade levels in just 40-hours of one-on-one instruction.  Not one student has been unsuccessful at Precision TLC.

Additionally, the longer you wait, the more considerable the deficit will become and the more expensive it will be to alleviate the deficit.  If a student requires slight remediation, a 20-hour enrollment may be possible to meet our high standards of mastery.  However, if you wait and the gap between the student’s performance and grade level requirements starts to expand, the longer it will take to bring the student’s performance up to proficient levels. 

Precision TLC can also help you be proactive by working with your kiddo! Kiddos are our students between the ages of 4 and 6 and are required to learn so much that it is easy to fall behind.  We work with kiddos to prepare them with the essential foundational skills to ensure they are successful in the classroom. 

The 20-hour enrollment is very appropriate for kiddos.  Three, 30-min sessions a week makes a significant impact with the kiddo’s learning.  This enrollment ensures that the kiddo is prepared for Kindergarten or 1st grade.  When the student enters the 2nd grade, essential foundational skills are no longer targeted within the traditional classroom.   To be a proactive parent, you want to ensure that your kiddo is fluent with tool skills so that they can be successful in 2nd grade and beyond.

At Precision TLC, whether you are being proactive or retroactive, the first step is to schedule an assessment.  Following the assessment, you will meet with the director reviewing the assessment report and individualized learning plan.  During the meeting, you and the director will select the proper enrollment to meet the needs of your student.  The assessment will be re-administered at each 20-hour benchmark so that you can objectively and clearly evaluate your student’s progress.

Be a proactive parent to save both time and money and enroll your student today!

We're Here!

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

This is such an exciting time for us!  After 7 ½ years in Reno specializing in Learning Science, we have finally moved to the Tampa Bay area to open up our learning center.  Over the past year, I have been writing about how our services make Precision Teaching Learning Center unique.   We will attempt to summarize these significant differences in this article. 

Precision TLC is a boutique learning center.  In other words, we are not a chain, or a branch of any other learning center.  We have very different methods compared to the typical learning centers.

One significant difference is our objective: we transform how individuals learn.  Because of our roots in Psychology and Learning Science, we are able to identify the different learning styles of each individual, apply the principles of Learning Science to each learning style, and transform the processes that govern learning. 

With our psychological foundation, we take data on all academic and related behaviors the student engages in while in our care.  We get geeky with the data.  However, the constant data collection and evaluation guides our decisions and allows us to make immediate changes if the student is not meeting our lofty standards.  Because of the sensitive measurement tool that assists us in our data analysis, we have concrete data that proves our methods, Precision Teaching and other behavior analytic methods, are the most efficient ways to advance learning.  After just 40 hours of one-on-one instruction, typical students can advance 2 grade levels!

Since we take an individualistic approach to learning, we adapt not only our methods to each individual student, but also our curricula.  We customize the curricula to ensure that we transform the way the student learns.  Along the way, the student becomes proficient in the subject matter of interest.  We do not teach from a textbook or to a test.  Becoming proficient on one test is not our objective; our goal is to equip each student with successful learning strategies that will aid them in all subsequent tests and help them in their future. 

Our services are applicable to a wide range of individuals.  We work with students ranging from three years old to adults.  Our approach is appropriate for those students who want to advance quickly as well as those individuals who need remediation.  We work with students who are classified as gifted and talented as well as those who have been diagnosed with a learning or developmental disability.

In addition to providing an environment for students to learn how to learn, we teach two areas that tend to be overlooked in traditional education: writing and study skills.  Proficient study and writing skills are absolutely essential for success at the undergraduate level and beyond.  Even though your student may be doing well in high school, he/she may still benefit from writing or study skills instruction.

Please visit our website or call our office to learn more about our services and how we can help your student with his/her unique situation.  We look forward to transforming many learners in the Tampa Bay area!



The Oprah Show & Waiting for “Superman”

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

October 2010

I rarely watch Oprah.  Sometimes I feel like she favors celebrities (who donate money because they have so much they don’t know what to do with it) over those regular Joes who make next to nothing and sacrifice their lives for the good of our country.  I’ve seen it for years.  But yesterday afternoon, I was home and thought I’d give her another shot since it is her last season.  Come on, Oprah.  Wow me!  That she did.

For those of you who have not seen the Oprah Show about Waiting for “Superman”, a documentary that came out at the end of September, please see if you can track it down on the internet (air date 9/20/2010).  My brief review of the show was, “I’ve been waiting for this, Oprah!  Finally a good Oprah Show!”  I was motivated and inspired to do more and be held accountable for more, all for the sake of our children.  Unfortunately, others had a different view.

I saw that a friend of mine and some of her teacher friends were frustrated by the show, and they had valid points regarding their frustration.  Yes, I imagine that Bill Gates has no idea what it is like to be a teacher.  Yes, the entire world has no idea about the ins-and-outs of being a teacher, especially what it is like working under the Department of Education.  However, that does not mean that the system is not broken.

Although I have not been in her classroom, I imagine that my friend is a lovely, wonderful teacher.  I imagine that her students and their parents adore her.  I have many teacher friends and think the same thing – they are wonderful people, friends, and I imagine, wonderful, brilliant teachers as well.  The Oprah Show was not directed towards them.  She even made a point to state that.  Similarly, The Child Knows Best is an article that often critiques traditional education.  Like the show, my article is not directed towards them.  The show, like my articles, was directed towards the broken system.

A broken system will inevitably teach people to act like someone they are not (the snippy receptionist who has no reason to be nice to you) and to cut corners because of the massive workload (a professor not reading the term paper and giving your brilliant work the same grade as the plagiarist next to you).  Does it mean that the receptionist is not a lovely person or that the professor is lazy?  No.  The receptionist may deal with complaints all day and hasn’t received a reinforcer (praise, a raise, extra time-off) for her diligent work.  The professor may have three manuscripts to prepare for publication this month while chairing a committee at the university and being an officer of a special interest group among like professionals (believe it or not, teaching classes is only a small part of a professor’s responsibility).

The American Education system is broken.  I do not know one person, Democrat, Republican, Libertarian, or Socialist, who thinks that the system is effective.  Not one.  As a result, it is possible for “bad teachers” to exist.  Yes, I said it.   Before going to college, my concept of a bad teacher was the one who reported me to the administration because my skirt was too short, or the teacher who would assign way too much homework for me to finish between all my other “very important” high school activities.  Before going to grad school, my previous definition of a "bad teacher" was significantly altered.  The teacher who was the hardest in high school was one of the reasons that I was accepted into grad school due to my GRE scores (Thank you, Mrs. JoAnne Glenn!).  Maybe there are no “bad teachers” after all!  However, after just a few months in grad school, that fantasy was shattered. 

A new, young teacher that I supervised was the worst I think I may ever see.  I knew her obligations to the school.  I sat in her classroom for hours at a time.  I knew the ins-and-outs.  No child had a chance in her classroom, and because of such negativity and negligence, she poisoned all the other teachers.  I saw them drinking her poisonous cool-aid while the students were in the midst of what seemed like a war. 

I imagine she didn’t dream of becoming a teacher to treat students poorly.  Her actions and values were altered as a result of a broken system.  Additionally, she still had a job because of a broken system.  The only measures that held her accountable were students’ test scores (which we all know are problematic measures to hold teachers accountable of – see previous Child Knows Best article).  Why were her behaviors not compared to the effective and positive behaviors of exalted teachers?  Why should she make the same amount of money, comparatively, as the best teacher in the school? 

My friend pointed out that teachers are the last element to focus on when fixing the system.  Very true.  They are not the root of the problem, but the by-product.  However, intervening on the teachers will function as a band-aid until the global system is changed, which takes years.  Change in the classroom can happen immediately.

I’ll stop here, but would like feedback from you – parents, teachers, student, and other concerned members of the community.  To close, I applaud Davis Guggenheim and Oprah for making the issues I have seen for the past 7 years available to the public.  I applaud Bill Gates for throwing money at a worthy cause, John Legend for attaching his name to the issue to make a different demographic stop and think, and Chancellor Michelle A. Rhee for taking serious slack for trying to mend a broken system.



What Does It Mean to Really Know Something?

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

August 2010

The following is a common occurrence in many classrooms.  Billy and Sally both get 100% on a test, yet Billy finishes his test 15 minutes earlier than Sally. Unfortunately, their identical scores do not indicate the difference between their testing experiences, nor do they indicate the time it took each to complete the task.  Obviously, there is a difference between Billy and Sally’s performances on the test, but the percent correct measure does not capture that difference.  Why did Billy go so much faster, and what does this difference in performance mean regarding Billy and Sally’s mastery of the subject matter?  The answer is fluency.

To thoroughly know something is to be fluent at it.  For example, after a bit of high school and college Spanish and spending some time in the country, you can be 100% accurate in the language.  To say that you knew Spanish, or was fluent in the language could be a stretch.  How do you know that you are not fluent at Spanish?  You cannot speak it at a rapid pace, especially when distracted. You have to pause and think about the translation of a word, how the verb is conjugated etc.  You could be accurate, but sound like a robot.  Therefore, it is not simply accuracy that defines whether or not you know something but speed as well.  As such, the definition of fluency is accuracy plus speed.

Why would the amount of time it takes to complete a task be important when considering the completion of schoolwork?  Consider this: If Sally takes that much longer to finish the test than Billy, it is safe to assume that she doesn’t “grasp” the material as well as Billy.  But, what exactly does it mean to grasp the material?  To “grasp” is to perform quickly and without hesitation: to truly “grasp” is to be fluent.  If math performance was being evaluated, it is likely that Billy was quickly able to identify the answers to computation questions and quickly identify the operation needed to solve the problem; however, Sally may have had to stop and think about these things, “Is that a nine or a six? What do I do if the numbers add to more than ten?” Having to stop and think about identifying numbers, and simple rules regarding solving basic math problems, for example, leads to trouble academically for students when schoolwork gets harder.  This is problem is exasperated when the harder stuff builds on those tool skills the student is having difficulty with.  This is why fluent behavior is so important when considering your child’s academic behavior.

Fluent behavior is when you see someone behave without hesitation, in other words, “automatically”.  Compare the difference between the speed of your first grader’s reading and your own.  You are probably fluent at reading most books, while your child may be fluent at reading basic Dr. Seuss books, if that.  Compare the difference between Billy and Sally; if your child has to pause, sound out words, or makes frequent mistakes, then they are not fluent at performing the task. 

Reading, math, or writing, like any other behavior, has to be trained. Excellent performance of these skills also has to be trained. Like an athlete, training and practicing important skills beyond the point of accuracy alone will help those behaviors become automatic and easy to perform for your child; thus, providing a solid academic foundation of which to build on for many years to come. 

I encourage teachers to adopt measuring the time that it takes students to perform a task and use that as your criterion for mastery.  Simply measuring percent correct hides the distinction between students.  Months after the test, Billy and Sally’s teacher would look in his/her grade book and see the two 100% scores.  But, as you and I know, their performance on the test was completely different.



The Good and the Bad of Diagnoses

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

July 2010

Many parents are faced with the challenge of determining whether or not to have their child tested for some sort of disorder.  The diagnosis of many learning disorders and developmental disorders is on the upswing.  Regardless of whether this rise in diagnoses is due to the change in definition of the disorder or to other environmental, biological, or neurological factors, parents are faced with a decision: to test or not to test.

Behavior analysis, which is the branch of psychology adopted by this author, does not practice diagnosing individuals.  Rather, behavior analysts look to the behavior that the individual engages in and treats that behavior specifically as opposed to treating a diagnosis.  Therefore, whether or not the student has been diagnosed with ADHD, for example, is not as important as what the student is actually doing: academic behaviors, appropriate behaviors, inappropriate behaviors, and the like. 

Diagnoses are labels that allow us to quickly orient to a set of behaviors.  For example, the mom of a child with autism can quickly explain why her son enjoys to flap his hands in front of his face.  The nearby observers of the hand flapping then quickly understand the reply of, “he has autism”.   Therefore, the diagnosis provides a succinct word that comes with a host of assumptions regarding various behaviors, living conditions, and the like.

However, the “he has autism” reply does not help in treating the hand flapping.  It also does not help in eliminating the inappropriate behaviors and building the appropriate replacement behaviors and advancing the academic behaviors. 

The answer to “why” he engages in hand flapping is not “because he has autism.”  There are triggers in the environment that occasion the behavior and there are consequences that maintain that behavior.  It is the job of the behavior analyst to identify and these triggers and consequences.  Since every individual is different, even those individuals who share a common diagnosis, these triggers and consequences vary.  These consequences and triggers even vary amongst the same behaviors.  As a result, the diagnosis does not assist or is even required to treat the problem behavior.

Another problem with a diagnosis is that is functions as a label.  Many uneducated people will simply see the label and not the individual.  Furthermore, the label is often used as an excuse for the inappropriate behavior.  If treatment was successful and the individual does not exhibit those behaviors associated with the diagnosis, the label remains. 

Even though the diagnosis does not assist in the treatment of the symptom, it does provide an opportunity for funding treatment.  Treatment is often very expensive and lengthy.  Assistance in financing these services is essential since individuals across all socio-economic standing are affected.  However, it appears that the only diagnosis that receives any sort of decent funding for services is autism. 

Unfortunately, there is no clear choice on whether or not to have your child tested for a learning or developmental disorder.  However, before you make the choice, make sure to educate yourself on what the benefits and limitations are in doing so.  Make an informed decision.

 

 



Student Performance & Teacher Pay

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

May 2010

In my February article, I mentioned how Precision Teaching Learning Center (PTLC) continually measure global performance through frequent assessments that are closely linked to the behavior of interest.  This is one of the key features that distinguish PTLC not only from traditional education, but from other learning centers as well.  It seems rather relevant to address assessments again after Senate Bill 6 was just vetoed by Gov. Charlie Crist.

Briefly, SB 6 was an attempt to link teacher’s pay to student performance.  Although this is seemingly an ideal solution to increase teacher accountability and, as a result, increase student performance, the bill had some significant limitations.  One of these problematic features was the reliance on results from standardized tests, such as the Florida Comprehensive Assessment Test (FCAT).  To fully understand why basing teacher’s pay on this assessment is so hazardous, one must know the limitations of the assessment itself.

Standardized testing occurs rarely: once a year.  So many factors rely on the student performing well for that single snapshot of performance.  There are environmental factors such as proper nutrition and a proper night’s rest.  (I actually know a lot of students who do not eat in the morning and as a result, their performance suffers.  When they come to see me, I strongly encourage them to eat a banana or some sort of healthy snack.)  Other environmental factors are found at school prior to and during the test.  The student could have just had a fight with their friend on the way to school; the student next to him/her, while taking the test, is annoyingly tapping his/her foot, and the room may be freezing.  I remember, in high school, I found out my boyfriend cheated on me the day of the FCAT.  I guarantee that I did not do well on that test!  These are very distracting environmental factors that could result to poor performance.  Other variables that I will not elaborate due to lack of space include the student’s health and motivation to perform well on the test. Infrequent testing inevitably allows for flawed results because of such variables.

Administering the assessment more frequently (weekly, monthly) allow teachers to sort out these environmental variables that may result in results that are not representative of the student’s ability.  Specifically, teachers would see a trend in the student’s scores.  Ideally, these scores would be increasing.  For example, Sally scores 60%, 70%, 75%, and 82% on her most frequent “assessments” (the FCAT uses different developmental scores.  For simplicity of the example, I will use percentages).  There is a noticeable trend in her scores.  However, if instead of Sally’s 75%, there was a 45%, followed by the 82%, it is safe to assume that some environmental factors were involved in Sally’s low score of 45%.  The 45% is not representative of her ability.  It would be unfortunate if Sally only performed this assessment once and received a 45% because of environmental factors.

However, the FCAT is a lengthy test.  It takes hours to administer, which is often spread across a couple of days.  Although ideally assessments are better administered frequently, it is understandable why it is administered so infrequently.  Nevertheless, assuming that all the previously described environmental factors are optimal and “the planets are aligned”, the test is still a marathon.  Endurance comes into play in this type of situation.  The student may perform well during the beginning of the test.  However, after 30 min, 1 hr, 3 hr, the student’s performance begins to wane by sheer exhaustion in addition to a quickly evaporating motivation.  Educators attempt to eliminate this endurance problem by testing for a few hours each day across a couple of days.  However, as readers of The Child Knows Best, you know that each learner is an individual and unique.  What might be short to one student may seem like an eternity to another.

In a previous article, I wrote about Curriculum Based Assessments (CBA) that are brief (no more than 5 min per subject) and are able to be administered weekly.  This assessment targets the same areas as a larger standardized test, but alleviates the previously described limitations.  I offer the CBA as a replacement to assess student performance.  If the education system is fearful to rid itself of the beast of a traditional standardized test, they can still use it in addition to a CBA. 

Now that just a few problems with standardized testing have been addressed, it is clear to see why teachers’ salaries should not be based upon this measure.  Assume Sally has a stellar teacher, but the environmental factors and health factors of Sally resulted in her 45% (when her ability was more of a 75%).  It would be awful for Sally’s teacher’s salary to be determined by that low score among other potentially low scores because one boy kept tapping his foot and distracting the 10 students around him.  It would be unfortunate for Sally’s teacher’s salary to be based upon Sally not getting a good night’s rest because her parents kept her up with their screaming over issues on their upcoming divorce.  It would be horrible to base Sally’s teacher’s salary upon Sally having a rough day with her allergies or groggy-state-inducing cold medicine.

Performance-based or merit-based pay is ideal.  Research shows that creating an environment with performance-based pay produces optimal employees with respect to their proficiency and attitudes.  After contacting performance-based pay situation, employees prefer to remain receiving performance-based pay.  However, making the pay contingent upon such a faulty measure like the FCAT opens up a world of issues, much like Pandora’s box.  This is a change that we can believe in; however, this change needs to be a bit more solid before it is effectively implemented.  Gov. Crist, you need a behavior analyst on your committee - I am available.

 



Apart From the Rest: Continuous Measurement

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

February 2010

            This month’s article is the third in a series, Apart From the Rest, where I differentiate my services from those of traditional learning centers.  Last month, I explained how Precision Teaching (PT) learning centers strengthen the underlying processes governing learning via component skills as opposed to “teaching to the test.”  With this unique training, an initial assessment is required to highlight the areas in need of training.  This assessment is repeatedly administered to evaluate the impact the PT training.  However, re-administering the assessment is not the only form of continuous measurement employed by PT learning centers.  Data is constantly taken regarding 1) the specific training targets, 2) a weekly global assessment of the composite behavior of interest and 3) a 40-hour grade level reassessment.

            When a student enrolls at a PT learning center, performance on training targets is immediately charted and tracked on Standard Celeration Charts (SCC).  These charts display all sorts of behavior and allow the instructors to make immediate instructional decisions.  If the student is not progressing toward the mastery criterion, as identified on the SCC, the instructor can make a change with respect to the child’s programming within his/her session to ensure success.  Therefore, little to no time is wasted remaining on mastered items or on an unsuccessful target without a proper intervention.  Additionally, since data is immediately and continuously recorded, parents can ask about their student’s performance at any time and visually see the student’s progress.

            Weekly, the training on the component skills is evaluated by testing the composite skill though a Curriculum Based Assessment (CBA).  This assessment has been thoroughly researched and is found to be a solution to standardized assessment’s lack of influence over treatment utility and the subjectivity of teacher report.  This brief assessment allows the instructors to continuously evaluate the impact of the PT training.  Furthermore, the performance on the CBA is measured in the same manner as the performance of the PT training which allows for a direct comparison of the training targets to the weekly assessment.  If performance on the CBA does not improve as a product of the PT training, the instructors can, again, make an immediate change to the student’s programming to ensure success.

            Finally, after receiving 40-hours of direct service, the initial assessment is re-administered.  Therefore, the assessment now functions as a pre/post test to evaluate the student’s individualized PT programming.  This assessment is an extensive, more detailed CBA than the weekly tests.  It evaluates growth on specific grade level targets that are directly associated with the targeted behavior.  Therefore, the instructors can easily rely on the assessment results to know exactly what changes, if any, are needed to guarantee success.  Moreover, these results are easily interpreted by any novice of the assessment.  As opposed to standardized tests that report results of a number of different measures condensed into one outcome measure, the detailed CBA identifies specific areas that meet or fall below proficiency levels.  Therefore, not only can the instructors easily understand the results of the assessment, parents without training can easily interpret the results of the assessment.  This allows the parent to be fully informed regarding their student’s grade level performance.

            Unfortunately, CBAs are not conducted at traditional learning centers.  Not only do these centers not asses a student’s performance when enrolling at the learning center, they additionally do not track global performance of their programming.  PT learning centers are always conducting program evaluations on specific and global targets to ensure that your student is receiving the proper services for his/her specific need.  By continuously measuring performance and its outcomes, not only do PT learning centers guarantee that the student’s programming is appropriate, but ensures its effectiveness and efficiency. 

 



Apart From the Rest: Content of Relevance

Kerri Milyko, Ph.D. BCBA

January 2010

            This month’s article is the second in a series, Apart From the Rest, where I differentiate my services from those of traditional learning centers.  Last month I introduced Precision Teaching (PT) and described its philosophy and approach to learning.  The present article will explain why teaching to the subject specifically is not necessarily the most efficient and effective method in helping students academically succeed.

            If your student is struggling with a particular subject area, for example science, some traditional learning centers will tutor your student in that specific subject area.  They even may use his/her own textbook and homework as a resource.  However, one of the pillars of PT is to establish mastery at the fundamental skill level before proficiency can be achieved at a broader, more complex level.  If a student is struggling at science, I look at what behavior components are required to be proficient at science.  Depending on the type of science class, an element of math is likely required.  The most essential behavior, however, is reading comprehension.

            Mastery in most subject areas require proficiency in 1) reading fluency, 2) reading comprehension, 3) numeracy, 4) basic and advanced computation, 5) other various math concepts, and 6) handwriting/typing.  Therefore, PT trains these behaviors that are then generalized to more complex subject areas, like science.

            With training the component skills to impact the complex skills, when a student is assessed to identify his/her grade level performance, it is the previously mentioned skills that are evaluated as opposed to history, science, etc. in order to devise an effective intervention.  More often than not, deficits in the more complex skills will usually be explained by deficits in the fundamental skills.  Therefore, a curriculum-based assessment is used to highlight these deficits and assist in planning an effective and efficient learning intervention.

            The curriculum-based assessment is devised based on state standards, but also closely relates to the curriculum of the PT learning center.  Therefore, standardized tests conducted by schools or diagnostic assessments conducted by psychologists do not lend themselves to identifying concrete solutions to any problem areas.  They are merely descriptive.

            In contrast to PT learning centers, traditional learning centers rarely assess the student’s ability to identify the true areas of deficiency.  Mainly, these centers rely on self-report or parent-report.  Although self-report and parent-report are very important elements when devising a learning intervention, serving as the only informative elements will likely lead to a weak and often inaccurate strategy to remedy the problem area. Therefore, PT learning centers employ an objective assessment to further identify the deficiencies.

            In summary, the two major differences of content relevance are 1) PT learning centers train the missing fundamental skills to improve performance within a subject area, and 2) conduct curriculum-based assessments to objectively identify these missing skills and to help devise an effective and efficient learning plan to remedy such deficits.