• Taking a Hard Look at the use of Grade Equivalents

    Posted by Lori Houston on 2/22/2019 7:00:00 AM

    Part of my job as a school psychologist is to attend case conferences and act as a resource regarding test results that might have come from another agency, school or even an evaluation of my own.  As I explain the results of academic achievement to parents and school personnel, I am often asked “what grade level is he/she at?” This would appear to be a simple question to answer and move on; however, it is not as easy as it might seem.  At this point, I stop, take a deep breath and launch into a discussion relating to psychometrics, and especially of grade equivalents and the inaccuracies related to their use.

    The term “grade equivalent” would lead one to believe that it indicates the grade level at which the child is functioning, but this is often not the case.  Grade equivalents are established by the developers of standardized tests using various statistical processes and have been reported for many years. Thus we have come to believe these scores are reflective of the individual’s level of functioning. Interestingly enough, in the textbook purchased for my first assessment course in 1983, the statement, “A number of problems are associated with these types of scores” (Sattler, 1982), but in 2019, grade equivalents are still generated and often reported.

    Over the years there has been an increase in the belief that these scores should not be used. In the 1970’s John Willis (undated) wrote a paper in which he referenced the “total mindlessness” of these scores. In 1981, the International Reading Association (IRA) put forth a position statement which exposed the misuse of grade equivalents and advised, “those who administer standardized reading tests abandon the practice of using grade equivalents to report performance of either individuals or groups of test takers” (1981). In his paper, “Why Age and Grade Scores Should Never, EVER Be Used”, Jim Persinger (2002) stated the use of these scores “borders on irresponsibility….as it lends them a credibility they don’t deserve.”  

    One would think that if grade equivalents are reported in test manuals then they must have meaning and should be reported. Reporting grade equivalents can often create more confusion as the child’s level of functioning may not correlate with the reported score. Grade equivalents are not standardized scores (which are psychometrically sound and are reported) meaning that variance can exist from test to test or even within the test assessing different skill sets (math vs. reading). The grade equivalent associated with a standard score on one test may be very different on another test. For example, an individual may obtain a standard score of 89 with a grade equivalent of 3.4 on one test, while the same standard score indicates a grade equivalent of 2.7 on another test.

    Using grade equivalents can often contribute to incorrect assumptions about the individual’s performance, especially in younger children.  For example, a child in the first grade might obtain a grade equivalent of 3.0 and the natural assumption for parents and teachers would be that she/he is capable of performing work typical of a student in the third grade. This is an incorrect thought process, especially when it is noted that the standard score associated with that grade equivalent is 100 and represents the skill set to be within the Average range, not “gifted” as the grade equivalent might imply.

    It is not uncommon for important decisions, such as promotion or retention to be based upon inaccurate grade equivalents, which can create troublesome consequences for the child socially and/or emotionally.  Thus, these scores should never be used for accelerating a student in school. What about the child in the fifth grade who obtains a standard score of 89, with a grade equivalent of 2.7? If parents/teachers focus only upon the grade equivalent, the thought of some other type of programming (i.e. special education) might exist even though the standard score would indicate the skill set to be within the lower end of the Average range of functioning.       

    In summary, grade equivalents are confusing, can be very misleading for parents and educators, can cause harm to a student if misinterpreted, do not measure the level at which a child functions, are not statistically sound measures and, therefore, should not reported in psycho-educational reports.

    Lori L. Houston, MS
    School Psychologist


    Sattler, J.M. (1982) Assessment of Children’s Intelligence and Special Abilities, 2nd Edition. Boston Massachusetts: Allyn and Bacon.

    Willis. J.O. (undated), Misuse of Grade Equivalents. www.myschoolpsychology.com.

    Association News: International Reading Association. (1981) Journal of Learning Disabilities, 14 (9), 558

    Examiner: The Newsletter of the Kansas Association of School Psychologists. (Fall 2002) 28 (3) 22     

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  • Self-Compassion: The Lesser Known Component of Self-Care

    Posted by Ashley Landrum on 11/2/2018 7:00:00 AM

    You’ve probably heard the term “self-care” more frequently lately, especially in the world of education and specifically, school psychology. The National Association of School Psychologists has even promoted the idea of “Self-Care Sundays” on social media, encouraging fellow school psychologists to share hobbies, strategies, and advice to continue the practice. If you google this term, you will find article after article about how important it is, activities you can engage in, and information about the benefits of self-care.

    One article published in September summarized Michael Hyatt’s presentations about self-care in the workplace. He shared ideas that “hustling” as a primary strategy to success, (or working as hard as humanly possible all the time) “will produce a high level of both physical and relational pain over time. You’ll eventually burn out or blow out”. He defines self care as “activities that make for a meaningful life outside of work, while contributing to better performance at work” (Biali, 2018). He continues to share that self-care actually gives you more energy to handle your work week, and that self-care is essential, not indulgent. Let me repeat that: self-care is essential, not indulgent.

    So we all know it’s important, right? There is nothing surprising or groundbreaking about the notion that we need to take care of ourselves; however, considering the significant levels of stress we experience as professionals, it is essential to determine how we can use this information effectively. We all could use an intervention or behavior plan that incorporates these ideas to manage our workload. Most people who pursue careers in education do it because they’re passionate about it; therefore, it seems logical that we continuously “give it our all” at work because we want to help students succeed. Unfortunately, job dissatisfaction and burnout can happen more quickly than we realize. Therefore, self-care sounds like a fantastic way to start giving ourselves a break.

    If you are familiar with Dr. Rebecca Branstetter, school psychologist, creator of the Thriving Psychologist Collective, and author of “The School Psychologist’s Survival Guide”, you may have seen her recent posts about self-care and a crucial piece we might be missing. If you are feeling that you practice self-care, whether it be hiking, getting a manicure, or taking time to read a book for fun, but still struggle with high levels of stress at work, there could be a missing component. She has shared research from Dr. Kristin Neff regarding self-compassion and how it is an essential part of our self-care practice. Dr. Neff breaks down self-compassion into three elements: 1) self-kindness vs. self-judgement; 2) common humanity vs. isolation; and 3) mindfulness vs overidentification (self-compassion.org). I think most can relate to some aspects of these elements; frustration about not finishing reports at work, meetings taking too long to finish other work, strong emotions when collaborations don’t go as planned, etc.

    Self-compassion is considered “a healthy way of relating to oneself during times of suffering, whether the suffering is caused by failure, perceived inadequacy, or general life difficulties” (Neff et. al, 2018). The research also suggests a correlation between increased compassionate and reduced uncompassionate self-responding predicting psychological functioning. Dr. Warren, Dr. Smeets, and Dr. Neff (2016) articulate an important aspect of self-compassion, by stating it “is more than the absence of self-judgement...rather, self-compassion provides several access points for reducing self-criticism” (p.20). These strategies can help humanize us, especially in how it relates to our work expectations. They also continue to describe correlations between self-criticism and depression, relapse, and “residual self-devaluative symptoms in recovered depressed patients”. In essence, there is a growing body of research documenting how our words impact our minds and our work. It is critical to our well-being to maintain psychological and emotional health.

    Our position as psychologists is unique, and at times can prove difficult, especially along with a lack of awareness of our roles and understanding of resources we bring to the table. We may lament and grow frustrated with lasting assumptions and other stressors in our profession. However, we always comfort and are supportive of our loved ones, correct? We should be treating ourselves in the same manner. While this may seem like common sense, stop and think about how often you experience harsh or negative self-talk. Most of us engage in self-talk and would never say half of those things to another person. I know I am guilty of this. As we move forward this year, I encourage you to to consider this concept of self-compassion. One of the most difficult ideas I’ve been processing this semester is understanding that there’s only so much I can do in one day; despite looming deadlines, I’m human too. We all work hard day in and day out, and that needs to be acceptable. No more work-shaming; there will always be more to do tomorrow, and we will continue meeting deadlines. By practicing self-compassion, we can continue our meaningful work and avoid some of those negative outcomes.

    Ashley Landrum
    Ashley Landrum, Ed. S, School Psychologist

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