For school psychologists, there’s power in collaborative report-writing

It’s estimated that school psychologists spend more than 7 hours a week, on average, writing reports. And it’s a safe bet that most of them are looking for more effective and impactful ways to convey assessment results and support kids. 

At Psyched Services, we know from experience that collaborative models make an incredible difference for kids, school psychs, and districts as a whole. But if two (or more) heads really are better than one when it comes to assessments, does the same hold true for report-writing, too? 

In this blog entry, we explain why we think the answer is a firm “yes.” 

The therapeutic basis for collaboration

Collaborative approaches in school psychology are nothing new. A 1986 research paper describes a “descriptive-collaborative approach” to report-writing that emphasizes involvement of the parents and other team members in conclusions, as opposed to being “passive recipients” of the information in it. A 1995 study observed that the idea of collaboration between a school psychologist and a counselor had gained momentum in that decade in “response to the fragmentation in service delivery that often occurs in educational and mental health settings.” 

Collaboration is powerful because it enables different perspectives and ideas to be exchanged while a child is being assessed, ensuring fewer things are missed, and that recommendations are responsive, practical, meaningful, and useful. It is also instrumental to the success of the strength-based approach we use to deliver results. As a team, psychologists look beyond test scores, and instead consider daily experiences, real-time student responses and feedback, and their family and community context to come to conclusions. 

The goals of report-writing

Researchers note that central to the role of school psychologists is the ability to translate assessment results into clear, written, and actionable reports. Parents or caregivers, and even students, need to be able to understand the findings of assessments clearly, and have the ability to use the information to make informed decisions about their education. 

There is not a single way to write reports across school districts. While for flexibility’s sake, this is a benefit, it can leave school districts unsure where to begin, or how to develop best report practices that are suited for their students’ needs.

Federal and state guidelines, while underpinning school psychologist jobs in California and elsewhere, nonetheless provide only minimal guidance on student reports. 

California school psychologists, for example, are under guidance from state Education Code that their assessments need to be tailored to assess specific areas of educational need, as opposed to simply determining IQ or other measures. But many parents, teachers, and students have criticized reports in the past for being too technical, too focused on pathologies, and not giving enough emphasis to action plans or the context of a child’s circumstances. 

As school psychology has evolved, so has a clear interest in providing kids, their parents, and their teachers with truly workable and functional reports, rather than just reference documents. 

How does collaboration work in report-writing?

Psyched Services’ collaborative process, one that we’ve presented at both NASP and CASP, works like this:

  • Two psychologists are put together, including a “lead” psych who travels to the site and works in-person.
  • A “support” psych helps compile and interpret the extensive amount of data we use to put our student reports together.
  • Using a Google Doc and a big template, both psychs synthesize all the information. Then, they convene as a team to perform a Case Conceptualization, a meeting where they examine all of the data, reach final conclusions, decisions and recommendations.
  • If a lead administers a test, for example, they will write that section of the report. The support focuses on analyzing and writing up records and rating scales. But both psychs work together to write the conclusions and recommendations, based on all of the above. 

However, our experience at Psyched Services can be described this way. Collaborative report-writing:

 

  • Creates more balanced reports. Two heads mean a form of “peer review” that one psychologist writing a report on their own wouldn’t immediately have. Professionals are less likely to have issues with cognitive bias, and a collaborative approach may decrease overidentification.
  • Is more comprehensive and data-driven. A team approach improves the validity and efficiency of diagnostic decisions. Working together also means that participants are more likely to meet IEP timelines, a good solution to having limited report-writing time.
  • Stays consistent with legal guidelines: More carefully written and researched reports are in turn less error-prone. In fact, court cases have found school districts liable for reports with mistakes, those that were missing critical information, or for a lack of timely assessments.

It’s far from inevitable that collaboration would even slow down the process of report-writing by even a minute, as long as each member of the team has a pre-planned role that is identified during both  assessment and report writing phase. 

Writing multidisciplinary reports isn’t new, but quite often, without having a process, it ends up as a cut and pasted document. The full power of collaborative assessment is engaging in the assessment and report writing process together, with the focus on providing relevant and useful findings and recommendations for the entire team.

School psychs: Does the concept of collaborative assessments thrill you? Our unique approach is based on the collaboration and cooperation of two open-minded clinicians, because two brains are always better than one. If you’re curious, check out our available positions!