What Every Parent Should Know About the Brigance Assessment

I am often asked by parents how to use the results of the Brigance Asessment Tool. Here is an overview of the Brigance Assessment tool: what it accomplishes, why we use it, and what every parent should know about it.

1. What is the Brigance Early Childhood Screen? The Brigance is a screening tool that is used to identify learning delays, as well as strengths and weaknesses in language, motor, self-help, social -emotional and cognitive skills. The assessment tools are divided by age group: Birth to 11 months, 12 months to 23 months, 2 years, 2.5 years, 3 years, 4 years and K/5 years. Skill areas include personal data (name, age, address), color recognition, picture vocabulary, visual discrimination with both forms and letters, visual motor skills, gross motor skills, rote counting, body part identification, ability to follow verbal direction, number concepts, and speech syntax and fluency.

2. Why does Suzuki use this assessment? As a screening tool, the Brigance allows Suzuki teachers and staff to form a clear idea of the child’s knowledge and motor ability in a consistent format. We are looking less at the child’s ability to give rote answers than we are noting any discrepancies that may signal a developmental or processing delay.

3. Should I practice these skills with my child at home or should I drill him/her on the correct information I am able to provide, such as full name, address, colors, numbers, etc.? We emphatically recommend not following this course — it will make very little difference in how we will use the screening results. Most of the responses the child will give us are developmentally appropriate so he/she will be able to offer them when the time comes. It will most likely frustrate both you and your child if you ask him to work on things that he is not ready to master. One helpful hint from the teachers: One thing you may want to stress if your child has a longer name and goes by a nickname is the difference between the two. Tell her that her actual name is Elizabeth but her nickname is Betsy!

4. If my child knows all the correct answers, won’t this mean he should be placed in a higher group for more advanced learning? No, it will not. The Brigance is used only as a screen to insure that we are not missing any red flags or to pinpoint a weakness that we will want to strengthen. The daily interaction the teachers have with the children as well as their informal observation notes are used far more extensively to prepare lessons and materials for them.

5. How are the results used? Can they be misused? The results are used to provide our parents with basic knowledge about the abilities of their child in the areas mentioned in question #1. We use the responses to determine any gaps or delays in the skills or knowledge that your child should have at a certain point. If there are such indications, we may either rescreen or direct you to your child’s pediatrician for further assessment. This happens very rarely. In addition, the results are sent, along with the teacher recommendations and the progress reports, to any independent school to which the child’s family has applied.

6. Will the Brigance give me any information about my child’s IQ? Again, no. This instrument is simply a screen to insure that your child is able to give back the response or information that the majority of children in his/her norm group was able to give.

7. What is a norm group? A norm group is shorthand for a normative group of thousands of children assessed across the nation whose responses provide the normative data upon which the assessed skills are measured.

8. Why doesn’t Suzuki use a standardized test that would measure intelligence, reasoning ability or academic achievement? There are no such tests that are routinely given to children in the first five years. The Kindergarten children are given the Iowa Test of Basic skills in the spring of every year but even so, most of these children are taking a test that cannot be scored accurately as the children are at least 6 months younger than the norm group. The topic of how and when standardized tests should be administered and of what the results actually mean is a topic of great interest to many parents and is discussed at great length in two recent publications: Nurture Shock and Einstein Never Used Flashcards. Because young children in the first five years are experiencing the most rapid and widespread development they will have in their lifetime, and because readiness occurs at varying stages, the harm that incorrect or misleading test results may have on young children is enormous; some children are often unfairly labeled for years to come. Your child’s pediatrician may also help you with any questions you might have surrounding the question of testing.

9. Why are the scores and age ranges no longer printed on the Brigance? During the last several years, we have found that many of our families were experiencing undue stress and anxiety as they compared their child’s responses with what the norm group stated. Most of the time, parents felt that their child should be moved to another level or another group based on what they perceived was their child’s giftedness. We found it difficult to explain that our children, having grown up in this very enriched environment, tend to do exceptionally well when assessed. We believe this screen can best by used by teachers and parents alike when they focus on the actual abilities shown rather than on an arbitrary age range or combination of scores. When these are sent out to the private schools as part of the teacher recommendation packet, we transfer the information onto the original scoring sheet to be mailed along with other documents.

10. My child’s teacher said that he could not complete a task that I have seen him do at home — why won’t you note this on the screen — even though he didn’t respond while being assessed — because I have seen him do it often? The screen is given with certain parameters such as time limit, a prohibition against “coaching” or assisting, etc. Much of the screen will measure the child’s ability to follow verbal directions and this cannot be noted on the screen if the child is reluctant to so at the time the teacher is working with him. In addition, a reluctance to participate in the activity with the teacher or an inability to focus on the task at hand may signal a certain lack of readiness that might be indicative of a child’s comfort level with this type of interaction. If this is the case, we want to work with him on establishing more confidence and an eagerness to engage with a one-on-one assessment or presentation.

11. Should I pay more attention to my child’s Brigance or to her progress report? We believe the progress report is a more accurate tool in terms of providing the best information as to what the child is actually achieving according to our curriculum objectives. The progress report also offers a detailed picture of your child’s proficiency in the various skill areas that are developmentally appropriate.

12. I like to compare my child’s assessment from year to year and from the fall to the spring. Is this something I should do? Of course, if you’d like to see what types of progress he has made. Please remember, however, that this is only a snapshot — a moment in time — and is really not an accurate depiction of his growth. The progress report and your conversations and interactions with him will tell your more about what he has learned than will the Brigance!

13. My friend’s child is the same age as mine and yet I believe he did better and knew more answers on the Brigance than mine did. Why? Remember, these results tell us only of a certain time when your child either was or was not eager to participate in the questions and tasks we asked of him, Additionally, children develop very differently and perhaps your child was not ready to learn or exhibit the particular knowledge or skill. Please don’t worry — it’s only a matter of time!

14. Will the results of the Brigance affect my child’s chances of being accepted into a private school? No, they will not. We include them as one more piece of information to complete the picture of who we see in our Suzuki classroom. The JATP, Suzuki teacher recommendations and the child’s observation at the specific school are the three most important determining factors in the decision that each school makes.