Public schools are subjecting students to unwarranted mental health assessments, according to New Hampshire physician Dr. Aida Cerundolo. The doctor notes that some K-8 students in the Granite State are undergoing psychological assessments carried out by untrained, unlicensed personnel, thus raising a red flag on the use and protection of the data gathered. On top of this, the mental health assessments not only bypassed parental consent but also fail to inform parents that such tests are being conducted on their children.
The undisclosed mental health evaluations are part of the Devereaux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA), a test designed and distributed by Kaplan Early Learning Company to assess the students’ competencies in eight domains including: relationship skills, social awareness, optimistic thinking and self-management as well as goal-directed behavior, self-awareness, personal responsibility and decision-making.
Apart from being administered by licensed health care professionals, DESSA could also be carried out by teachers. As per Devereaux, DESSA does not require special training or certification. Thus, untrained teachers are then being tapped to conduct the evaluations and are expected to have the time and psychiatric knowledge in assessing students. This, while simultaneously preparing for high-stakes examinations.
According to Dr. Cerundolo, the teachers are slated to answer up to 72 questions about each of their many students per class. The teachers are then expected to assess each student according to certain factors such as “carrying one’s self with confidence” and “coping with insults and mean comments.” However, it remains unclear how the teachers would evaluate a child who has not experience insults or bullying. The psychological evaluations reportedly aim to identify students that might require future interventions.
“DESSA is there to rate students on their behaviors but then to offer intervention to improve their scores. Social awareness is one of the key competencies to ensure the students are aware and accepting of race and diversity. These software programs profit 3rd party vendors when they sell the program to your school district. The [vendor] then collects non-academic data on your child, rates your child’s behaviors and attitudes, then makes more money by selling products to correct them,” said Ann Marie Banfield, Education Liaison for Cornerstone Action in New Hampshire.
Mental health assessments raise alarm on misdiagnosis, privacy risks
As a response to the unwarranted mental health evaluations, an article posted on The National Pulse website argued that tests could be influenced by imminent biases of the untrained teachers, which in turn may lead to assessments that are subjective in nature. For instance, the article contends how a teacher who appreciates a lively student may rate the latter differently compared with a teacher who appreciates a meeker student. The article also argues that one teacher may inadvertently label an exuberant child as a candidate for attention deficit disorder, while another teacher with a different personality may otherwise label a quiet, introverted child as abnormally withdrawn.
Aside from the risk of misdiagnosis, the mental health assessments also raise concerns over privacy. Dr. Cerundolo notes that while psychological tests performed by licensed health professionals are guaranteed to remain confidential under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, the same may not be expected when untrained teachers handle student data.
The physician’s concerns over the psychological tests are shared by a few teachers in the state. In fact, one teacher in particular even reached out to Banfield to discuss her objections on completing the assessments. The teacher is especially concerned that the tests did not ask for parental consent, and that the parents were not even notified that the assessments are being carried out by untrained teachers.