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Four Ways to Assess the Inclusion of Neurodiversity in an Educational Organization  

Conrad Hughes, Education Advisory Board Member

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The first IQ tests were designed in the early 1900s by the French psychologist Alfred Binet in order to identify neurodiverse students. This tradition has remained a staple practice in schools: neuropsychoeducational reports using progressive matrix pattern recognition as a sign of general intelligence are administered to students and, based on scores, students are identified as having learning needs or being gifted.

There are a host of problems with this: starting with the construct of intelligence itself. Robert Sternberg’s theory of triarchic intelligence argues, with fairly rigorous scientific backing, that there are at least three different types of intelligence (practical, creative, and analytical). However, it tends to be analytical intelligence alone that is screened in the typical battery of tests used to identify students (Wechsler scales, Cognitive Abilities tests, and Raven’s Progressive Matrices tests being the most common). Language familiarity can mask results too as these tests are culturally biased (all tests are) despite real efforts to test non-verbal skills in abstract domains to remove cultural variables from the equation.

Being emotionally sensitive, knowing how to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, and seeking ways to empower others and make them feel safe are all forms of intelligence. Educational systems need to evolve to recognise several forms of intelligence and, therefore, to create learning environments where these are developed. This is why the coalition to honour all learning explores alternative transcripts and encourages schools and universities to bring them to the forefront of student assessment, to broaden our understanding of what intelligence, and therefore neurodiversity, actually means.

Four Steps

Here are four steps your institution can take to ensure that you are neurodiversity inclusive:

  1. A broad curriculum. Make sure that students have options to express themselves in a variety of areas: the arts, physical education, STEM, humanities, languages, social impact work, and interpersonal and intrapersonal ways. Scan your curriculum for that recognition of diversity. If learners are being excluded, open new areas of learning.
  2. Student voice. Ensure that students have a voice in their learning and in what they need. Do you ask students if they feel included in the curriculum? Students should be able to take part in outlining their individual learning plans and teachers/professors should actively seek student feedback on how inclusive their teaching is.
  3. Accommodations. Without labelling or stigmatising students, the faculty has to be able to recognise exceptional learning patterns in a variety of areas, and to differentiate, deepen, stretch, review, reinforce and develop learning for all students including gifted learners and students struggling to access the curriculum. Help and training by specialists is needed to get to this level of master teaching.
  4. Language. Think intentionally and critically about the language of instruction and the language of your neuropsychoeducational testing. If barriers are being created by this, look for ways to assess students in their first language so that your reading of their potential is not skewed.

At University of the People, our M.Ed. program has as one of its goals how to create an effective learning environment by implementing practices based on the diversity of learners and the resources available to them. This can help reinforce best practices in supporting neurodiverse students.