Doctoral student conducts discounted psychological testing for a young child.

PhD students provide psychological testing—at a fraction of the cost

November 14, 2019

When her son was in kindergarten, a parent in Denver noticed something was off. “He was reversing a lot of letters, not easily coming to reading and writing,” said the parent, who would like her name withheld for privacy. “We patiently waited but by the beginning of second grade, we still felt like there was something the school was missing.”

The family decided to look into comprehensive psychological testing at a children’s hospital, but the waitlist was more than a year. Next, they went to their primary care provider, who recommended a private firm that offered the service for a whopping $10,000. Finally, years after their son first showed symptoms of a learning disability, the parents received the answers they needed thanks to a discounted service offered by the School Psychology program in CU Denver’s School of Education & Human Development. “We were so relieved to finally get some answers,” the parent said. 

In Colorado, psychological testing used to diagnose and guide treatment for behavioral and cognitive disorders, such as dyslexia, ADHD, or anxiety, can cost thousands of dollars at a private practice, and establishments that do take insurance are known to have lengthy waitlists due to a shortage of licensed professionals. The result: many people are not getting the accommodations and treatment plans they need to succeed in school, and in life.

About 10 years ago, CU Denver’s School Psychology program, in partnership with the CU Denver Student and Community Counseling Center, developed the Psychological Testing & Assessment service to address a vital need in the community for a fraction of the cost. Each semester, under the supervision of a licensed psychologist, a handful of advanced doctoral students administer a comprehensive list of tests for select CU Denver students, community clients, and children, for $350-$400.  

“It’s a win-win,” said Franci Crepeau-Hobson, PhD, associate professor and director of clinical training in School Psychology. “It’s nice that we are able to offer a service that is very much needed and at the same time provide a training experience for our doctoral students that’s very meaningful.”

Franci Crepeau-Hobson, PhD, associate professor and director of clinical training in School Psychology works with students in CU Denver's School Psychology program.
Franci Crepeau-Hobson assists doctoral students in the School Psychology program.

Testing leads to resources needed for success

“Psychological testing” is similar to medical testing—a person showing symptoms sees a provider, who orders a series of tests and assessment tools administered by a psychologist to measure the behavior and guide treatment. Results can be submitted to a school to receive a 504 accommodation or an individualized education plan (IEP). 

The testing typically involves a combination of questionnaires, checklists, surveys, interviews, medical records, and observations, which all require resources that many local schools can’t afford. Crepeau-Hobson calls it a social justice issue. “We truly live in a wait-to-fail system in education. If you don’t have the resources to get an evaluation, you may not be able to access needed services and interventions that can really make a difference.”

Each year the School Psychology program serves about 25 people, with clients as young as 2 and as old as 72. The testing takes at least one full day. “We offer a comprehensive battery of tests—cognitive, academic, executive functioning, social emotional, attention, and memory. Then we decide what tests are needed to go more in-depth,” said Megan Morrison-Steele, a third-year doctoral candidate in the program. She added, “That way, when we talk to the parents, we don’t talk to them with assumptions. We have all the information from the assessments.”

The Denver parent and her then 9-year-old son went through two days of testing, a mix of questionnaires and tests related to IQ, reading, writing, and math. At the end, the doctoral student sat the parents down and presented a data-driven diagnosis: dysgraphia, a learning disability that affects writing abilities. The parents were given a written report, which they shared with the differentiated learning department at their son’s school. “Now he gets extra reading and writing support throughout the day,” the parent said. “He’s really growing in his learning ever since he’s gotten the extra support in school.”

100% job rate for School Psychology graduates 

CU Denver’s School Psychology program serves as a pipeline for mental health professionals in K-12 education. One hundred percent of graduates land jobs—many at local school districts such as Denver Public Schools. Even as they progress through the program, students are in the field gaining experience at local schools, where they are supervised by licensed school psychologists and work directly with students.

The Psychological Testing & Assessment service has taken Morrison-Steele’s educational experience to a different level. She beams as she talks about starting her career as a school psychologist in elementary and middle schools. “It just makes me excited and pumped to keep working with kids and their families,” she said. “I can’t stress how important this work is.”

If you or someone you know is interesting in scheduling an intake appointment, visit the Student and Community Counseling Center in room 454 in the Tivoli (900 Auraria Parkway) or call 303.315.7270. There may be a waiting list.