Can you conduct a reliable child assessment, remotely?

Even under the best of circumstances with a willing child and an experienced assessor, reliable child assessment is a complicated science and a bit of an art. It requires a sensitive tool and an examiner with a profound understanding of child development. How much of an impact does placing a child on the other side of a camera have on this already complex process?

To be honest, we were wary, but Covid-19 and social distancing forced the question. Assessors with decades of experience cautioned against the inauthenticity of a virtual environment. We discussed concerns about distractions and the invalidating help from well-meaning parents. To our relief two variables stood strong: the Gesell assessment system and children. The Gesell assessment system proved to not only shine over time, but over modalities. And children proved to be children - wild and wonderful at 4 and sunny and serene at 5 - whether live or on a video camera.

Our goal, as always, was to come to a virtual protocol and set of tasks that allow a child to show what they know and can do and offer a trained observer the best view of this process. Gesell examiners piloted protocols with the Gesell Developmental Observation-Revised and the Gesell Early Screener using a video camera and video applications like Zoom and Google Meet. The good news is that virtual assessment of early childhood development using the Gesell assessment system is feasible. 

Some lessons were learned, however, to deliberate.

Even expert examiners need some guidance. To save other assessors from the

trials and tribulations of our early days of assessing children virtually, we’ve created a How to Virtually Administer the Gesell Assessment System - Webinar Training Package. In this package we offer best practice for virtually administering the GDO-R and GES using a web camera. It includes:

  • How to Virtually Administer the Gesell Assessment System: Recorded Webinar
  • How to Virtually Administer the Gesell Assessment System: Sanctioned Guidelines Supplement (e-book)
  • Gesell Virtual Administration Proxy Instructional Video
  • Sample Virtual Administration Video

An adult Proxy is needed on the child’s end. To successfully administer the Gesell assessment system virtually, the examiner will need the help of an adult alongside the child; we call this person the Proxy. During the administration of the assessment, the examiner can direct the proxy to help by placing materials, measuring, throwing, or performing other actions that would typically be performed by the examiner. The greatest surprise of all was how challenging it is to properly prepare the Proxy. As such, as part of our virtual administration training package we provide a Proxy Instructional Video.

Even with a Proxy, some tasks do not translate well, over video. While ideally all tasks are administered, for the benefit of strand scoring, it became evident that

some tasks just did not work well on a camera. Cubes for example was a challenge. First, getting a set of official 1-inch cubes to the family was tricky and expensive. Even when families were given access to cubes, the demonstrations and process were too complicated on screen. In some of these instances we chose to omit concerning tasks, rather than risk impacting reliability. Tasks we recommend omitting are detailed in the How to Administer the Gesell Assessment System Virtually training package. 

We know, and we want you to understand, we still encourage a live assessment as a first best option. However, in times when that’s not possible, we find that a virtual assessment can be completed with integrity by a well-qualified examiner using a carefully piloted and defined set of protocols. Gesell strongly discourages assessors from completing a video administration without this guidance. Overall, we concluded that there is important potential for virtual administration of the Gesell Assessment System as a complement to in-person assessments.  

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