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Leveraging strengths assessment and intervention model (LeStAIM): a theoretical strength-based assessment framework.

The Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEIA 2004) mandates that each state must adopt criteria for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability that: 1) must not require the use of a severe discrepancy between intellectual ability and achievement; 2) must permit the use of a process based on the child's response to scientific, research-based intervention; and 3) may permit the use of other alternative research-based procedures for determining whether a child has a specific learning disability (United States Department of Education, 2006). The IDEIA 2004 mandates have led to debates regarding what is the best framework to use for the assessment of learning disabilities (Hale et al., 2010; Reynolds, 2008). Yet, the need for a comprehensive nonbiased assessment is still required by law, as Response to Intervention (RtI) is only part of the process required to assess learning disabilities (Reynolds, 2008).

Many professionals are aware that the sole reliance on RtI is not going to solve the problem with the assessment or achievement of low performing students, especially those students with learning disabilities (Reynolds, 2008). More importantly, the understanding of why students are having difficulties will assist in the understanding of what type of interventions will address the problem(s) (Pohlman, 2008). Hale et al. (2010) argue that neither the ability-achievement discrepancy model nor failure to respond to intervention alone is sufficient for the identification of learning disabilities. Many experts in assessment indicate that what makes the most empirical and clinical sense is a framework that identifies patterns of psychological processing strengths and weaknesses that explain academic deficits (Hale et al., 2010). The assessment of cognitive and neuropsychological processes strength and weaknesses should be used for both specific learning disabilities (SLD) identification and intervention purposes (Hale et al., 2010). Similarly, a comprehensive assessment involving cognitive and neuropsychological strengths and weaknesses can also assist in understanding and intervening with children experiencing varying learning problems and disabilities.

Professional organizations, such as the National Association of School Psychologists (NASP), have provided guidance to the continued debate on assessment practices. In 2010, the National Association of School Psychologists Model for Comprehensive and Integrated Psychological Services emphasized that examiners should have the "knowledge of varied models and methods for assessment and data collection for identifying strengths and needs, developing effective services and programs, and measuring progress and outcomes" (p. 323). Previously, the conference on the Future of School Psychology in 2002 prioritized the top outcomes for children. These outcomes included: 1) improved academic competence and social-emotional functioning for all children; 2) enhanced family-school partnerships and parental involvement; 3) more effective education and instruction for all learners; and 4) increased child and family services in schools to promote health and mental health, and 5) integrated community services to support the child and family (Dawson, Cummings, Harrison, Short, Gorin, & Palomares, 2003/2004). National initiatives have also prescribed that assessment practices address student's strengths, involve parents, school staff, and other relevant individuals, and focus on improved outcomes for students (U.S. Department of Education, 1994).

The NASP model for the professional practice of school psychologists, as well as federal initiatives, requires that school psychologists and assessment personnel incorporate the use of children and youths' strengths and needs in the assessment and intervention process, and involve the active participation of the student, parents, school personnel, and community in order to promote better developmental outcomes for students. The goal of current assessment practices in public schools is to identify an individual's deficits when considering eligibility for special education services. Besides listing strengths on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs), assessment personnel often do not focus on students' strengths either to understand functioning or to generate interventions (Epstein, 1999; Jimerson, Sharkey, Nyborg, & Furlong, 2004; Lubbe & Eloff, 2004; Reid, Epstein, Pastor, & Ryser, 2000).

Focusing on deficits does not necessarily lead to better understanding of the students learning needs nor does it typically address or promote better outcomes. Moreover, it has been documented that there are unintended effects when focusing on deficits. These unintended effects can lead to: feelings of demoralization and diminished self-confidence, lowered motivation and aspirations to excel, negative expectancies, stereotypes, and lack of feelings of belonging (Laursen, 2003; Reid, Epstein, Pastor, & Ryser, 2000). Assessment requires both the understanding of students' weaknesses in order to classify or to diagnose disabilities, and the understanding of strengths and assets in order to use these strengths to promote learning and adjustment (Reid et al., 2000).

A focus on strengths has received much attention in mental health, child welfare, family services, and in education through resiliency research (Blundo, 2001; Epstein, 1999; Lubbe & Eloff, 2004). A strength-based focus has also been a result of positive psychology, which emphasizes individual strengths of character and fosters strengths to produce positive outcomes (Seligman, 2000). While a strength-based focus has been primarily used in therapy and prevention, strength-based assessment has emerged more recently.

Strength-based Assessment

Epstein (1998) indicates that strength-based assessment is based on the beliefs that: 1) all students have strengths and the emphasis on these strengths will lead to heightened motivation; 2) all students are capable of learning and demonstrating many strengths given sufficient experiences, instructions, and opportunities by their school, family, and/or community; and 3) the focus on students positive skills and resources is more likely to lead them to use more of their strengths and resources. In addition, strength-based assessment directs the professional to identify and build upon the existing strengths, assets, and skills of the student, family, and supporting individuals, such as school personnel.

As previously mentioned, assessment personnel in the schools rarely use students' strengths as a central component in their assessment or intervention plans (Cosden, Kern, Koegel, Koegel, & Greenwell, 2006). The NASP model for Comprehensive and Integrated School Psychological Services (2010) emphasizes the "recognition of risk and protective factors that are vital to understanding and addressing systemic problems ..." (p. 327). Addressing risks, protective factors, and strengths or assets are part of using resiliency theory, which has shown to optimize outcomes for students and families (Benson, Scales, Hamilton, Sesma, Hong, & Roehlkepartain, 2006; Masten, 2001). Students who possess protective factors, strengths and assets tend to have more positive outcomes than students who possess fewer protective factors, strengths, and assets (Benson et al., 2006; Ogg, Brinkman, Dedrick, & Carlson, 2010). Protective factors, strengths, and assets are part of the foundation in strengths-based assessment and intervention.

While emerging, there is a movement toward a strength-based assessment, and away from a deficit model (e.g., Epstein, 1999; Lubbe & Eloff, 2004; Pohlman, 2008; Rhee, Furlong, Turner, & Harari, 2001). This movement toward a strength-based framework has been primarily focused on character strengths and social-emotional functioning, which have followed the positive psychology and resiliency movements. Park and Peterson (2003) have used a positive psychology framework to develop their Values in Action Inventory for Youth (VIA-Youth), which is a self-report inventory for children and youth and measures 24 different strengths of character. Other inventories to assess social-emotional strengths have also been published, such as LeBuff, Shapiro and Naglieri's (2009) Devereux Student Strengths Assessment (DESSA) and Epstein's (2004) Behavioral and Emotional Rating Scale-2 (BERS-2). In addition, there are other non-published, strength-based systems, such as the Multifactor Assessment and Action Planning System (MAAPS) (Bouman et al., 2012), developed by Doug Bouman, one of the authors of this manuscript. The movement toward positive psychology and research on the use of resiliency in schools has led some researchers to investigate the efficacy of strength-based assessment.

Studies focusing on the effectiveness of the use of strength-based assessment on the treatment and outcomes of students with behavioral disorders have shown positive results. Cox (2006) found that the outcomes for students with behavioral difficulties who were initially assessed using Epstein's BERS-2 showed significantly better outcomes than those students whose therapist did not use the BERS-2, and who did not use a strength-based practice to treatment. Similar results were found by Barton, Macking, and Fields (2006). Other researchers have also begun to explore the implementation of positive psychology in the schools as part of treatment approaches (refer to Gilman, Huebner, & Furlong, 2009).

While researchers and practitioners have used strength-based assessment and interventions (e.g., Cox, 2006; Epstein, 1998; Rhee et al., 2001), their focus has been in addressing behavioral and emotional difficulties. A strength-based assessment framework focusing on learning and adjustment is still needed in the field of school psychology given the fact that most students referred for difficulties have learning problems (Eggen, & Kauchak, 2007). The closest reference to a strength-based framework addressing learning difficulties is described by Lubbe and Eloff (2004) who promote: 1) a paradigm shift in assessment focusing on student's strengths, resources, and capacities; 2) use of dynamic assessment; and 3) involvement of the various social systems in the assessment process. Lubbe and Eloff (2004) and Pohlman (2008) emphasize the need for a paradigm shift toward using a strength-based approach to assessment of learning. This paradigm shift is consistent to NASP's Comprehensive and Integrated Model for Services (2010), as well as to the "leveraging strengths assessment and intervention model (LeStAIM)" that will be described in this article.

In summary, it has not been until the last decade that a strength-based focus to treatment and assessment has gained attention in school psychology (Nickerson, 2007). The delay in focus on strength-based assessment in school psychology may be due to various barriers. The main barrier has been a historical focus on psychopathology. Other barriers include a lack of research linking strengths to outcomes, clear legislative and professional role requirements, availability of appropriate standardized measures, and emphasis on strength-based assessment in practice. These barriers, however, are slowly dissipating as positive psychology has gained more momentum and there is continued focus on strengths and resiliency (Seligman, Steen, Park, & Peterson, 2005). There is also more research showing a link between strengths and improved outcomes (Barton, Macking, & Fields, 2006; Cox 2006). This research has prompted systemic changes, such as legislative mandates and professional role descriptions for school psychologists and assessment personnel who are "urged" to address strengths, assets, and risk factors (National Association of School Psychologists Model for Comprehensive and Integrated School Psychological Services, 2010; U.S. Department of Education, 1994). In addition, standardized strength-based assessment tools are being developed and current ones exist (Epstein, 1998; Park & Peterson, 2008; LeBuff, Shapiro, & Naglieri, 2009). With these developments, there is a need for a comprehensive assessment model that addresses students' strengths, assets, and risk factors to promote positive outcomes for students. The leveraging strengths and intervention model's (LeStAIM) framework to be described in this article is a comprehensive strength-based assessment model which can be used to assess all children referred for learning and social-emotional difficulties.

Leveraging Strengths Assessment and Intervention Model (LeStAIM)

Theoretical Model. The LeStAIM is a comprehensive theoretical assessment framework that emphasizes strengths to leverage weaknesses in cognitive, academic, and social-emotional functioning. The goals of the LeStAIM's framework are to: 1) understand the student's cognitive, academic, and social-emotional strengths, assets, and needs; 2) assist the parents and the student to understand the student's learning and social-emotional strengths, assets, and needs; and 3) assist parents and related personnel with the leveraging of strengths as part of the development and implementation of individual and multi-systemic interventions to optimize developmental outcomes. A brief overview of the model will be provided, as a more detailed description is beyond the scope of this article.

As shown on Figure 1, the LeStAIM framework is a theory driven strength-based assessment model, which is based on ecological theory and uses standardized, informal, and dynamic assessment to investigate cognitive processing, learning, and adjustment based on neuroscience, psychology, educational psychology, and education. The assessment results facilitate the use of leveraging strengths to develop weaknesses by implementing individual and multi-systemic scientifically based interventions to promote positive developmental outcomes for students.

Assessment. The LeStAIM's approach is similar to the traditional psycho-educational assessment, which involves review of records, observations, interviews, informal and standardized testing. While traditional psycho-educational assessment focuses on addressing weaknesses without a clear understanding of what is causing the difficulties (Hale et al., 2010; Pohlman, 2008; Reynolds, 2008), the LeStAIM framework involves the use of learning theories to develop a hypothesis using strengths, assets, and protective factors. This hypothesis is then used to develop scientifically based interventions to optimize outcomes for children and youth. Research has shown that the number one predictor when solving a problem is a clear hypothesis of the problem, which leads to defined interventions and positive outcomes for students (Erchul & Matsen, 2010). Thus, the strength-to-strategy component of the assessment, which focuses on leveraging strengths to address weaknesses, becomes a very important component of the assessment.

Another difference is the use of dynamic assessment when using the LeStAIM approach. The LeStAIM approach uses dynamic assessment, which involves the use of qualitative information provided by the student during the assessment to understand processing, learning, and the zone of proximal development in order to determine what is going to assist the student in moving forward with his/her learning and adjustment. The dynamic assessment component involves paying close attention to the subtle behavior of the student while in the testing situation, as well as understanding the role of mediated learning and how this can be used to optimize student learning. (The reader is referred to the work Robinson-Zanartu (2000) for more information on dynamic assessment).

Table 1 illustrates a comparison between traditional psycho-educational and the LeStAIM framework. As described on Table 1, the LeStAIM framework is similar to the traditional assessment in the use of assessment techniques and tools. However, as previously described, the LeStAIM approach emphasizes a theory driven approach to interpreting information gathered in the assessment and formulating a hypothesis using a strength-based perspective to understand strengths, assets, and needs.

Unfortunately, many times traditional psycho-educational assessment and RtI do not focus on understanding learning, but rather on addressing weaknesses without a clear understanding of what is causing the difficulties (Hale et al., 2010; Pohlman, 2008; Reynolds, 2008). This is contrary to the problem-solving model (advocated by so many current school psychology leaders and by legislation), which emphasizes the understanding of difficulties and having a clear hypothesis which will assist in solving the problem. Research has shown that the number one predictor when solving a problem is a clear hypothesis of the problem, which leads to defined interventions and positive outcomes for students in consultation (Erchul & Matsen, 2010). It is expected that the same holds true in assessment, as a clear understanding of the problem should lead to scientifically based interventions which will optimize outcomes (Hale & Fiorello, 2004; Pohlman, 2008). Research in assessment outcomes is lacking for this reason. It is expected that research in assessment outcomes will follow once assessment models follow: 1) a clear theoretical approach to the relationship between assessment and interventions, and 2) a delineated approach to learning and adjustment that produce positive outcomes for students.

Learning. The LeStAIM approach emphasizes the understanding of learning based on brain functioning, cognitive developmental, and neuroscience. Because not everyone has knowledge or expertise in neuropsychology in the schools, the use of neurodevelopmental constructs, as described by Dr. Mel Levine (2001), provide a framework for understanding cognitive processing and learning.

Dr. Levine conceptualized eight neurodevelopmental constructs, which represent neurological capacities that are expected to become increasingly effective over time with experience (Levine, 2001). The eight neurodevelopmental constructs based on neuroscience are: memory, neuro-motor function, social cognition, attention, higher order cognition, temporal sequential ordering, language, and spatial ordering (c.f., Levine, 2001). It is important to note that Dr. Levine's neurodevelopmental constructs are consistent with various aspects of Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory, which has been widely researched (Schneider & McGrew, 2004).

The neurodevelopmental framework describes learners in terms of profiles of strengths, assets, and weaknesses as opposed to using diagnoses, and provides an understanding of the relationship between these strengths and weaknesses to academic and social functioning (Levine, 2001). The main assumption when using neurodevelopmental constructs is that there is a mismatch between the strengths and weaknesses of a learner and school demands. Understanding this mismatch and focusing on strengths will result in more effective interventions for students (Levine, 2001). Therefore, focusing on strengths involves leveraging strengths to address weaknesses (this will be referred to as "strength-to-strategy" in reports to make it clear for parents to understand).

Positive Development. In addition to the neurodevelopmental constructs, the LeStAIM approach emphasizes positive development and the use of strengths through the use of resiliency theory and positive psychology, which provide a framework for conceptualizing what promotes positive development in children and youth. Both positive psychology and resiliency theory emphasize the need to focus on individual strengths, as well as understanding the multiple systems which can support a student's development to foster strengths (Benson et al., 2006; Masten, 2001; Seligman, 2000).

The Search Institute has conducted much research involving what promotes positive development. Its research shows that focusing on a multi-systemic approach increasing the number of "developmental assets" (e.g., internal assets: commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, positive identity; as well as external assets: supports, commitment to learning, positive values, social competencies, positive identity) across multiple contexts results in better outcomes for children and youth (Benson et al., 2006). (For further information, refer to the search institute's research articles and list of 40 developmental assets at:

Multi-Systemic. Promoting positive outcomes for students depends on many factors across various systems. Consequently, using an ecological perspective with a multi-systemic perspective is used when conceptualizing assessment and interventions. The LeStAIM framework, not only involves the student in the assessment process, but also in the intervention development stage to foster "self-determination" and "self-advocacy." Research on self-determination indicates that students need to be equipped with the knowledge, beliefs, and skills to promote their own academic success (Field & Hoffman, 2002). The LeStAIM approach also involves parents in the assessment and intervention process, as research shows that parent involvement is the number one predictor of students' academic success (Eggen & Kauchak, 2007). When possible, other systems (e.g., teachers, siblings, friends, school personnel, etc.) in the student's life are also involved to provide support in promoting the student's strengths and assets.

Using Strengths to Leverage Weaknesses

Interventions using a strength-based focus move beyond reduction of distress to the development of wellness and competence (Cosden et al, 2006; Laursen, 2003). The interventions are focused on using students' strengths to motivate them and assist them to develop their weaknesses. In some cases strengths are used to help the student "bypass" his/her weaknesses. Leveraging strengths is a framework that is consistent to what other professionals focusing on strengths have used when working with children and youth. For example, Cosden et al. (2006) describe an example of leveraging strengths by using the "identification of a child's preferences ... to motivate the child to engage in other needed, but less preferred, activities" (p. 3). Other types of interventions using strengths have focused on students' strengths to address contextual, as well as individual weaknesses (Cox, 2006). Interventions using strengths and assets result in increased motivation and a sense of empowerment (Baker, Koegel, & Koegel,1998; Brookemen-Frazee, 2004; Cox, 2006).

The LeStAIM model focuses on positive student developmental outcomes, not just on the assessment process. The theoretical framework is described above. To clarify the process, a case study highlighting a strengths-based approach to assessment and intervention design follows.

Case Illustration

Adam, a ten-year old boy, was referred for a comprehensive psychoeducational evaluation by his mother to address her concerns related to his academic performance, assignment completion, and increasing reluctance to attend school. It was reported that Adam exhibited strengths in reading skills and verbal abilities. These strengths were in contrast to the significant difficulties that were noted in completing written tasks efficiently and completing tasks with fluency. Additional concerns included difficulty sitting still long enough to complete assigned work, especially when tasks required writing. Adam's assets, skills, and hobbies included use of computers, sports, art, building models, and creating buildings or machines with Legos [c].

Assessment Results. Briefly, results from the assessment using the LeStAIM framework suggested that Adam was a bright student with significant neuro-developmental strengths in language, temporal-sequential ordering, memory, and higher order cognition. These strengths allowed him to progress academically in reading, applied mathematics, science and social studies. However, spatial ordering, neuro-motor/ grapho-motor functions, attention, and social cognition were significant weaknesses for him. These observations help to explain his difficulties in math computation and written expression. His delayed grapho-motor skills provided an understanding of what led to his illegible handwriting. Similarly, challenges with spatial ordering explained his frequent letter and number reversals.

Linking profile to academic concerns. Adam's strengths allowed him to progress in reading and allowed him to learn and assimilate information presented at school, at home, and through his environment. Unfortunately, his strengths were overshadowed by several specific weaknesses. Primarily, Adam's struggle to sustain attention and stay on task had raised the diagnostic question about a possible attention deficit disorder. However, his inconsistent attention appeared to occur more often when Adam was involved in written tasks. His overall struggle with written tasks was influenced by his difficulty with spatial orientation and weak grapho-motor function. His failure to complete assignments and his reluctance to begin writing tasks seemed to be related to his struggles with spatial ordering and grapho-motor difficulties. In addition, at the core of his struggle with motivation was Adam's belief that he was not as "smart" as most of his peers. His mother and his teacher had told him he needed to try harder, but despite his efforts he continued to experience failure. Adam reached a point of near "shut down" and began refusing to attend school.

Leveraging strengths through a strength-to-strategy plan. During the meeting held to discuss the assessment results, Adam, his mother and his teacher were given a one page strength-to-strategy plan. This strength-to-strategy plan is shown on Table 2.

In the strength-to-strategy plan shown on Table 2, the three boxes visually display three areas that synthesized the findings from the strength-based assessment report: Works great (strengths and assets), works (adequacies), and working on (weaknesses). Understanding strengths and the reasons why difficulties arise is very important in the LeStAIM framework, as part of the emphasis is to empower the student, the parents, and other systems to support the student's success. Once there was an understanding of Adam 3 strengths and weaknesses, possible interventions and modifications were discussed to leverage his strengths to compensate for his weaknesses. While the examiner suggested various scientifically based strategies and interventions, and the teacher and parent cooperatively developed others, only a few of these interventions will be presented in this article due to space constraints.

The first group of interventions focused on empowering Adam to assist him to identify ways to leverage his strengths to support spatial confusions, grapho-motor difficulties, and motivation. Examples of how dam could leverage his language strengths to support visual confusions through verbal cuing and self-talk were discussed and recommended. Research has shown that verbal cuing and self-talk enhance earning and metacognition (Eggen, & Kauchak, 2007). To illustrate this in the meeting, Adam was shown a specific example of how to leverage words to form a letter he had struggled to write correctly: a cursive z. The process shown was to use a verbal cue such as: "draw a number 3 sitting on the line and loop it back up to form a z." Additionally, it was recommended that he form commonly reversed letters and numerals with Legos [c] and place them nearby to cue their directionality when writing. For b's and d's his verbal cue could reflect differentiating b's from d's through the first and last letter of his name.

The strategies to support him at school included accommodating grapho-motor tasks by accelerating keyboard instruction to bypass weak grapho-motor skills, given that the computer use was one of Adam's strengths. Additional strategies were implemented to assist his grapho-motor skills, such as enlarging math calculation sheets to obtain more white space, turning binder paper horizontally, and to using lines to eliminate confusion between columns for place value. Considering Adam's strength in higher order thinking, metacognitive strategies were also suggested, such as the use of colored pens to highlight mixed function signs when adding, subtracting, multiplying and dividing. In addition, Adam's mother and teacher were to create a motivation program with well-defined rewards and consequences for completing homework on time. While not every intervention can be research-based, the majority of the interventions used for Adam were supported based on educational foundations (refer to Eggen & Kauchak, 2007).

Multi-systemic involvement. Adam was followed up via educational therapy provided by one of the authors. In the schools, this type of follow up would typically be provided by a special educator and the school psychologist could assist via consultation. The multi-systemic involvement afforded by the LeStAIM framework was maximized by involving Adam, the parent, and teacher to encourage them to work collaboratively to support Adam. Adam was observed to embrace a new perspective based on his understanding of his learning difficulties. He understood that his unhappiness at school was tied to the fact that his weaknesses in grapho-motor and spatial orientation made it difficult to achieve certain tasks at school and at home and his frustration with his difficulties impacted his motivation. After learning about his strengths, Adam was able to tap into them by using language and metacognitive strategies to work on written tasks associated to written language and math.


The National Association of School Psychologists (NASP) Model for Comprehensive and Integrated School Psychological Services (2010), federal initiatives and mandates, and experts in the field of assessment have called for the comprehensive assessment of students to: understand students' pattern of strengths and weaknesses, explain areas of deficit, and derive scientifically based interventions to increase students' positive development and outcomes (Hale et al., 2010; Reynolds, 2008; U. S. Department of Education, 1994; 2006). Positive psychology, research on resiliency, and emerging research on strength-based treatment and assessment further support the use of strengths, assets and protective factors to optimize students' developmental outcomes (Benson et al., 2006; Ogg, Brinkman, Dedrick, & Carlson, 2010; Seligman et al., 2005). Current assessment practices in the schools, however, focus on deficits (Epstein, 1998; Nickerson, 2007). It is clear that professional organizations, such as NASP, and federal initiatives are promoting a paradigm shift to use strengths in assessment practices in the schools.

Debates as to what entails the best approach to assessment are often based on specific approaches that either focus on old practices in assessment (e.g., use of discrepancy model or strict use of normative data) or move toward what some find to be "new" practices, such as RtI. It is clear that the sole reliance on the discrepancy model is not going to assist children develop optimally. Similarly, sole reliance on RtI will not solve the problems for many children who experience various difficulties outside of the reading or math intervention models that may be used as part of RtI programs in the schools. A comprehensive theoretical assessment framework that incorporates theory and research in neuroscience, psychology, and education to facilitate the understanding of students' learning, development, and adjustment, and uses of strength-based focus that leads to better developmental outcomes is needed in the field of school psychology.

The LeStAIM framework is a comprehensive theoretical assessment model that uses ecological theory, neurodevelopmental constructs based on neuroscience, psychology, educational psychology, and education; and considers research in positive psychology and resiliency to assess strengths, assets, and protective factors to understand cognitive processing, learning, behavioral, and social-emotional functioning of all children. The goals of the LeStAIM's framework are to: 1) understand the student's cognitive, academic, and social-emotional strengths, assets, and needs; 2) assist the parents and the student to understand the student's learning and social-emotional strengths, assets, and needs; and 3) assist parents and related personnel with the leveraging of strengths as part of the development and implementation of individual and multi-systemic interventions to optimize developmental outcomes. In order to optimize student's positive development, school psychologists need to actively engage in a paradigm shift in assessment and intervention practices toward a strength-based focus and away from a deficit model. The LeStAIM framework supports this paradigm shift by incorporating a theory driven approach to strength-based assessment and intervention that will optimize outcomes for children, youth, and families.


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Wilda Laija-Rodriguez

California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA

Karen Grites

Learning Wisely, Palo Alto, CA

Doug Bouman

CLC Network, Grand Rapids, Michigan

Craig Pohlman

Mind Matters at Southeast Psych, Charlotte, NC

Richard L. Goldman

California State University Northridge, Northridge, CA

Correspondence regarding this article should be send to: Wilda Laija-Rodriguez, California State University Northridge, 18111 Nordhoff Street, Northridge, CA 91330. Email:

TABLE 1: Comparison Between Traditional Psycho-educational Assessment
and LeStAIM

Traditional Assessment           LeStAIM

--Uses review of records,        --Uses review of records, interviews,
  interviews, observations         observations

--Uses informal, curriculum-     --Uses informal, curriculum--based,
  based, and standardized          and standardized testing

--Addresses strengths, but       --Addresses weaknesses, but focuses
  focuses on weaknesses            on strengths

--Focuses on scores to           --Interprets scores and uses dynamic
  classify performance             assessment to understand
  compared to the norm             individual's learning

--Lacks a theoretical            --Uses learning theories,
  framework to derive at a         neurodevelopmental constructs,
  hypotheses about the             positive psychology and resiliency,
  problem                          ecological theory to derive at a

--Is deficit based (will only    --Focuses on strengths, assets, and
  address strengths as part        needs to leverage students'
  of the IEP)                      strengths to address weaknesses

-- Focuses on eligibility        --Eligibility is addressed, but focus
                                   is on empowering the student and
                                   parents to optimize outcomes

-- Standard recommendations      --Recommendations and interventions
                                   uses the leveraging of individual
                                   and multi--systemic strengths
                                   based on hypothesis

TABLE 2. Adam's Strength-to-Strategy Plan

Works great!             Works:                 Working on:

--Using words:           --Mental math          --Direction of
  talking/                                        numerals and letters
  understanding/         --P.E. and sports
  reading                  activities           --Writing details:
                                                  spacing, spelling,
--Recalling factual      --Remembering order      capitals, end marks,
  information              and sequences          indenting

--Math concepts          --Paying attention     --Handwriting
                           to things you
--Using a computer         enjoy                --Completing work

--Building and                                  --Staying motivated
  creating with                                   when things get hard
  Legos [c]
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Author:Laija-Rodriguez, Wilda; Grites, Karen; Bouman, Doug; Pohlman, Craig; Goldman, Richard L.
Publication:Contemporary School Psychology
Article Type:Report
Date:Jan 1, 2013
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