Thriving School Psych Thriving Students

Psychoeducational, not Psycho-Educational—Part III

This post could be an entire blog, book, or career. I will try to do it justice. The cognitive/intelligence portion of the pychoeducational assessment is the keystone to determining whether or not a student has a learning disability, understanding the potential for learning, and/or knowing how the student learns best.*

First, lets start with some definitions. Try this activity. I want you to think about the word “LOVE” and try to define it. Go ahead….do it in your head.

Now, quick quiz. What is LOVE?

a) Never having to say you’re sorry
b) A deep, tender, ineffable feeling of affection and solicitude toward a person, such as that arising from kinship, recognition of attractive qualities, or a sense of underlying oneness.
c) Something people whom play tennis do not like.
d) A variety of different feelings, states, and attitudes, ranging from generic pleasure to intense interpersonal attraction.
e) Blind
f) Determined at first sight

The answer is: g)Yes. “Love” is a psychological construct that can be defined in any number of ways, depending on the context, culture, and what aspect you want to measure. The same goes for “Intelligence.” It can be defined in any number of ways, depending on your theoretical orientation. Each intelligence test given by a psychologist has a slightly different way of defining and measuring the construct of “intelligence.” In general, school psychologists will look at two to four aspects of intelligence.**

1) Verbal Reasoning
2) Nonverbal (Visual-Spatial) Reasoning
3) Working Memory
4) Processing Speed

Each one of these deserves a new post. Each one of these areas can also be described as areas of “Processing.” A low score in any one of the categories can be called a “Processing Deficit.” To confuse matters, the above processing areas do not necessarily map onto what special education law calls “Processing Deficits,” the presence of which is one criteria for eligibility for a student with a “Learning Disability.” The law defines “Processing Deficits” as Auditory Processing, Visual Processing, Visual-Motor Processing, Attention Processing, Conceptualization/Association.*** Each of these loosely map on to dimensions of “Intelligence” as measured by IQ tests, and also have their very own test.

A school psychologist’s job is to carefully examine the results of the IQ test and do further testing in “processing” areas to confirm that low results on one type of learning are due to actual deficits in cognition, rather than any number of factors such as fatigue, low effort, poor attention, malingering, social-emotional distraction, test anxiety, depression, etc. One cannot look at an IQ test and determine anything without testing observations and the larger context.

One word of caution for parents about seeking an assessment for a Learning Disability: Make sure the person is qualified. There are a number of inadequately trained people diagnosing Learning Disabilities whom are not psychologists and do not have the larger picture. Some have only bachelor’s degrees and took a summer or two of courses and call themselves “therapists.” They give an IQ test and a test of academic achievement, and based on scores alone diagnose disabilities. I have seen gross misinterpretation of scores, such as clearly average scores being called “deficits” and normal variations in processing called “disabilities.” I have seen computer printouts of scores as a “report” and no other factor is taken into consideration. Meanwhile, the parent has forked over thousands of dollars for a potentially wrong diagnosis. Think of it this way. It would be like taking your kid to the hospital with a symptom of “fatigue” and having someone with a B.A. in Biology who has had a little extra training in one specific medical problem diagnose him/her. You might not get an accurate diagnosis, because the symptom of “fatigue” can be caused by any number of medical problems, but they only have training in one.

Be sure that the person who is assessing your child is at minimum a Licensed School Psychologist or (in California) a Licensed Educational Psychologist (not “Educational Therapist”). Clinical Psychologists are the “gold standard” of assessors if you are also concerned that your child has a potential psychiatric disorder in addition to learning challenges. I would argue that a School Psychologist or Educational Psychologist would be more school/context/practically oriented and a Clinical Psychologist might be more psychological/interpersonal focused, though there is overlap depending on the person’s training. This was a bit of a digression from defining “Intelligence” and how to assess it, but I believe a diagnosis is only as good as the assessor’s clinical skills to interpret the test results.

*Cognitive=intelligence=IQ=ability=potential depending on what test you give. Same idea, used interchangeably in most psychoeducational reports. In California, it is state law that IQ tests cannot be used with African American students, but I think that is wrong. That is another post.

**Sorry, forget about “Multiple Intelligences” such as musical, interpersonal, kinesthetic, etc. Schools may give lip service to multiple intelligences, but the only ones that “count” grade-wise are basically Verbal and Visual reasoning, heavily emphasis on the Verbal learning. Sorry kids who think outside the box. Get your creative musical self back in that box if you want to graduate and go to college.

***If you find one school psychologist who knows what “Conceptualization/Association” is, I will give you a prize. It is barely used to qualify students as “Learning Disabled” because no one has really defined it well. That’s what you get when the law doesn’t match the research.

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Comments on Psychoeducational, not Psycho-Educational—Part III

  1. Anonymous says:

    Interesting post. It fascinates me how different eligibility criteria and eval procedures are from state to state, especially for SLD! In my state, IQ testing plays no part in SLD evaluation or eligibility. We only give IQ tests if achievement scores or other data raise concerns about the possibility of mental disability. But in the state I was in last year, IQ testing was a standard component of almost every eval …

  2. Thanks for that perspective. My blog is very Californiocentric (new word) and it is good to point out that we do things a bit different here than in other states. IQ is standard here, and that is the data point that determines what else to give. It does make sense to me to do achievement first though, as sometimes you go through an entire eval just to find out that the kid has average or above average academics. So what is your “standard battery” in your state, out of curiosity?

  3. Anonymous says:

    Policies are changing here, but basically we have to do an RtI process for most learning or behavior concerns. Informal (e.g., CBMs, Brigance measures) and formal achievement tests (e.g., a Woodcock) are required for most evals. We usually do achievement testing first and if scores are low across the board, then we do an IQ. A pattern of strengths and weaknesses on the achievement (inter-achievement discrepancies) is used to determine SLD, so if that pattern emerges, then we usually don’t do an IQ test. Specific behavior rating scales and social-emotional assessments are selected at the psych’s discretion (but we have to include some behavior rating and self-concept measures when evaluating for ED).

    I was a little surprised that IQ tests are almost taboo in this state, though I understand the concerns …

  4. Anonymous says:

    Enjoying your blog. As the previous comment stated – it is interesting how eligibility criteria varies, but I notice the variance not just from state to state, but district to district and, indeed, between individuals on our staff.

    Regarding your curiosity about conceptualization / association: since a CASP presentation a few years ago, I have used inductive reasoning tasks to measure deficits in conceptualization. For the handful of children I’ve worked with who have this deficit area, they seem to have intact verbal skills, memory functioning, visual-perceptual skills, as well as basic reading skills, etc., but lack good reading comprehension ability, have difficulty forming concepts and applying what they know to new information. This all seems in keeping with the CHC theory that I was trained in. All of that having been said, I’m far more interested in the interventions these days than the identification side of the job.

  5. Jorge Quiñónez says:

    Regarding Conceptualization/Association, my limited information, which I am willing to email (I have it scanned as pdf files), relates it to Glr (CHC lingo), Long-term retrieval or long term memory. Expression, the 3rd on the list for the cognitive abilites of the 7 processing deficits in the California SLD criteria, can be Gc, Written Expression or Listening Expression (from WJ-III ACH). On ocassion, I’ve used the Written Expression composite on the WJ-III as a sensory-motor deficit.

  6. Anonymous and Jorge get a prize! 🙂

    I’d love to see the info you have, Jorge. If you can email it to that would be fantastic!


  7. Brittni says:

    Okay, out of curiosity, what is your favorite nonverbal IQ test? I am having trouble finding pros and cons over the UNIT, DAS, and WNV.

  8. Anonymous says:

    Hi all, I would really be grateful for any information on conceptualization/association. I need to present something for my fellow school psychologists. Can anyone help? I have the basics referring to Cattell Horne theory but the information is inconsistent depending on the source.

    Happy New year!

  9. Anonymous says:

    I used to work in a district that had it outlined in their SpEd manual. I can't remember the source but I (finally) found somewhere on the web. Here is a cut & paste of it.

    "A child with a disorder in cognitive abilities may be unable to see similarities and differences,
    draw conclusions, make interferences, classify, categorize, summarize, think critically
    and creatively. They may have trouble memorizing and learning information
    by rote. They may have trouble communicating ideas through language –
    writing, gesturing or speaking. They may have trouble understanding what
    words mean. Deficits in oral and written expressions, reading, math and/or
    listening comprehension are usually the result.
    • Association: long tem memory deficits; poor cause/effect sense;
    trouble with part/ whole relationships.
    • Conceptualization: trouble using information in complex manner;
    transfer and generalization of learned materials is difficult; poor abstract
    • Expression: poor organization and expression of thoughts orally,
    gesturally, or in writing; poor vocabulary; may be able to understand language at age

    I got it from this website but I don't know what the original source is:

  10. Anonymous says:

    Okay so I know this blog is from a couple years ago and the last comment was posted over a year ago, but I don't know where else to turn with my questions! I have recently been trying to familiarize myself with the XBA approach to identifying SLD and have bought almost all of the essentials series books by now! I came from a district that used a very strict ability-achievement discrepancy model, so I never really got a chance to practice XBA. Now I have just started work in a charter school in Los Angeles, which is under the jurisdiction of LAUSD. As such, we are unable to use intelligence tests in student assessment for special ed, and my school in particular uses the CAS to measure cognitive processes in addition to other measures of processing skills instead. I know the CAS is based on Luria's theory of brain functioning and measures the processes involved in PASS rather than those described by CHC, but I can't figure out how to link the cognitive processes of PASS with the 7 underlying psychological processes as outlined by the law. Does anyone have experience using CAS and if so, do you still attempt to use the XBA approach and CHC theory or how do you use the discrepancy-consistency PSW approach that also corresponds to language of the law??? Does that make sense?

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