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.
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.