Identifying Processing Strengths and
Weaknesses Through Selective,
Cross-Battery Assessment
Milton J. Dehn, Ed.D., NCSP
Schoolhouse Educational Services
CASP, Fall 2012
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Workshop Topics
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Overview of psychological processing
Processes to assess
Processes and academic skills
Selective, cross-battery testing
Identifying strengths and weaknesses
Case study
What are psychological processes?
1. Brain processes, operations, functions
2. Any time mental contents are operated on
3. When information is perceived, transformed,
manipulated, stored, retrieved, expressed
4. Whenever we think, reason, problem-solve
5. Can’t learn and perform without processing
6. Learning depends on these processes
7. Doesn’t include knowledge or academic skills
Human Processing Limitations
1. Human limitations
Problems with Past Processing
Assessment
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Not enough known about processing
Not sure how to test processing
Assessment too informal; too narrow
Did not include higher level processes
Memory seldom assessed
Controversies over the value of
processing assessment
7. Some ineffective interventions, e.g.
perceptual-motor
Improvements in Processing
Assessment and Intervention
1. More and better processing tests
2. Neuroscience and neuropsychological
evidence on brain and learning
3. Neuropsychological influence on assessment
(what underlies the learning problems)
4. Research on processing, memory, academics
5. More assessment of memory
6. Updated & new research on interventions
7. New interventions
What Have We Learned
1. More about the processes needed for
academic learning
2. The specific areas of the brain involved in
childhood disorders
3. Childhood disorders, including SLD’s
have a neurobiological basis
4. Interventions should be evidence-based
5. The discrepancy model did not work well
for LD identification
Processing Assessment
Advantages
1. Benefits the learner: understanding why
2. Identifying a processing deficit
differentiates SLD & slow learning
3. Ethnic and racial differences less than IQ
4. Interventions for processing deficits
5. Identifying processing deficits provides
direction for academic interventions
The Need for More
Processing Assessment
1. Part of a neuropsychological approach
2. Not just for LD; e.g. executive for ADHD
3. Brain-related assessment needed more
because more children have medical
conditions; e.g. head trauma
4. Private practitioners often don’t connect
with school environment needs and
criteria
Processing and RTI
1. Processing model consistent with problemsolving and early intervention
2. Processing assessment has changed
3. Now, evidence-based processing interventions
4. Different processing “causes” of SLD
5. Why do “blind” general academic interventions
6. Processing & acad. interventions compatible
7. Which academic interventions succeed?
1. Those that address processing problems
“Resistance” to Intervention
• Successful achievement depends on
adequate psychological processes
• Processing deficits impair learning
• A processing deficit can cause an
academic intervention to fail
– When severe
– When not addressed
Characteristics of Psychological
Processes to Assess
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Brain-based
Interrelated
Necessary for academic learning
Broad and narrow processes
Related behaviors observable in
classroom
Brain Lobes and Processes
• Frontal Lobes: Attention, Executive
Functions, Working Memory
• Temporal Lobes: Long-Term Memory,
Auditory Processing, Short-Term Memory
• Parietal Lobes: Fine motor, Working
Memory, Auditory, Phonological,
• Occipital Lobes: Visual-spatial processing
Dehn’s Recommended Processes
for SLD Assessment
1. Attention
2. Auditory Processing
3. Executive Functions
4. Fine Motor
5. Fluid Reasoning
6. Long-Term Recall
7. Oral Language
8. Phonological Processing
9. Processing Speed
10. Visual-Spatial Processing
11. Working Memory
Attention
1. Necessary for learning and memory
2. Attention deficits part of LD; not necessarily
ADHD
3. Types: Selective, focused, divided, sustained
4. The problem is attentional control & lack of
inhibition
5. Related to Executive Functions and Working
Memory
Auditory Processing
1. Ability to perceive, analyze, synthesize,
and discriminate auditory stimuli, mainly
speech
2. Perceiving and comprehending
instruction; being able to understand
words with background noise
Executive Functions
1. Management of cognitive functions and
psychological processes
2. Effectiveness depends on self-monitoring, selfregulation, and metacognition
3. Has a longer course of development
4. More to do with classroom performance than
learning of academic skills
Fluid Reasoning
1. Deductive, inductive reasoning,
especially with novel materials
2. Has a longer course of development
3. More important for applied academics
Long-Term Recall
1. Close connection with other processes
and with academic learning in general
2. Includes encoding, consolidation,
storage, and retrieval
3. Rapid automatic naming is part of
Oral Language
1. Not the content (vocabulary) or receptive
language but the oral expression
processes
Phonological Processing
1. Processing of phonemes, e.g. blending
2. Phonemic awareness is part of
Processing Speed
1. How quickly information flows through the
processing system; a matter of efficiency
2. Too slow: info. lost, process not
completed
Visual-Spatial Processing
1. The ability to perceive, analyze,
synthesize, manipulate and think with
visual patterns
2. A strength in most LD cases
3. Weak relations with all academics; more
of a “threshold” process
Working Memory
1. Processing while retaining information
2. Includes short-term memory
3. Both verbal and visual
Processes and Academic Learning
1. Psychological processes are like
“aptitudes”
2. Relations established through research
1. Flanagan et al., & McGrew
2. Swanson, Geary, and others
3. The influence of processes varies by age
4. Look for academic area and related
psychological processes to both be low
5. See Table
Research: SLD by Processing
Subtypes
1. Visual-Spatial Deficits: Math calculation
and math problem solving
2. Processing Speed Deficits: Reading
comprehension, written expression
3. Working Memory Deficit: Math
calculation, Written expression
4. Attention: Written expression
Source: Hain, Hale, Kendorski
Highest Influence of Processes on
Academics by Grade
• Early elementary: Phonological, visual,
auditory, rapid automatic naming, STM,
sequencing, fine motor control
• Late elementary and beyond: Executive,
working memory, long-term memory
• All grades: Processing speed, attention,
oral expression
Processing Assessment
Challenges
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Connecting to academic concerns
Interrelated processes
Informal methods lack validity
Not found in one convenient battery
Doing it efficiently
Having enough expertise
Linking with interventions
Processing Assessment
1. Should be multimethod/multisource
2. Multi-settings
3. Formal and informal
1. Qualitative not enough
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Should include standardized testing
Should be hypothesis driven (suspected)
Based on referral concerns
Selective, cross-battery testing
Integrate data during interpretation
Records Review
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Any medical or health conditions
Age of onset
Developmental delays
Look for indications of same behaviors that
could be observed
1. Difficulty memorizing arithmetic facts could be a
working memory deficit
2. Difficulty blending could be phonological proc.
3. Low fluency could be processing speed problem
Interviews
1. From middle school up, do interviews
1. E.g., “Do you often forget what was just
said?”
2. Teachers: Ask about observable
behaviors, then ask their hypotheses
3. With parents, use home environment
examples
1. “Does your child have difficulty rhyming?”
See examples
Observations
1. Some processes more observable than
others, e.g. memory is more observable
2. There’s no one-to-one correspondence
between a behavior and a process
3. Each behavior depends on multiple
processes; try to narrow it down
1. E.g., poor organization could be due several
See examples
4. See memory examples
Selective, Cross-Battery Testing
1. Assess areas based on concerns, not on
what a test has to offer
2. Mix tests/batteries to cover all the areas
1. Limit to 2 or 3 batteries
2. Should be normed about the same time
3. Avoid redundancies
4. Ideally, 2 subtests per process
5. Analyze results together by computing a
cross-battery mean
Dehn’s Approach to Cross Battery
1. Not limited to CHC factors
2. “Narrow” abilities/processes included
3. Includes processing factors that are
important for learning of academic skills
4. Analyze scores at the factor (twosubtest) level whenever possible
5. Use a hand computation analysis sheet
or the Psychological Process. Analyzer
Hypothesis Testing Approach
1. Collect preliminary data
1. Records review, observation, interview
2. Identify referral concerns
3. Generate processing hypotheses
(suspected processing problems)
4. Select assessment methods
1. Cover all hypotheses
2. Avoid redundancies
Selective Testing
1. All processes important for academic
learning should be tested
2. With most attention, in-depth
assessment of hypothesized
weaknesses
3. Apply a cross-battery approach
4. See selective testing table for cog. &
ach. Link
Cross-Battery Analysis of Scores
1. See Processing Analysis Worksheet
2. Get factor scores from test manual when
possible
3. Exclude non-processing factors and subtests
4. Compute clinical factor scores by averaging
1. First convert scaled scores to 100/15 metric
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Compute processing mean
Calculate difference scores
Determine weaknesses and deficits
Do pairwise comparisons
1. Opposites and those closely related
Identifying Strengths and
Weaknesses
1. These are intra-individual strengths and
weaknesses
1. At least a 12 point standard score difference from
the mean of processing scores
2. As opposed to normative weaknesses
1. Below average score (below 90)
3. For diagnosis, should be both an intraindividual weakness and a normative weakness
4. When it’s both, Dehn refers to as “deficit”
Deficits and Disabilities
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Deficits (double weakness) are rare
They have an underlying neurological basis
They impair learning
Students with below average IQ are less likely
to have
5. Deficits more predictive of need for LD than an
ipsative or normative weakness alone.
6. Below average processing (normative
weakness) still impacts learning and benefits
from intervention
Research Example of Deficit
1. 74 students evaluated for learning problems
2. 42% of disabled/discrepant group (but not in
LD) had a normative but not an ipsative
weakness in Executive WM compared to 6.5%
of normal group
3. 43% of those placed in LD had both a
normative and ipsative weakness in Executive
WM compared to only 4.3% of normal group
4. Deficit (double weakness) more predictive of
need for LD
Case Study: “Jacob”
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Age 13; 7th grade
Foster care; special ed placement
3 months premature; failure to thrive
Early elementary IQ of 70; recent IQ of 95
ADHD diagnosis; poor organization
Social skills problems
Difficulty completing homework
Moderately high test anxiety
Case Study Continued
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Likes to read
Struggles with Math and Written Lang.
Reading Composite – 106
Math Composite – 88
Wr. Lang. Composite – 73
Oral Lang Composite - 87
List your processing hypotheses to account for
low achievement and background factors
Case Study Continued
Reveiw Jacob’s Proc. Analysis Worksheet
What are his processing deficits?
What are his processing strengths?
Do his processing deficits link to his low
achievement areas?
5. Does his processing profile explain his learning
difficulties?
6. Does he qualify for SLD in processing?
7. What else should be tested?
Link
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Support for Strengths and
Weaknesses
1. Informal data supports test scores and
results of score analysis
2. Corroboration especially needed when
scores differences are less than one
standard deviation (12-14 points)
3. Integrate data when writing report
4. They match with specific academic areas
they are highly related to
Evidence for a Processing Disorder
and SLD Diagnosis
1. It’s not specific to one environment
2. A normative weakness (below average score)
3. Intra-individual: score is significantly weaker than
predicted from discrepancy analysis
4. Best if it’s an intra-individual weakness and a
normative weakness (this is a deficit)
5. It’s impairing academic learning
6. The low psychological processes and low
academics have research-based links
7. The linked process and academic skills both have
low scores (consistency approach)
8. Non-LD also have strengths and weaknesses
Consistency Approach
• With processing, use a consistency
approach, not a discrepancy approach
– Low process + low academic skill = SLD
– NOT high process + low academic skill
Diversity/Equity Issues
1. Less culturally loaded (e.g. verbal)
processing tests have fewer differences
between racial, ethnic, SES groups
2. K-ABC, a processing type of IQ test has
minimal differences
3. Ortiz et al. low cultural loading: Visual,
Processing Speed, Retrieval, Fluid
Reasoning, Working Memory
4. Rating scales: Executive, Attention
Psychological Processing
Analyzer
1. Available at www.psychprocesses.com
2. Identifies strengths and weaknesses
3. Conducts cross-battery analysis using
composites and/or subtest standard
scores
4. 11 psychological processes
5. From 22 different scales: cognitive,
achieve., rating, and processing (list)
Psychological Processing
Analyzer
1. Composite and subtests are limited to
those that are fairly direct measures
2. Some are re-classified based on the
primary demands of the task; example
3. Difference formulas based on reliability
coefficients of composites/subtests
4. Regression toward the mean
5. .01 or .05 level of significance
Psychological Processing
Analyzer
1. All scores converted to standard scores
2. Non-unitary process scores are flagged
3. Predicted score for each processes
based on mean of other 10
4. Differences greater than critical values
are intra-individual weaknesses
5. Deficits are both types of weaknesses
6. Pairwise comparisons are optional
PPA Case Study
Struggling 2nd year college student
Significant problems with math
Intensive tutoring in past
Indications of memory problems
Family history of LD
Administered WJ III COG., WMS-IV, and
parts of WAIS-IV
7. See results
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Rating Scales: Children’s Psychological
Processes Scale (CPPS)
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Standardized teacher rating scale
Ages 5-0-0 to 12-11-30
121 items across 11 subscales
Internet, web-based test
Administration time of 15 minutes
Online scoring and report
Author: Milton Dehn; published by
Schoolhouse Educational Services, 2012
8. Measurement Consultant: Kevin McGrew
Uses of the CPPS
1. LD Evaluations
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Identify psych processing deficits
Pattern of strengths and weaknesses
Planning further assessment
Planning interventions
2. Screening
1. Identifies need for intervention
2. Predicts academic skills development
3. Useful in planning comprehensive assessment
3. Measure progress during interventions
1. Through the use of change-sensitive W-scores
CPPS Items
• Grouped by subscale
• In developmental (ability) order from
lowest item to highest item
• Link
Conclusions About Processing
Assessment
• It can be done well but there are
challenges
• Professional judgment is necessary
• Selective, cross-battery testing necessary
• Test the processes associated with the
academic deficiency
• Use the consistency approach
• Explain the link
Selecting and Planning Processing
Interventions
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Based on data and assessment findings
Individualize based on profile
Select processes related to academic concern
Take individual’s abilities and cognitive load of
task into consideration---don’t overload WM
• Interventions are not necessarily processing
specific but rather academic that match with the
processing problems; e.g. phonics-based
reading for a phonological deficit
Interventions for Processing
Weaknesses & Deficits, in General
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Strengthen weakness if possible
Utilize the strong areas more
Or do both
Modifications that reduce the need to use
the weak processes
5. Use methods that involve other
processes, more of the brain
Processes with Best EvidenceBased Interventions
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Attention
Auditory Processing
Executive Functions; Planning
Long-Term Recall
Oral Language
Phonological Processing
Working Memory