Beyond the Basic Battery:
Digging Deeper with the Woodcock-Johnson® IV
Tests of Cognitive Abilities
Many school psychologists have their favorite assessment battery. If they are assessing a student with a suspected learning disability in reading, they likely have their “go to” assessment tools and these may differ from their favorite tools to use for a student who is suspected of having an intellectual disability. If a student is an English Learner, again, different tools may be used at the start of the assessment process. Sometimes when school psychologists are working with the assessment team, the findings just make sense. All of the student’s cognitive scores are within the average range with the exception of verbal memory and the student is struggling with basic reading skills. However, most student’s assessment profiles are not as nice and neat. Student scores are varied throughout the assessment tools and perhaps even within the same broad processing area. There are always instances when a school psychologist wonders whether they should do more assessment beyond their basic battery. School psychologists are often faced with finding a balance between completing a thorough assessment that answers the referral question and over-testing a student. No one wants to appear that they are “searching” for a disability and no one wants to miss anything either. The question can be, when should I be digging deeper and how should I go about that?
What is the Woodcock-Johnson?
The Woodcock-Johnson’s family of assessment tools includes the Tests of Cognitive, Tests of Oral Language, and Tests of Achievement batteries. When used together, the school psychologist and other assessment team members have the opportunity to provide a comprehensive examination of a student’s learning strengths and weaknesses without having to assess beyond the co-normed tests.
As seen in the three hypothetical case studies below, the Woodcock-Johnson IV Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJ-IV-COG) is a comprehensive assessment tool that examines multiple processing areas that could help to explain a student’s struggle in reading, math and/or written language. Built with the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) in mind, the individually administered tool provides tests that fall under the seven broad ability areas most often related to academic success. The tool also provides a variety of tests that fall under different narrow abilities, allowing the school psychologist access to multiple methods to assess fluid reasoning, for instance, including the deductive (Analysis-Synthesis), inductive (Concept Formation) and quantitative reasoning (Number Series) narrow abilities.
When (and How) to Know When You Should Dig Deeper
Hypothetical Case Study #1:
Let’s say for instance that you are assessing a student and the referral question is reading, one of the most common referral questions. You administer your favorite tasks from the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Cognitive Abilities including of course the Auditory Processing Cluster. As auditory processing concerns help to explain reading difficulties for many students, the examination of a variety of phonological processing measures could assist you in a better understanding of your student. As you are analyzing your scores, you note that you obtained very different scores between the Phonological Processing test and the Nonword Repetition tests, which make up the Auditory Processing cluster. While Nonword Repetition was within the average range, you obtained a much lower score on Phonological Processing and you are wondering which aspect of phonological processing is a possible explanation for your student’s reading difficulties.
Academic testing is typically completed alongside an examination of cognitive strengths and weaknesses for students with potential learning disabilities. For this case study student, the Woodcock Johnson Tests of Achievement demonstrated low scores with both Letter-Word Identification as well as Word Attack while your scores in the math areas were all within the average range. As school psychologists do not make decisions based on single scores, follow up conversations with teachers and parents and a review of records also suggest some difficulties with phonemic awareness. If further analysis is needed, Sound Blending and Segmentation from the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Oral Language would be helpful to determine if both aspects of phonemic awareness are impacted for this student or just one.
Hypothetical Case Study #2:
In another example, you are assessing a student who is eligible under the classification of Autism, but parents and teachers are also concerned with his memory skills. At his triennial evaluation, you administer tasks from the WJ-COG and notice that he performed well on Memory for Words but poorly on Verbal Attention. While both tasks fall under a broad term of Short-term Memory, you are wondering if following up with the narrow abilities of Memory Span and Working Memory may provide helpful information for classroom accommodation purposes. You administer both the Numbers Reversed task from the WJ-COG as well as Sentence Repetition from the WJ-OL and your hypothesis is confirmed. Now, your recommendations for parents and teachers can be more specific as the student struggles not with verbal memory in general, but specifically with verbal working memory tasks. Your recommendations can also be supplemented with those from WJ-IV Interpretation and Instructional Interventions Program (WIIIP). This tool provides comprehensive reports which can be personalized and include over 500 evidence-based interventions specific to your student’s learning profile.
Hypothetical Case Study #3:
In our last example, you are assessing a student with significant attentional concerns. Throughout the evaluation process, multiple verbal prompts and reminders to stay on-task are required. Upon examination of your initial test results with the WJ-IV-COG, you are finding consistent variability in almost every assessment cluster you evaluated. In this scenario, additional assessment to follow-up on potential narrow ability explanation for differences in scores within clusters is not likely helpful. Unlike the large majority of students you assess, case study student #3 is not consistently looking at all options for multiple-choice tasks and he/she is attempting to initiate a conversation with you during every timed test. Digging deeper in this scenario will not likely yield additional information as you already question the validity of your current results. Instead, more information about this student’s presenting attentional concerns would be most appropriately examined through observations, interviews, and a record of records to document the historical perspective.
You may have decided to go into the field of school psychology to help students with the learning process and assessing student learning strengths and weaknesses may be a large part of your day to day work. Whether the world is in the middle of a pandemic or not, you want to be efficient with your time as well as your student’s time during the evaluation process. While some students present with profiles that quickly make sense with all of the data presented, for some students, digging deeper beyond the basic battery could be helpful. Your assessment and report will be more comprehensive, and the parents and teachers will have more information to help the student navigate through the educational system.