Cognitive Assessment, Principles of assessment of aptitude and achievement

Time lavished on hypothesis fishing trips is stolen from children we no longer have time to help.

We do what we must, and call it by the best names we can.

– Ralph Waldo Emerson

Cheetahs are the fastest animals on land but do not always catch their prey. For about 60 seconds or so, cheetahs give it their all. After that, they give up. Why? For a cheetah to persist, the expected rewards must justify the caloric expenditure, the risk of injury, and the considerable strain on their bodies that sprinting inevitably causes. In the wild, there is no glory in Pyrrhic victories. Sometimes it is better to cut your losses, even though you could “succeed” with more effort.

There is something analogous that happens in cognitive assessment. For a time, it is worthwhile to vigorously pursue a hypothesis, to clarify an anomalous finding, or to explain a curious behavior. However, when answers are not forthcoming, there is a point at which it is wise to give up, even before all alternatives have been exhausted. The time saved can be devoted to other questions about the child that may be important. It is perfectly acceptable to write in reports that, given the available data, it is not yet possible to distinguish between alternative hypotheses about a child. It is perfectly acceptable to speculate about those hypotheses, provided that those speculations are clearly labeled as such and that it is explicitly stated that the true explanation might not be included in the list of speculations.

This post is an excerpt from:

Schneider, W. J. (2013). Principles of assessment of aptitude and achievement. In D. Saklofske, C. Reynolds, & V. Schwean (Eds.), Oxford handbook of psychological assessment of children and adolescents (pp. 286–330). New York: Oxford University Press.


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