Cognitive Assessment

Three inspired presentations at the Richard Woodcock Institute Event

On 10/24/2014, I attended the Richard Woodcock Institute Event hosted at University of Texas at Austin. The three speakers had strikingly different presentation styles but were equally excellent.

Dick Woodcock gave the opening remarks. I loved hearing about the twists and turns of his career and how he made the most of unplanned opportunities. It was rather remarkable how diverse his contributions are (including an electronic Braille typewriter). Then he stressed the importance of communicating test results in ways that non-specialists can understand. He speculated on what psychological testing will look like in the future, focusing on integrative software that will guide test selection and interpretation in more sophisticated ways than has hitherto been possible. Given that he has been creating the future of assessment for decades now, I am betting that he is likely to be right. Later he graciously answered my questions about the WJ77 and how he came up with what I consider to be among the most ingenious test paradigms we have.

After a short break, Kevin McGrew gave us a wild ride of a talk about advances in CHC Theory. Actually it was more like a romp than a ride. I tried to keep track of all the interesting ideas for future research he presented but there were so many I quickly lost count. The visuals were stunning and his energy was infectious. He offered a quick overview of new research from diverse fields about the overlooked importance of auditory processing (beyond the usual focus on phonemic awareness). Later he talked about his evolving conceptualization of the memory factors in CHC theory and role of complexity in psychometric tests. My favorite part of the talk was a masterful presentation of information processing theory, judiciously supplemented with very clever animations.

After lunch, Cathy Fiorello gave one of the most thoughtful presentations I have ever heard. Instead of contrasting nomothetic and idiographic approaches to psychological assessment, Cathy stressed their integration. Most of the time, nomothetic interpretations are good first approximations and often are sufficient. However, there are certain test behaviors and other indicators that a more nuanced interpretation of the underlying processes of performance is warranted. Cathy asserted (and I agree) that well trained and highly experienced practitioners can get very good at spotting unusual patterns of test performance that completely alter our interpretations of test scores. She called on her fellow scholars to develop and refine methods of assessing these patterns so that practitioners do not require many years of experience to develop their expertise. She was not merely balanced in her remarks—lip service to a sort of bland pluralism is an easy and rather lazy trick to seem wise. Instead, she offered fresh insight and nuance in her balanced and integrative approach to cognitive and neuropsychological assessment. That is, she did the hard work of offering clear guidelines of how to integrate nomothetic and idiographic methods, all the while frankly acknowledging the limits of what can be known.

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