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Cognitive assessment leaps into the digital age


Digitized cognitive assessments can enhance diagnostic accuracy, while enabling the integration of new knowledge of cognitive processes into assessments

cognitive-assessment-digitalCognitive ability tests, including those assessing intelligence, have long played a pivotal role in measuring normal and abnormal cognitive development in children.

Used in conjunction with other data, cognitive testing is a valuable method for gathering reliable information about a child’s learning ability and cognitive strengths and weaknesses. This testing also is used to determine how these factors can potentially influence a child’s academic progress. School psychologists, in conjunction with educators, use information from cognitive assessments to help create personalized learning plans for students in need of remediation.

Thanks to recent technological advancements, today’s cognitive assessments provide on-the-fly data that help determine whether a student’s academic progress is matching his or her ability level. This information, when considered along with other factors such as attention and motivation, can help educators develop appropriate learning plans for a student and advocate for individualized support based on specific needs.

Evolution of cognitive assessment

While there are several cognitive assessments commonly used in schools today, among the most trusted are the Wechsler Scales, one of which is the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children® (WISC). Originally devised in the 1949, the WISC has long been heralded for its ability to identify areas of cognitive strength and weakness in school-aged children and is considered by many to be the world’s foremost cognitive assessment.

Over the years, the tests we use to measure cognitive ability have evolved. A greater understanding of cognitive development and processes has enabled the development of subtests that help us measure specific cognitive functions. Additionally, scoring efficiency and accuracy have improved. In the past year, however, cognitive and other well-known assessments have advanced at a rate we have not seen to date, culminating in a digital version of the WISC–V that uses tablets to administer and score the test

(Next page: The benefits of digital cognitive assessments)

Cognitive assessment enters the digital age

The ability to administer IQ and other cognitive tests digitally introduces numerous benefits to both the clinician and the student taking the assessment. First and foremost, administering the assessment digitally frees the clinician to focus more on how the child is performing, rather than the minutiae and mechanics of test administration.

It also allows tremendous flexibility in designing a custom test for a child, including subtests from the WISC or another instrument.  With the system scoring subtests as soon as they are administered, clinicians save time and can immediately note areas of strength and weakness, as well as additional areas to evaluate if necessary.

From the student’s perspective, a test taken digitally is likely to be more precise, with less room for examiner error. The digital format also may be more engaging for many students.

Looking to the future

Administering cognitive assessments in a digital format helps to enhance the overall accuracy of diagnoses, while easily enabling the integration of new knowledge of cognitive processes into the assessments. This has opened the door for future opportunities to develop programs where hypotheses of strengths, weaknesses, possible issues, and diagnoses can be generated through decision tree formats, using a database of information collected through the digital administration of the tests.

The technological advancements being made in the administration and measurement of cognitive assessments will continue to help school psychologists, administrators, and instructors pinpoint the most effective interventions and remediation necessary to address a student’s specific needs.

Dean Delis, Ph.D., is a Professor Emeritus of Psychiatry at UCSD School of Medicine, where he has been a professor since 1985.  He has authored over 200 publications in the area of cognitive assessment, including 14 cognitive tests that are used nationally by psychologists.  

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