Psychologist making an assessment
Resources for School Psychologists / Position Papers / The Future of Assessment for African American Students

The Future of Assessment for African American Students

What assessments are recommended for an African American 13-year-old to assess for a cognitive processing disorder and explain how the test reveals that information (Association, Conceptualization, Expression)?

The tools you might use to assess these areas will depend on what you have available to you and what your LEA and or SELPA may allow given some of tests are not listed on the 1997 Memorandum. CDE_larry_p_memo for letter.pdf

CASP understands that this may vary across LEAs and SELPAs and that CDE’s enforcement of its own 1997 Memorandum is inconsistent across the state, as CASP’s paper has made clear (and distributed to CDE and SBE).

Here are definitions of some these processing areas. Your professional expertise is what is best to judge what assessment tool may reveal the following information for the processing areas listed. 

Cognitive Association is the process of acquiring information in memory, and the system for relating that information to previously learned information to develop patterns or logical groups, also called long term retrieval. This is a foundational process that is required for more complex operations that take place in conceptualization. Included in Cognitive Association is the element of efficiency, i.e. how fluidly one can retrieve information from long term memory. However, untimed measures are as important. 

Long Term Retrieval often involves retrieval of information that is tied both to visual/spatial information and language. There are two types of information retrieval: Non-symbolic information (such as the color red) and Symbolic information, also known as orthographic (the letters that represent the word “red”). While Speed of Lexical Access or Cognitive Efficiency measure both, we are more interested with orthographic processing speed because when this is significantly slower it is often associated with poor reading fluency (that is not due to poor phonological processing) and consistent with the orthographic sub-type of Dyslexia.

Cognitive Conceptualization is the process of using information in an increasingly more complex and fluid manner. This is often called abstract thinking, fluid reasoning, simply reasoning or the ability to solve novel problems; that is, problems that cannot be solved solely by relying on previous situations or solutions. This processing area allows a person to make generalizations or inferences. Being able to see the forest for the trees. It is comprised of General Sequential Reasoning, the ability to reason logically using established premises and principles, and Induction, the ability to observe a problem and understand the underlying rules or principles that will govern the outcome; being able to generalize from specific situations to others. There is also Quantitative Reasoning, the ability to reason inductively or deductively with numbers. Cognitive Conceptualization also includes Executive Function or the ability to initiate, organize, plan, working memory and shift one’s mindset. These abilities are also required components of Cognitive Conceptualization. However, where fluid reasoning has more to do with specific types of problem solving, Executive Function has to do with coordinating various processes to problem solve, hold in working memory, where to start, and when to give up and try a different approach. 

Cognitive Expression: Language is the ability to apply the breadth and depth of acquired knowledge, including language, culture, adaptive and academic skills. It can be viewed as a product of what an individual has learned and how one can communicate it to others. Where expression has to do with communicating what one knows (e.g. talking, writing, nonverbal actions), has to do with how efficiently that information is stored and is retrievable. Cognitive Expression also includes areas of Executive Functioning as expressive communication requires sustained attention, Initiation, planning/organization and working memory in order to be effective.  

Reference Larry P. Task Force 1989, Dr. James Hiramoto’s various trainings and Ventura PSW Model

Is it OK to assess a 4-year-old African American girl who has Down’s Syndrome using the Ordinal Scales of Developmental – Cognition?

The Southern California Ordinal Scales were specifically designed in the 1970’s (by the Diagnostic Center, Southern California-CA Department of Education aka DCS) in response to Larry P. as an alternate method of assessment. The only concern is that the developmental stages span wide age ranges, and that ZPD (Zone of Proximal Development) was not considered when it was created. Mention any profile inconsistencies and mention ZPD, and have parents observe. This way you can get feedback if the child could do the task with more familiar items and talk about the fact that performance may be inconsistent. Add that one of the goals the IEP team is to work on is generalization of the task in question as it applies to academic skills. Again, it was developed in response to Larry P. which dealt specifically with EMR student, what today would be identified as ID.

Is the CAS-2 an option for a TRI evaluation of an African American student?

Some districts have been found out of compliance using the CAS2. Others have not. The conflicting acceptance and denial of the use of the CAS-2 or DAS-II all seem to rest on how these assessment tools are described/defined in the report or by the school psychologist in court. If these assessment tools are called cognitive ability test that measure basic cognitive processing and the purpose of its use is to identify processing area strengths and weaknesses for a specific learning disability, the court hasn’t found an issue with their use. These assessment tools are not a named test on the Larry P, injunction test list, nor is the district using a single overall score of cognitive ability. Just like the CAS purports to in the Sacramento OAH 2015110163 and in the other OAH cases where the DAS was not found out of compliance. Cases against the use with these tools is when the school psychologist does not explain it well (makes it sound like an intelligence test) either in their reports or when they are being directly questioned or they are using it to derive a single score.

Their use is up to your district (LEA) to determine what can be used. More information on that is here:

Some would argue to use other processing tools to avoid any potential concerns. Others might argue the school psychologist reduces Type II error because all of the subtests are co-normed.

Given that these tools are not part of the Larry P. banned list. If a district were to use them, they may wish to download the CDE Larry P memo form letter. If needed, cite the part about, “There should be no “on-the-spot” judgements [sic] that result in finding districts out of compliance for using tests that are not listed.” The CAS-2 is not on any list.

In addition if your LEA only uses the discrepancy model, be aware that any number you put in the formula to calculate the discrepancy is a de facto intelligence or ability score. If you are required to use the discrepancy model be advised you are still able to use part 3 of 3030 (b)(10)(B) aka the team decision, in lieu of using this formula.

“3. If the standardized tests do not reveal a severe discrepancy as defined in subdivisions 1 or 2 above, the IEP team may find that a severe discrepancy does exist, provided that the team documents in awritten report that the severe discrepancy between ability and achievement exists as a result of a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes. The report shall include a statement of the area, the degree, and the basis and method used in determining the discrepancy. The report shall contain information considered by the team which shall include, but not be limited to:

  • Data obtained from standardized assessment instruments;
  • Information provided by the parent;
  • Information provided by the pupil’s present teacher;
  • Evidence of the pupil’s performance in the regular and/or special education classroom obtained from observations, work samples, and group test scores;
  • Consideration of the pupil’s age, particularly for young children; and
  • Any additional relevant information.

4. A severe discrepancy shall not be primarily the result of limited school experience or poor school attendance.”

Are the DAYC-2 & DP-3 ok to use with African American students?

Not a simple answer since there isn’t much guidance given from CDE. The short answer is that any test that seeks to measure intellectual ability would not be permitted to be administered to an African American student in California for the purposes of determining Intellectual Disability due to the ruling from the Larry P. case. The DAYC-2 is a developmental questionnaire that calculate standardized measures that includes a cognitive scale along with other developmental domains. CDE has not given CASP any further guidance regarding tests since the 1997 Memorandum found here: CDE_larry_p_memo for letter.pdf

You will need to follow your LEAs or SELPAs guidelines on the matter. CASP understands that this may vary across LEAs and SELPAs and that CDE’s enforcement of its own 1997 Memorandum is inconsistent across the state. CASP’s paper has made this clear (and distributed to CDE and SBE). Regarding African American Student Achievement and Success.pdf

Where is the link to the paper on African American testing (the list of tests that cannot be given in California)?

The only list in existence provided by CDE is the 1997 Memorandum which can be found here: CDE_larry_p_memo for letter.pdf.

CASP has reprinted successive lists made by CDE Educational Consultants in 2008, but they were never approved or endorsed by CDE. Many have mistakenly taken CASP’s reprinting of these lists as CASP’s endorsement of them.

What is CASP’s stance on administering subtests from tests like the Wechsler scales or the WJ-4 to Black students if they are not used to compute intelligence?

CDE’s last words on the topic is the 1997 Memorandum you can find here: CDE_larry_p_memo for letter.pdf

In the text you will find, “the use of those tests listed in Attachment A. Part I is prohibited.” There is no distinction made in part or whole, the tests listed are prohibited.

How should a psychologist appropriately test African American students for special education purposes?

CASP’s Guidance on this issue can be found here: Regarding African American Student Achievement and Success.pdf and is often addressed in specifics at CASP Conferences, Institutes and from CASP Speakers Bureau 

Where on the CASP website is information about assessing African American students?

There are many papers on this topic and they can be found here:

Regarding taking all of the documents information and a cohesive position for CASP to inform CDE and SBE canbefoundhere: Regarding African American Student Achievement and Success.pdf

A 7th grade student with the suspected disability condition of (high functioning) autism has an assessment plan stating race as “other.” He received special education services early in elementary years. The family moved out of the country and then returned. Initially, the school enrollment showed African American as the student’s race. At the time of signing the assessment plan, the parents stated clearly (and it was noted), that they wanted the “Other” category; they firmly do not consider themselves African American, they consider themselves to be “Somali-American.” An assessment, using the WISC, was administered. The Special Education data system (SEIS) does not have an “other” category.  Do I need to black out the IQ scores and do further assessment, or is the parents’ statement of “other” sufficient?) 

Given the situation in SEIS, have a conversation with the parents explaining the situation and that there is an option of “decline to state” instead of “other.” If the parents are in agreement with “decline to state” put that in your report and the reason why. If in some future situation SEIS is not in agreement and lists them as African American, your rationale will be able to be reviewed by CDE. It is the parent’s right in making this determination.

Where in the Larry P. court case is the determination of ethnicity made? 

It isn’t there. At the time of Larry P. you were black or white. There was no provision made for multi-ethnic or those of African descent that do not consider themselves African American (Afro-Cuban, Somali-American, etc.). 

Where in CDE Memorandums/Legal Advisories of the 1990’s is clarification of this issue made? 

There is none.

What verbiage is recommended when reporting in the cognitive section of reports?     

According to cognitive assessment using alternative measures…

According to assessment using alternative measures, estimated cognition….

or not use cognition at all, and if so, how would that be introduced….?

Some form of the following might be appropriate:

“Evaluation procedures included the use of standardized measures, informal assessment, observation in a variety of settings, and interviews of student, teachers and/or parents. All assessments were administered by qualified personnel in accordance with the instructions provided by the test publishers and are valid for the purpose used. All areas of suspected disability were assessed. Except where otherwise noted, the results of this assessment are believed to be reliable and valid. The scores and data from these assessments are presented throughout this report. Due to the California Department of Education’s 1997 Memorandum on the Larry P. and Crawford case, no intelligence test from the banned lists are used with African American students and no overall measure of intelligence is reported.”

“Assessments were administered, individually, in a quiet setting and without distractions in conformance with the instructions provided by the publisher, [except where explicitly noted]. All materials were selected and administered so as not to be racially, culturally or sexually discriminatory. Tests administered were deemed to be valid for the purpose for which they were used but could be under-predicting ability depending on language and cultural loading. Where this is evident it will be mentioned in the specific area assessed and the range (Confidence Interval) of performance may better capture student’s actual ability than a specific score.”

“The following section will explore student’s various cognitive abilities through the basic processing areas identified in C.C.R 3030 (b)(10) to answer the referral questions and to determine if there is a pattern of strengths and weaknesses that may be impacting student’s educational performance.”

Scroll to Top

Join a Committee

Subscribe to the CASP Weekly Newsletter