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The Center on Brain Injury
Research & Training

School-Based Assessment of Executive Functions


Executive Function Assessment

Assessment of any student should not rely on a single test or measure. Assessment involves gathering data from several sources and synthesizing the information to look for trends and patterns across time and setting. Assessment of executive functions is no different. For an effective assessment of executive functions, a variety of measures should be used including: formal one to one assessment, standardized checklists, observations, interviews, and work samples. From these, conclusions may be drawn on the use of executive functions in a particular student. The following is a list of measures and techniques used to gather information on executive functions in students.

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Standardized Measures Commonly Used To Test Executive Functions

Caution: Using checklists or rating scales alone may overestimate executive functioning difficulties in typical school children. Therefore, it is important to consider the age of the student and compare student progress with same-age peers. It is also a good idea to consider re-testing or monitoring progress in executive functions later on in the student's school career.

Rating scales

Behavior Rating Index of Executive Function (BRIEF):

Designed for students ages 5-18, both parent and teacher versions are available. The BRIEF uses a 3 point scale to determine how often a student performs a behavior. It offers a global score and index scores on behavioral regulation (with inhibit, shift, and emotional control scales) and a Metacognition Index (with scale scores of initiate, working memory, plan/organize, organization of materials, and monitor). It was published in 2000 by Psychological Assessment Resources. A preschool version is also available.

Child Behavior Checklist – Teacher Report Form (CBCL):

This is a general measure of behavior that taps into social emotional functioning attention. It was published in 1991 by Achenbach, who is also the author.

Formal measures

NEPSYII (Korkman, Kirk, Kemp, 2007)

An individually administered assessment battery for students ages 3 to 4 and 5-16, it is used to measure Social Perception , Executive Functioning/Attention, Language, Memory and Learning, Sensorimotor Functioning, and Visual-spatial Processing.

Cognitive Assessment System (Naglieri Das, 1997)

Evaluates planning and attention and is one of the few measures based on a single theory of intelligence. The battery uses six subtests to evaluate performance in two areas, planning and attention, both of which are involved with executive functions. It takes about 60 minutes to administer.

Children's Category Test (Boll, T. 1993)

This brief measure was designed for students ages 6-16 and provides an indication of mental flexibility and a child's ability to categorize. It takes 15-20 minutes to administer. The overall score is the best indication of performance. The CCT is appropriate for use in combination with intellectual and academic achievement tests and is a nonverbal task to be administered independently or during the California Verbal Learning Test®–Children's Version's (CVLT®-C) delayed recall section. It also responds to federal legislation requiring the evaluation of students suspected of having traumatic brain injury. In addition, the test accommodates the needs of children with color acuity problems and may be appropriate for children with severe motor handicaps. Unlike most comparable instruments, CCT was standardized on a national sample with stratification variables including age, sex, race/ethnicity, region, and parent education level. It is a booklet version based on the Halstead-Reitan Category Test for Children. CCT was co-normed with the CVLT-C.

WISC-IV Advanced Clinical Interpretation (Weiss, Saklofske, Prifitera, Holdnack, 2003)

This text introduced a potential screener/research executive functioning. The index uses 4 subtests based on 1 subtest from each modality. The subtest must not contribute to other indexes. Evidence of sensitivity to EF-based disorders uses Comprehension Multiple Choice, Elithorn Mazes, Spatial Span Forward, and Cancellation Random. The text has normative information and clinical group research for EF-based clinical groups.

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Observations and Interviews

Use both observations and interviews to determine the following types of information regarding a student's executive functions and ability to perform in a variety of situations and environments. Observe in the classroom and in a less structured environment. It is imperative to observe the student in "normal" settings for any type of evaluation. Another vital piece of information comes from interviews with teachers, parents, and the student to determine concerns and areas of interest.

During Assessment

Watch for and ask how well the student is performing on:

Classroom Observation

Observe and interview students and teachers to determine activities that indicate the ability to organize, plan, use working memory, initiate, change tasks, sustain attention, and use response inhibition and time management or other executive functions.

To do this, find out if the student:

Informal Settings Observation

With peers look for:

Home Observations

Ask the family the following types of questions:

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Program Design

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Adapted from:

D'Amato, R.C., Janzen, E.E., Reynolds, C.R., (2004).Handbook of School Neuropsychology.New York: John Wiley and Sons.

Dawson, P., (2004).Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A practical guide to assessment and interpretation.New York, NY: Guilford Press.

deCaire, M.Clinical Measurement Consultant, Harcourt Assessment-PsychCorp. retrieved 11/17/07. http:www.harcourtassessment.ca.