Using a PSW Approach to
Identify Students with
Specific Learning Disabilities
Milton J. Dehn, Ed.D., NCSP
Schoolhouse Educational Services
KASP 2014
Notice of Copyright 2014
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Workshop Information Sources
• Essentials of Processing Assessment, 2nd Ed.
• Children’s Psychological Processes Scale (CPPS)
• Psychological Processing Analyzer (PPA)
• Intervention references
• Presenter Contact:
[email protected]
Processes to assess
Processes and academic skills
PSW Models
Conducting a processing assessment
Completing the processing analysis worksheet
Identifying processing deficits with the PPA
CPPS overview
Processing interventions overview
The Need for Processing Assessment
1. Part of a neuropsychological approach
2. Not just for SLD but Autism, ADHD, TBI, etc.
3. Neuroscience has increased our
understanding of brain-learning relationships
4. A deficit in a “psychological process” is part
of federal and states’ SLD definitions
5. Identification of processing deficits leads to
more appropriate & effective interventions
Working Memory Example
1. 10% of children have a WM deficit
2. Of those in the bottom 10% percentiles, 80%
will have significant learning problems
3. A working memory deficit predicts LD with
more than 80% accuracy
4. WM predicts LD better than IQ, consistency
predicts better than discrepancy
5. WM evidence-based interventions
It’s About the “Why”
1. The “why” matters
2. Learning disabilities have a neurological basis
3. Understanding the brain basis as to why a
student has a learning disability is important
4. Identifying processing deficits is a big part of
answer the why question
5. Assessment that answer some why questions
benefits the learner even without placement
or interventions
Processing Assessment and RTI
1. Both value early identification
2. When RTI fails, a processing deficit is
probably the cause
3. Addressing processing deficits makes
academic interventions successful; example
4. Much has changed/improved in regards to
processing assessment and intervention
What are Neuropsychological
Brain processes, operations, functions
Whenever information is perceived, transformed,
manipulated, stored, retrieved, expressed
Include “cognitive” processes
Whenever we think, reason, problem-solve
There are basic and higher level processes
Doesn’t include knowledge or achievement
Learning and performance depend on these processes;
they underlie academic skill acquisition
There are social-emotional, sensory, and other
processes that are not included for SLD assessment
Neuropsychological Processes are Not
1. IQ, but they contribute to IQ
2. “Abilities”; are the specific brain processes
that underlie abilities
3. More like aptitudes than abilities; aptitudes
are more specific
4. Not skills; skills and knowledge are the
product of processes
Processes to Include in Assessment
1. Broad processes composed of numerous
– Consider subprocesses when a broad process is
2. Related to academic learning & performance
3. Observable in the classroom
4. They have evidence-based interventions
Processes for SLD Assessment
1. Attention
2. Auditory Processing
3. Executive Functions
4. Fine Motor
5. Fluid Reasoning
6. Long-Term Recall
7. Oral Language
8. Phonological Processing
9. Processing Speed
10.Visual-Spatial Processing
11.Working Memory (WM)
Human Processing Limitations
1. Human limitations
2. Which processes does the chimp excel at?
Types: Selective, focused, divided, sustained
Necessary for learning and memory
Attention deficits part of LD; ADHD/LD comorbidity
Not necessarily ADHD (not enough symptoms)
1. ADHD is more hyperactive/impulsive
2. Inattentive type is more cognitive/learning
5. Can use rating scales to assess attention
6. Related to Executive Functions and Working
Executive Functions
1. Self-regulation of cognitive functions
and psychological processes
2. There are more than 30 exec processes
3. Self-monitoring, self-regulation, and
metacognition are part of EF
4. Have a longer course of development
5. Also have to do with classroom
6. Can assess with rating scales
Long-Term Recall
1. The focus is on the processes, not the
amount of acquired knowledge
2. Close connection with other processes
and with academic learning in general
3. Includes encoding, consolidation,
storage, and retrieval
4. Don’t need memory battery; can use
scores from WJ and other scales
Working Memory
Processing while retaining information
Includes short-term memory
Verbal, visual-spatial, & executive WM
WM is a cognitive and executive process
Scores from WJ, IQ, and other cognitive
scales can be used
6. An example of where CHC theory does not
match up with neuropsychology; WJ IV has
made an adjustment
Neuroanatomy of Processes
Neuroanatomy of Processes
Most in more than one brain lobe
Illustrates the interconnectivity of processes
Most have specific structures within a lobe
Processing speed is a function of
interconnectivity; does not have a specific
Occipital Lobe
1. Dedicated to vision and visual-spatial
2. Receives sensory data from the thalamus
3. Visual and spatial processing are separate
4. Dorsal stream (upper) sends spatial
information to parietal lobe
5. Ventral stream (lower) sends visual
information to temporal lobe
Temporal Lobe
1. Auditory processing
2. Long-term memory processing in the
3. Some visual processing
4. Semantic memory storage
The Hippocampus
Parietal Lobe
1. Integrates sensory information
2. Language processing
3. Phonological processing
Frontal Lobe
The “output” lobe; others are input
Executive functions---prefrontal cortex
Working memory---prefrontal cortex
Attentional control---prefrontal cortex
Fluid reasoning
Fine motor
Oral expression
No storage of long-term memories
Brain Lobes and STM & WM
1. Frontal (Prefrontal Cortex): Executive WM
2. Temporal: Episodic WM (especially during
LTM encoding and retrieval)
3. Parietal Lobes: Phonological STM and Verbal
WM in language processing areas
4. Occipital Lobes: Visuospatial STM and WM
The Evidence for the SLD-Processing
Deficit Connection
Meta-Analysis of 32 studies by Johnson et al.
(2010) found “moderately large to large effect
sizes (many close to one standard deviation of
difference) in cognitive processing differences
between groups of students with SLD and
typically achieving students.” The processes
included were: Working memory, short-term
memory, phonological processing, processing
speed, executive function, and language.”
The SLD-Processing Connection from
Study with the CPPS
1. LD subjects had significantly higher means on
all 11 processes; about 1.5 SD difference
Processes and Academic Learning
1. Psychological processes are like “aptitudes”
2. Relations established through research
– Flanagan et al., & McGrew
– Swanson, Geary, and others
3. For SLD look for academic area and related
psychological processes to both be low
4. See Table; useful for planning, interpretation,
and diagnosis
Research Example: SLD by
Processing Subtypes
1. Visual-Spatial Deficits: Math calculation and
math problem solving
2. Processing Speed Deficits: Reading
comprehension, written expression
3. Working Memory Deficit: Math calculation,
Written expression
4. Attention: Written expression
Source: Hain, Hale, Kendorski
The Origin of PSW
1. IDEIA 2004 Federal Regulations define SLD as
“a disorder in one or more of the basis
psychological processes”
2. First method: IQ-Achievement Discrepancy
3. Second method: RTI
4. The third method allowed for SLD
identification using “alternative researchbased procedures”
The Third Method
Flanagan interpreted this as allowing the use of
a “pattern of strengths and weaknesses” in
achievement, cognitive abilities, or psychological
processes, with an emphasis on psychological
1. Assumption: a neurologically-based
processing weakness underlies or “causes”
learning disabilities (Hale & Fiorello, 2004)
2. The occurrence of significant intra-individual
processing weaknesses indicates SLD
3. The “why” matters
Jack Naglieri’s Model
Concordance-Discordance Model
1. From James Brad Hale
2. Similar to Naglieri’s model
3. Processing areas not significantly related to
the academic area should be discordant:
Processing strengths should be significantly
higher than the academic weakness
CHC Model
1. A process related to the academic deficiency
is weak or deficient
2. Unexpected underachievement: Process and
academic deficit exist with otherwise normal
3. Regarding strengths, at least some processes
should be in the average range
PSW & SLD: The “Minds” Consensus
Neurologically-based deficits underlie SLD
There’s no SLD if there’s no processing deficit
Some processes highly related with academic skills
Processing deficits related to academic deficits
SLD have average or near average cognitive ability
Weakness should be normative & intra-individual
Weakness: statistically significant and unusual
PSW doesn’t mean there is a learning disability.
Dehn’s PSW Model
Intra-individual processing weaknesses are
statistically significant
At least one process is a deficit (see definition)
The processing deficit is related to the
deficient academic skill
Consistency between low process score(s) and
the related low academic skill score
Subtest scores must be unitary for a deficit
There is at least one strength (or a processes
that is in average range)
Dehn’s Definition of Deficit
1. Normative weakness + intraindividual weakness = deficit
2. Three reasons for deficit emphasis
– Both weaknesses together is
statistically rare
– A deficit indicates an underlying
neurological impairment
– Students with both kinds of
weaknesses really need special ed.
Process Scores Allowed
in Dehn’s Model
The list of 11 processes
Rating scales are included
Composite scores preferred over subtests
Achievement-like scores, e.g., verbal,
crystallized intelligence, vocabulary excluded
5. Some subtests are re-classified
CHC vs Dehn’s Model
1. Dehn’s uses processes that have the highest
relations with academic learning even if they
are narrow processes
2. Dehn has more specific criteria for using
processing deficits to identify SLD
3. Both use cross-battery analysis but Dehn
offers IQ as a optional predictor
1. IQ score more reliable than cross-battery mean
Single Battery Testing
One battery is sufficient if it is comprehensive
Examples: NEPSY-II, Woodcock-Johnson Cog.
With NEPSY-II, use Dehn’s analysis worksheet
With WJ, use the intra-cognitive discrepancy
analysis table Link
Cross-Battery, Selective Testing
Start with batteries you have
Try to limit number of supplemental batteries
Avoid redundancies
Only selected subtests administered
Two subtests or composites are ideal
May include rating scales
Use cross-battery analysis procedures
Cross-Battery, Selective Testing
1. Test all processes important for academics
with most attention to an in-depth
assessment of hypothesized weaknesses
2. Pick composites first
3. See selective testing table Link
4. See comprehensive list link from Essentials
of Processing Assessment, 2nd Edition
Some Subtests are Classified
Differently Through Task Analysis
1. Consider definition of the process
2. Consider factor analytic information
3. What is the primary process being measured
by the subtest? (not just input or output)
4. Which primary process allows the examinee
to successfully complete the task
5. What the task is typically used to measure
6. No such thing as “pure” subtest measure
Hypothesis Testing Approach
1. Given academic deficiency, what are the
most likely process deficits
2. It’s “why” the child has a learning problem
3. Include non-processes
4. Must collect assessment data to “test”
5. Try to avoid “confirmatory bias”
6. We all have weaknesses
Planning Processing Assessment
1. Assess most major processes, especially those
hypothesized to be deficits
2. Don’t test areas that are clearly strengths
3. Use the CPPS to reduce need to test
4. Identify academic deficiencies
5. Generate processing deficit hypotheses based
on relations with academics
6. Decide on assessment method
7. Select tests and subtests, not entire batteries
Planning a Processing Assessment
1. Complete the processing assessment planner
on case study
2. Consider concern; look at academic relations
table; hypothesize which processes involved
3. Consider non-processing hypotheses
4. Fill in all processes tested by primary scale
5. Find other scales to cover remaining
processes See Partially Completed Example
Case Study Risk Factors
Blood clot in umbilical cord
Abusive father; stressful home environment
Executive dysfunctions but very self-aware
Speech/language delay and disorder
Seizure disorder
Severe word retrieval difficulties
Six-Year Old Case Study Concerns
Learning colors, letters, and numbers
Inconsistent performance
Recognizing and generating rhyming words
Reading difficulties
Doesn’t remember directions
Difficulty getting started on a task
Word retrieval problems
Math learning difficulties
Processing Analysis with Hand
1. Use composite scores from test manual whenever
2. Convert all scores to standard scores
3. Compute clinical scores by averaging
4. Compute processing or memory mean or use IQ
5. Calculate discrepancies
6. Determine weaknesses and deficits
7. Both kinds of weaknesses = a deficit
8. Do pairwise comparisons
– Opposites and those closely related
9. Example
Guidelines for Weaknesses & Deficits
1. Deficit = both normative and intra-individual
2. Scores below 90 are normative weaknesses
– Below 85 if not using deficit approach
3. Intra-individual strengths & weaknesses use
12 points
– Assumes composites/subtests have hi reliability
– Use 15 points if not using deficit approach
Non-Unitary Scores
1. When standard score difference is greater
than 22 points
2. Something different is being measured or
something is different about the task
3. Investigate further with more testing if
cannot be explained
4. Don’t use a non-unitary process score for
diagnostic purposes
Pairwise Comparisons
1. For intervention planning, not diagnosis
2. Pay most attention to:
– Opposites
– Those that are closely related
3. A greater discrepancy is required for
4. Significant when confidence intervals do not
PSW SLD Criteria for Case Study
1. Is there at least one deficit
2. Is there at least one strength
3. Is the intra-individual weakness statistically
4. Are the scores unitary
5. Does the deficit relate to the deficient skill
6. Is there consistency between the process and
achievement score (bands overlap)
When to Use IQ Instead of CrossBattery Mean
1. Okay to use IQ as predictor because it has
high correlations with most processes
2. Is technically more appropriate because it
has known reliability and SEM
3. Use when only weak processes tested
4. Use when only a few processes tested
5. Use when a legal challenge is anticipated
Using Dehn’s Automated Analysis
Worksheet to Determine PSW
1. Automated worksheet from Essentials of
Processing, 2nd Edition
Psychological Processing Analyzer
2.1 and 3.0
1. Available at
2. Identifies statistically significant strengths,
weaknesses, deficits, and assets
3. Can enter composite and/or subtest scores
4. 11 psychological processes
5. Takes scores (about 400 to choose from)
from 50+ different scales: cognitive,
achievement, rating, and processing
Psychological Processing Analyzer
1. Composite and subtests are limited to those
that are fairly direct measures
2. Some are re-classified based on the primary
demands of the task
3. Use the mean of the process scores or IQ as
predicted score
4. Differences greater than critical values are
intra-individual weaknesses
PPA Equations
1. Converts all scores (except raw scores) to
standard scores
2. .01 or .05 level of significance
3. Difference formulas based on reliability
coefficients of composites/subtests
4. Regression toward the mean
5. Predicted score based on mean of other 10
6. Non-unitary scores are flagged
7. Checks processes and achievement for
PPA Report
1. Pairwise comparisons also provided
2. Results tables, graph and narrative
3. Identifies academic areas associated with the
identified deficits
4. See demo and sample report
New Features with PPA 3.0
1. New tests such as WISC-V and WJ IV
2. Will do cross-battery intra-achievement
3. Will select deficit processes and deficit
academic skills that pair up (related)
4. Check them for statistical consistency
5. Longer narrative with definitions, etc.
Using Rating Scales for
Processing Assessment
1. Processing deficits are manifested through
2. Behavior ratings can be used to measure
processing abilities
3. Research: rating scales just as valid if not
more so for some processes
4. Examples: BRIEF and other Executive
Function Scales
5. Also, the new CPPS
Children’s Psychological Processes
Scale (CPPS) Overview
Standardized teacher rating scale
Ages 5-0-0 to 12-11-30
121 items across 11 subscales
Entirely online, internet-web based
Online administration time of 15 minutes
Online scoring and report
Author: Milton Dehn; published by Schoolhouse
Educational Services, 2012
8. Measurement Consultant: Kevin McGrew
Main Uses of the CPPS
1. To identify psychological (cognitive)
processing weaknesses in children referred
for a learning disability evaluation
1. An additional source of data for diagnostic
2. Can be used as a Pattern of Strengths and
Weaknesses (PSW) analysis
3. Covers processes not directly tested
4. Progress monitoring
5. Screening
CPPS Standardization
1,121 students rated by 278 teachers
128 communities in 30 states
All data collected online
Demographics match U.S. Census well
Norms: 4 age groups (5-6; 7-8; 9-10; 11-12)
Included children with disabilities
The CPPS Identifies Children with SLD
1. LD subjects had significantly higher means on
all subscales; about 1.5 SD difference
2. The CPPS has high classification accuracy in
regards to LD
1. 37 LD subjects compared with matched controls
2. Using CPPS GPA cutoff of 60 had 92%
classification accuracy across 74 subjects
CPPS Processes
1. Attention
2. Auditory Processing
3. Executive Functions
4. Fine Motor
5. Fluid Reasoning
6. Long-Term Recall
7. Oral Language
8. Phonological Processing
9. Processing Speed
10.Visual-Spatial Processing
11.Working Memory (WM)
CPPS Report
Brief narrative, graph, and a table of scores
Change-sensitive W-scores
T-scores; percentiles; confidence intervals
Intra-individual strengths and weakness
discrepancy table
5. T-score to standard score converter
6. Example
CPPS Discrepancy Analysis
1. Use discrepancy table to determine pattern of
strengths and weaknesses
2. Predicted score based on mean of other 10
3. Regression toward the mean included
4. +/- 1.00 to 2.00 SD of SEE discrepancy options
5. Strengths and Weakness labeling is opposite of
discrepancy, e.g. “-” value = a strength
6. Link
Diagnosing LD with the CPPS
1. Look for pattern of strengths and weaknesses
(discrepancy table)
2. If intra-individual weaknesses are also
normative weaknesses (T-scores of 60 and
above), then they are deficits
3. Same criteria as PSW model
Using Assessment Results to
Plan an Intervention
1. Select processing deficits and intraindividual weaknesses for intervention
2. Normative weaknesses also appropriate
3. Consider related processing weaknesses
4. Consider executive and WM limitations
5. Prioritize
6. Individualize and differentiate
Interventions for Processing
Weaknesses & Deficits
1. Strengthen weakness if possible
2. And utilize the strong areas more
3. Use methods that involve other processes,
more of the brain
4. Principle: make the brain work, it gets better
5. Also need accommodations that reduce the
need to use the weak processes, especially
when deficits are severe
See Summary Sheet with References
• More methods and references for WM and
long-term memory Link
Metacognitive Component
Applies to all processing interventions
Teach child how process works
Inform child of strengths and weaknesses
Teach how to control the process
Emphasize personal efficacy of intervention
Teach conditional strategy knowledge: how,
when, where, why
Attention: Self-Monitoring
1. Teacher, or device carried by student, cues student
at variable intervals, such as 5 minutes
2. When cued, student marks monitoring sheet
regarding behavior when cue occurred: 2Completely on task; 1-Partially on task; 0Completely off task
3. When teacher is cueing, she also provides her rating
alongside student’s; student receives bonus point
when ratings match
4. Set a points goal that student is working for, easy at
first, then keep adjusting upward
Auditory Processing
1. Same as interventions for CAPD
2. Recoding auditory into visual information
3. Visual representations should accompany
verbal presentations
4. Quiet environment
5. Improve acoustics
6. Fast ForWord
7. Auditory trainers (individual sound systems)
Executive Functions: Planning
1. Developing planning improves math
2. Discuss benefits of plans
3. Develop plans
4. Verbalize them
5. Implement them and evaluate
Fluid Reasoning
Problem solving
Similarities and differences
Games that require reasoning and
recognizing relationships
Phonological Processing
1. Phonemic awareness interventions very
effective .86 effect size (the earlier the
2. Oral at first, then with written material
3. Rhyming; isolating phonemes; identifying
phonemes; deleting phonemes; categorizing
common phonemes; segmenting phonemes
that comprise words; and blending
phonemes into words
Processing Speed
• Video Games
Visual-Spatial Processing
• None recommended
Long-Term Recall
1. Dual encoding
2. Elaboration
3. Visual mnemonics
Dual Encoding
1. Instructors should make it both verbal and
visual or give students time to recode
2. Instruct students to visualize verbal info.
3. Instruct students to name/describe visualspatial info.
4. Increases the number of pathways available
for retrieval
Verbal Memory Strategy: Elaboration
1. Relate new info. with previous
2. Facilitates encoding and LTM organization,
consolidation, retrieval
3. Teachers should provide for young child
4. In-depth versus superficial processing
5. Ties info. with appropriate schema
6. Example: Asking and answering the “Why
does this make sense” question
Visual Mnemonics
1. For students with low verbal WM
2. Link info to something already known that will not
be forgotten; Act as a scaffold or bridge
3. Creates associations and meaning
4. Best when student creates images
5. Interactive images best
6. Ideal for those with verbal WM deficit
7. Basic visualization without a mnemonic is also
Approaches to Improving WM
1. Reduce the “cognitive load” imposed on the
student (Tier I)
2. Directly increase WM capacity through the
use of training exercises (Tiers II and III)
3. The student can make more effective use of
existing WM capabilities by learning to use
strategies (Tiers 1 – 3)
4. Accommodations

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