Scores “Say” Nothing

I remember an old mentor of mine, a droll, vaguely manipulative and charming older man advising me about interpreting test scores: “If you ever get in a jam about an unflattering test score , perhaps one that is completely incompatible with the actual behavior of the person obtaining the score, simply say,’Well, that’s what the score says.’  That way you won’t have to defend your interpretation nor explain any inconsistencies or nonsensical claims about the person based on a score. ”

In my last post, just such a scenario arose. A young man’s low “auditory comprehension” score was completely at odds with that of  a unanimous consensus  of  people who knew him. ONLY that one score “said “otherwise.

But the fact is, NO score can SAY anything. Scores are non-vocal and no matter how long you listen to a page of scores, no sound will emerge, no words will be heard.

For in the end, some human person has to interpret the score, has to explain its meaning, what cognitive or behavioral function it is measuring, what the magnitude of that function is, how it compares to other scores the examinee obtained, whether the score suggest a liability or an asset. If the clinician who administered the test says “Jordan’s score on the Digit  Span test was 10; that’s an average attention span”, and lets it go at that, then forevermore, Jordan will  have neither a strength nor weakness in terms of his attention function. And while it may be said that the clinician did interpret that score of 10 with his brief comment, he certainly said just about nothing (cf. previous posted discussions of “average” scores).

In fact, that clinician could have interpreted that score much more meaningfully and helpfully and fairly. He could have discussed the nature of the Digit Span test, how it required Jordan to repeat increasingly longer digit strings, how he had to repeat them first exactly as they were said, then in reverse order from that dictated by the clinician. He could have described how Jordan missed easier items but got longer strings right. He could have noted that before he repeated strings, he’d re-recite them to himself several times, subvocally. He could have reminded Jordan’s parents that this subtest was among the very first subtests administered. He could have reported that Jordan “seemed tired” or nervous, that often enough, with longer strings, he’d repeat all the numbers correctly but mis-sequence one number in the string, that he struggled later on with a sound blending subtest where he had to listen to three or sounds and then assemble them into a word.

As importantly, he could have noted that the “10” score stood in marked contrast to many of his other, higher scores, that this subtest was measuring attention of a  limited sort, that it didn’t mean that Jordan couldn’t listen, couldn’t pay attention. And he could explain how Jordan with a score of “10”…average… could nonetheless have a deficit even if he could spend “hours” intently focused on a video game or playing checkers with his Dad.

The clinician could have SAID these things, discussed them, ALL of them that would otherwise be left unsaid by a mute number. But  far too often a clinician  decides not to take  the “risk” of interpreting Jordan’s score and all the behaviors and  contextual features that appeared as Jordan produced his responses. And in doing so, he dismisses a golden opportunity to learn much, much more about Jordan and his complexity. The clinician  MUST SPEAK. For the scores NEVER will.


1 Response to “Scores “Say” Nothing”

  1. 1 Bev-Otter
    January 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm

    You should publicize your knowledge more in some way. They are truly priceless information especially for parents. We know these parents, and are probably, in fact most likely, behaving at times like the ones you describe simply through peer pressure. How about the mother who pulled her child from a private preschool because they were not properly preparing her child for an ivy-league school. The parents are at the root of the problem.
    The teenagers and young adults emerging from this upbringing have this feeling of entitlement, that they are deserving of whatever they want, the 99 percenters. In many cases, they are willing to work hard, but expect that any and all difficulties that they encounter along the way are unjust and will be erased by the parents, teachers or employers. There are even parents now that complain that they don’t have enough “me” time, that they are “under-appreciated” and in the most severe of instances leave their spouse and children all together.
    Enough of the “everyone get’s an award”. There is no such thing as “everyone is a winner”. Second and last place are fine – learn from it. Recently, a mother complained to me about the fact that her daughter was not getting enough playing time for the high school basketball team and that the coach needed to play her more (over the two younger players) or she was going to quit. This was with the mothers advice and support no less! I asked her simply “How much does Gladys practice when she’s at home or on her off time?” “Not at all, but that shouldn’t matter” was the answer. My reply back was, “It does matter – she belongs on the bench because she’s NOT entitled to be on the court simply because she likes the game and is older”. How does this attitude change? The anti-politically correctness needs to return it seems.

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