This current post is a continuation of a loosely connected set of recent posts I have made in an attempt to better understand the human ability constructs of cognitive ability, aptitude, and achievement abilities. These efforts are part of a manuscript in development, which I will announce when completed.
Today’s post defines a cognitive-aptitude-trait complex (CAATC). This material should have been included in my prior Clarification of Intellectual Ability Constructs post, but my thinking (based on subsequent data analyses) had not yet crystallized. I would strongly urge readers to visit that prior post before reading the current post. Similarly, another prior post that defined and demonstrated how to develop developmentally-sensitive CHC-consistent scholastic aptitude clusters is must as a background read. The concept of scholastic aptitude is integral to the current post. Finally, if readers are not familiar with the current pattern of strengths and weakness (POSW) third-method SLD identification models should take a quick skim of Flanagan and Fiorrello (2010). Since the following text is in the formative stages, I have not included all the references. Where possible, I provide hyperlinks to some references for those who may want to read these sources.
Beyond CHC: Cognitive-Aptitude-Achievement Trait Complexes (CAATC)
I believe that the various third method SLD methods would benefit from being framed in a broader conceptual and theoretical framework. Regardless of the SLD model name (e.g., concordance-discordance; discrepancy/consistency; dual discrepancy/consistency), the models, at their core, are all based on the notion of a specific pattern or configuration of abilities, aptitudes, and achievements related to different types of SLD in different achievement domains (see Flanagan & Fiorrello, 2010). The visual-graphic representation of each model typically includes three shapes (representing construct domains) and simple discrepancy comparisons between the domains (typically designated by arrows). Although clean and efficient for enhancing conceptual understanding, such models tend to implicitly suggest a somewhat simplistic multiple domain discrepancy score approach to defining SLD. Furthermore, the rationales for these models reflect a parochial foundation in contemporary federal SLD regulations, and contemporary research from the fields of special education, school psychology/neuropsychology, and psychometric factor-analysis intelligence research. Seminal and historical research from other corners of psychology (e.g., individual differences, educational psychology), that has focused on the development of theories and methods for measuring and describing characteristic patterns or configurations of different human ability traits, is largely ignored in this contemporary SLD model literature.
Richard Snow’s seminal study of aptitude complexes (which, at various times, he also referred to as compounds and configurations) (Corno et al., 2002; Snow, 1987) is the most prominent educational psychology example. Building on Snow’s work, Ackerman’s (1996) PPIK (intelligence-as-process, personality, interests, intelligence-as-knowledge) model of intelligence has produced intriguing research-based insights into trait complexes. In an Annual Review of Psychology article on individual differences in intelligence (Scientific and Social Significance of Assessing Individual Differences:“Sinking Shafts at a Few Critical Points”), Lubinski (2000) recognizes the similarity of the work of Snow and Ackerman (and others) via the discussion of the constellations of cross-domain attributes. Although these programs of research have typically dealt with a broader array of human trait domains (intelligence, achievement, motivation, personality, interests, etc.), the focus on patterns or configurations across and within domains is similar to the focus of contemporary SLD third method models.
I believe that research and conceptualization of the third-method POSW SLD models would benefit from being viewed as a narrow subset of a larger set of trait complexes. Contemporary SLD assessment research could benefit from the conceptual and methodological progress demonstrated by trait-complex organized research (e.g., see Ackerman, 1996, 2000; Ackerman, Bowen, Beier & Kanfer, 2001; Ackerman, Chamorro-Premuzic & Furnham, 2011). For example, this historical research would serve to remind contemporary assessment personal that aptitude-achievement relations are not readily captured in simple linear relations (and figures) and often requires interactions and the conceptualization of relations in multidimensional hyperspace (see Snow, 1987).
To advance this suggestion, I suggest the various third-method POSW SLD models be considered attempts to understand and measure cognitive-aptitude-achievement trait complexes. Borrowing liberally from Ackerman (Ackerman, 1997; Ackerman & Beier, 2005), who in turn drew on the seminal work of Cronbach (1967) and Snow (1989), a trait complex is defined in the most general sense as “sets of traits that combine to affect some type of outcome…the sets of traits are sufficiently interrelated to suggest exploration of mutually causal interdependencies” (Ackerman, 1997, p. 187). This definition is consistent with the definition in the Shorter English Dictionary (2002) which defines the noun complex as “1 A complex whole; a group of related elements…2 Chemistry. A substance or species formed by the combination of simpler ones” (p. 468; bold in original). In the current context I define a cognitive-aptitude-achievement trait complex (CAATC) as a constellation or combination of related cognitive, aptitude, and achievement traits that, when combined together in a functional fashion, facilitate or impede the acquisition of academic learning.
In my next post in this series I will present formative exploratory data analyses that I believes offers hope for better measuring, describing, and explaining school learning—with implications for revisions of current third method SLD identification models.
 The use of this broader context also serves as a necessary reminder (and link to research) that one of the primary goals of cognitive, aptitude, achievement testing is the identification of aptitude-treatment-interactions (ATI’s) that can inform instruction interventions (see Corno et al., 2002).
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