The psychological assessment of learning potential

Lauchlan, Fraser and Elliot, J. (2001) The psychological assessment of learning potential. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 71 (4). pp. 647-665. ISSN 0007-0998

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Background. The paper considers the construct of learning potential (or dynamic assessment) and its use in the psychoeducational assessment of children with learning difficulties. Aims. The principal research aim was to examine the extent to which learning potential (dynamic) assessment can predict which children with severe learning difficulties will gain most from a structured programme of cognitive intervention. Sample. The sample consisted of 30 children (mean age 9 years) based in a school for children with moderate/severe learning difficulties. Methods. Half of the children were assessed both before and after the delivery of a 15-month cognitive intervention programme undertaken by the first author. The other half took part in the assessments but continued with their usual classroom programme. Assessments included the use of both dynamic and static measures. On the basis of the assessments, students were divided into high and low potential groups and comparison of gains after the intervention was undertaken. Results. The measurement of learning potential appeared to predict subsequent performance in some, but not all, areas. Those who were most likely to make gains were those children deemed as ‘ high potential’ who also received the cognitive intervention. Conclusions. The value of learning potential assessment was not clearly demonstrated. The implications of the results are explored and, in particular, the authors warn of the dangers of drawing upon the results of learning potential measures in an inappropriate fashion. (school) psychologists, the complexity of the measures, ongoing debates validity and applicability and the pressures from resource managers for clearcut psychometric results have tended to deter all but the practitioner.