How Cognitive Assessments for Children Affect Their Education

We’re only starting to fully grasp the importance of cognitive development as it relates to student success in the classroom. For years, educators limited their assessments to specific educational outcomes or on broader IQ tests. These assessments failed to give teachers an ongoing, adaptable method of tailoring education to a student’s needs. Students would instead be labeled “special education” if they fell below a certain baseline, denying them the opportunity to catch up to their peers.
The science behind cognitive development has changed a lot over the last decade, but schools have been slow to take advantage of the new findings. As a result, students with cognitive disorders are falling behind. This is unfortunate, because current studies suggest that lags in problem-solving, judgment, memory, and thought can often be mitigated with the right educational strategy. If teachers are to be successful in implementing such a strategy, however, students must be assessed in a systematic manner.

Unfortunately, the tools for carrying out cognitive assessments for children are largely absent from today’s classrooms. Whether the problem stems from the slow wheels of government bureaucracy, budgetary limitations, or a deliberate rejection of today’s best cognitive theories, the result is that kids continue to suffer. At best, they are shuffled off to special education classrooms or given ADHD medication without the appropriate behavioral therapy.
There are a number of reasons that ACTIVATE™ has been recognized as one of the country’s leading brain-development programs, but its incorporation of ongoing assessments is certainly among the most important. In addition to providing students with brain-training exercises and physical exercise programs that combat executive function disorders, ACTIVATE™ gives teachers cognitive assessment tools for children that they can use to track progress and growth. The importance of these tools cannot be overstated.

Aren’t There Enough Tests?

A common complaint among educators is that there is too much focus on testing in the curriculum. And there is good reason for those concerns. However, cognitive assessments of the type espoused by ACTIVATE™ are in a different world from the content assessments being pushed by the Department of Education. Content assessments measure what a student has learned, but only assessments with a focus on cognitive ability can tell us what a student is capable of learning. Not only that, but these tests give us an educational roadmap that teachers and parents can use to guide a child’s cognitive growth.

The NIH Toolbox

The National Institutes of Health has designed a “toolbox” of assessments aimed at measuring neurological and behavioral functioning across a wide age spectrum. ACTIVATE™ implements three important assessments from the cognition portion of the NIH Toolbox, given to students at the beginning and end of their training course. Because conventional tests of this type are cumbersome and expensive, they are typically reserved only for students identified as at-risk. By the time their cognitive abilities are addressed, these students may have already fallen behind their classmates.
By incorporating simple, quick, low-costs assessments into the program, ACTIVATE™ makes it possible for teachers to intervene early on behalf of students who need extra help. This early intervention can have a ripple effect that follows a child throughout their academic career and beyond graduation.

The Three Assessments

ACTIVATE makes use of three assessments from the NIH Toolbox. These include:
The Flanker Task – An assessment that measures a student’s ability to exercise control over inhibition and attention.
The Working Memory Test – A measurement of a student’s ability to keep and hold information needed to perform given tasks.
The Go/No-Go Test – A measurement of how quickly students can process information, how well they can control their inhibitions, and how much cognitive flexibility they possess.

Why These Tests Matter

These assessments strike right at the heart of the cognitive disorders that prevent many students from performing well in school. As integral parts of what psychologists call “executive function,” the skills tested by the NIH Toolbox are essential to academic and social success.

Cognitive Abilities: Inhibitory Control

As measured by the Flanker Task, inhibitory control is a student’s ability to control their response to distractions. Can a student pay attention to a lecture when kids are walking by the classroom door? The ability to shut out distraction is a crucial element to school success.

Cognitive Abilities: Working Memory

As measured by the NIH Toolbox, working memory describes a student’s ability to remember instructions or keep information in mind long enough to perform given tasks. Think of it as the scratch pad of the mind. Without good working memory, students will inevitably fall behind.

Cognitive Abilities: Speed of Information Processing

The speed at which a child can process information is considered a vital component of their overall intelligence. When a student has problems controlling the direction of their attention, their information processing speed will almost certainly suffer.

Making a Difference

Obviously, the cognitive assessments of young children won’t make any difference in a vacuum. The importance of these tests is not to “label” students but rather to give teachers an outline of exactly where they need improvement. And the ACTIVATE program provides the training materials students need to overcome their initial disabilities.

Aren’t Learning Disabilities Permanent?

Not according to the latest science. If cognitive ability could not be improved, ACTIVATE™ wouldn’t exist. But the study of neuroplasticity has shown us that children – and even adults – can make enormous strides against ADHD and other executive function disorders if given the right training. ACTIVATE™ gives educators the tools they need to track student progress in real time, allowing them to see how much progress they’ve made.
With a combination of cognitive assessments for children, real-time tracking, and scientifically-designed training materials, ACTIVATE™ can dramatically increase student achievement inside and outside the walls of the classroom.