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Working Memory Assessment


Assessments of working memory encompass a range of indirect to direct measures. Educators can indirectly assess WM by recognizing students who demonstrate a poor WM profile and then complete one of the behaviour rating scales which screens for the behaviours most frequently associated with WM deficits. Psychologists can utilize standardized ability tests which often include the most common direct measure of general WM ability: the Backward Digit Span Test. In the Backward Digit Span Test an examiner recites a sequence of numbers at the rate of one per second after which the examinee must repeat the sequence of digits in reverse order. This task requires the simultaneous demand of storing information while also mentally rehearsing the sequence, which imposes a substantial burden on the attentional component of WM.



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Working Memory Assessment Checklists


Working Memory Rating Scale (WMRS)
The Working Memory Rating Scale consists of 20 descriptions of behaviours characteristic of children with working memory deficits to be completed by the educator or parent, ranking each behaviour on a scale of 0-3.
Sample Items: The child raised hand, but when called upon had forgotten response. Child lost place in a task with multiple steps. Child had difficulty remaining on task.

Strengths of WMRS:

  • Rating captures behavior over an extended period of time.
  • Easy to administer.
  • WMRS specifically designed to focus on working memory.
Weaknesses of WMRS:
  • Reliability of measure not yet extensively researched.
  • The measure could be subject to Halo Effect, where the first behaviours recognized influence the interpretation and perception of later ones because of skewed expectations.

Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF)
The BRIEF is an 84 item questionnaire completed by parent and educator, designed to assess executive functioning in both the home and school environments. The Inventory
includes five different subscales tapping inhibition, shifting, emotional control, working memory, and planning/organization.
Sample Items: Child described as generally able to solve problems in a planned and organized manner. Concerns are noted with the child’s ability to inhibit impulsive responses, sustain working memory, and plan and organize problem solving approaches.


Strengths:
  • Rating captures behavior over an extended period of time.
  • Easy to administer.
  • Reliability of measure more extensively researched.
Weaknesses:
  • BRIEF not specifically focused on working memory related behaviors.
  • The measure could be subject to Halo Effect, where the first behaviours recognized influence the interpretation and perception of later ones because of skewed expectations.

Childhood Executive Functioning Inventory (CHEXI)

The 26 items of the CHEXI can be divided into four subscales of WM including: planning inhibition and regulation. The questions were created based on Barkley’s (1997) hybrid model in which inhibition, working memory, and regulation regard to working memory. CHEXI focuses chiefly on the executive functioning component of working memory and can be used to explore concerns identified when screening with the BRIEF measure.
Sample Items: Child has difficulty remembering what he/she is doing in the middle of an activity. Has difficulty telling a story about something that happened so that others may easily understand.
Strengths:
  • Rating captures behaviour over an extended period of time.
    Easy to administer.
Weaknesses:
  • Reliability measure not yet extensively researched.
  • The measure could be subject to Halo Effect, where over-inclusion of behaviours occurs, such as when a child is reported as inattentive despite not displaying these symptoms.
  • Measure not able to fully exclude symptoms associated with ADHD.


Standardized Psychological Tests

Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - fourth Edition (WISC-IV) - a direct measure of short-term and working memory which includes the following subtests.
Backward Digit Span - Child asked to repeat a sequence of numbers in reverse order.
Number-Letter Sequencing - After listening to a randomly generated series of numbers and letters child is asked to first repeat numbers in ascending order and then letters in alphabetical order.
Arithmetic - Child listens to an arithmetic problem that is orally presented and asked to calculate through mental arithmetic within a specified time frame.
Strengths:
  • This subtest can be conveniently administered while conducting a larger battery of psychometric assessments.
  • Highly standardized and researched.

Weaknesses:
  • Visuospatial assessment is not included in the WISC, and assessment of phonological short-term memory is limited.
  • This test is often conducted in highly controlled environments which don't necessarily reflect the working memory demands of the classroom or other settings.

Automated Working Memory Assessment (AWMA)

Primarily designed for educators to easily conduct working memory screens of their students. The AWMA includes computerized subtests of verbal and visuospatial short-term and working memory with automated presentation and scoring, which produces a standardized working memory and learning profile.


Strengths:
  • Automation makes this measure easy to administer and score.
  • One study indicates it has high degree of convergence with WISC-IV.

Weaknesses:
  • AWMA has not yet been extensively researched.
  • Three-dimensional visuospatial test is conducted on a two-dimensional computer screen.
  • Requires computer resources to administer.






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