Cognitive interventions for academic difficulties (part three of a three part series)
This week is the final instalment of my series on cognitive interventions for academic problems. As an educational psychologist working in Hong Kong with a lot of children that have developmental difficulties such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism spectrum disorders it’s important to keep up with research on various interventions as many of these children have academic difficulties. Below is a discussion of the implications of the research that has been reviewed in part one and two.
Over 200 studies synthesized in seven meta-analyses found a negligible to small effect for cognitive assessments and interventions on reading and mathematics performance improvements. There were a few clear implications of these data. First, working memory interventions do nothing to improve reading or mathematics skills. Although books and conference sessions profess that they do, there is not convincing evidence to support using working memory interventions for reading or mathematics. A second clear implication is that IQ and other measures of cognitive functioning might correlate well with reading and mathematics achievement, but they correlate poorly with student response to intervention. In other words, IQ tells us how much a student knows within the range of developmentally typical intelligence (i.e., child does not have cognitive disability),but IQ tells us very little about how well a student will respond to intervention. Practitioners should not use IQ to triage student need or to determine which interventions are appropriate for individual students. What is the harm in using cognitive measures to inform intervention? The data from these 200 studies suggest that examining cognitive processing data does not improve intervention effectiveness and doing so could dis- tract attention from more effective interventions. Unfortunately, educators often have a fascination with that which is new, so much so that “brand- new mediocrity is thought more of than accustomed excellence” (p. xi, Ellis, 2001). School psychologists may turn from effective interventions such as explicit instruction (d = 0.84;Kavale&Forness,2000),teaching reading comprehension strategies (d = 1.13; Kavale&Forness,2000),and repeated reading (d = 0.83 for fluency and d = 0.67 for comprehension; The rrien,2004) in favor of interventions that have strong intuitive appeal but little to no research evidence. School psychologists should help school personnel stay focused on that which we know works.
Burns, M. K., Petersen-Brown, S., Haegele, K., Rodriguez, M., Schmitt, B., … VanDerHeyden, A. M. (in press). Meta-analysis of academic interventions derived from neuropsychological data: Further evidence for a skill-by-treatment interaction. School Psychology Quarterly.
Kearns, D. M., & Fuchs, D. (2013). Does cognitively focused instruction improve the academic performance of low-achieving students? Exceptional Children, 79, 263–290.
Melby-Lervag, M., & Hulme, C. (2013). Is working memory training effective? A meta-analytic review. Developmental Psychology, 49,270–291.
Scholin, S., & Burns, M. K. (2012). Relationship between pre-intervention data and post-intervention reading fluency and growth: A meta-analysis of assessment data for individual students. Psychology in the Schools, 49, 385–398.
Schwaighofer, M., Fischer, F., & Buhner, M. (2015). Does working memory training transfer? A meta-analysis including training conditions as moderators. Educational Psychologist, 50, 138–166.
Stuebing, K. K., Barth, A. E., Mofese, P. J., Weiss, B., & Fletcher, J. M. (2009). IQ is not strongly related to response to reading instruction: A meta-analytic interpretation.
Exceptional Children, 76, 31–51.
Stuebing, K. K., Barth, A. E., Trahan, L. T., Radhika R. R., Miciak, J., & Fletcher, J. M. (2015). Are child cognitive characteristics strong predictors of responses to intervention? A meta-analysis. Review of Educational Research, 85, 395–429.