The PSW model developed by Flanagan, Alphonso, and Ortiz makes so much sense that it is it makes little sense not to use it. The authors first offer a specific definition of a specific learning disability (SLD) and then provide a method of assessment based upon best practice neuropsychological principles to identify: the presence of SLD; the specific cognitive processing deficits that are interfering with learning and performance; and equally specific instructional strategies to remedy the processing deficits. They use the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) classification of cognitive abilities to target the deficits that underlie academic subjects, recognizing that academic subjects are really byproducts of these processes. Teachers would then have a roadmap for developing instructional approaches to address each student’s cognitive weaknesses, putting the “I” back into the individualized educational plan.
However, here in New Jersey, the state has not adopted the federal third option that includes the possibility of using the PSW model to determine eligibility, instead depending on two criteria-the Ability Achievement Discrepancy Analysis and Response to Intervention-as the sole methods of deciding who receives services, both methods cited as having serious shortcomings in the professional literature. PSW, when accompanied by a Multiple Tiered Support System (MTSS) approach to offer support to all students whether they are regular or special education, form the powerful backbone of an effective system to help schools support their students. While PSW denotes a specific approach to formal assessment, it is really also a way of thinking about how students learn, utilizing the principles of CHC theory. In this way, teachers can choose goals based on data. The PSW model is comprehensive in that it includes functional information (i.e. daily observations from the classroom) and the important domain of executive functions, the self-regulating processes that determine if students will have access to their abilities.
PSW will permit child study teams to go beyond their traditional role of determining eligibility by going the extra step of then taking their findings, analyzing them, and then prescribing strategies geared to students’ individual cognitive profiles.
Pairing PSW with Cross Battery Assessment (XBA) allows practitioners to target the cognitive domains that are suspect and to root out the causes of learning difficulties by utilizing successive assessments in the specific areas of concern rather than simply using broad measures. This will ultimately save time and increase accuracy. PSW and XBA together remind me of the layers of an onion. That is, you begin by testing in the areas of concern and as you require additional data to shed further light or clear up inconsistencies in the data, you look at both broad and narrow cognitive abilities until you identify the “culprits.” Teachers can be more effective, professionals can test less and consult more, and kids and parents would be the beneficiaries.