Subtest Specificity in .NET

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Subtest Specificity
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For half a century clinicians have interpreted the specific abilities or traits believed to be measured by the separate Wechsler subtests. Case reports are typically filled with an individual s strength
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or weakness in commonsense understanding of social situations or the ability to distinguish essential from nonessential details or psychomotor speed or attention span, based on strong or weak performance on a single subtest. Yet, implicit in the interpretation of a person s score on any particular subtest is the presumption that the task in question has an adequate amount of reliable specific variance, which Cohen (1952b) has termed subtest specificity.
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Definition of Subtest Specificity
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Basically, a subtest has three types of variance: common variance, which is the portion that is shared with other subtests in the battery (e.g., each Verbal subtest shares variance with the other Verbal subtests, as evidenced by robust Verbal Comprehension factors); specific variance, which is the portion that is both reliable and unique to that subtest (a subtest s unique contribution to a Wechsler battery); and error variance (which equals 1 minus the reliability coefficient). In order to legitimately interpret the abilities supposedly measured by any subtest, that task must have a reasonable amount of reliable specific variance (subtest specificity), and the specificity should exceed the subtest s error variance. How large is reasonable Clearly, the median of 14% that characterized WAIS subtests (Cohen, 1957b) does not qualify. Cohen states: Thus, on the average, only one-seventh of the subtests variance is not attributable to common factors and error. Under these circumstances, the attribution of specific measurement functions to the subtests, as has been done by such clinicians as Rapaport (1945) in connection with the Wechsler-Bellevue, is clearly unjustified (p. 289). However, the results with the WISC were a bit more promising (Cohen, 1959), and Cohen seemed to treat 25% as the amount of specific variance that is large enough (as long as it exceeds error variance) to warrant subtest specific interpretation. The application of Cohen s (1959) informal rules to the
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WISC-R showed that subtest-specific interpretation is feasible for nearly every subtest across the age range (Kaufman, 1979b, Table 4.2). Adequate, as opposed to ample, specificity occurs when a subtest comes close to meeting Cohen s empirical criteria but doesn t quite make it: (1) the specific variance exceeds error variance but is consistently less than 25%; or (2) the specific variance is at least 25% but the error variance tends to be a bit more. Computation of subtest specificity is easy. The reliability coefficient equals the percentage of reliable variance for a subtest (no, it does not have to be squared, as some psychologists have tried to insist at our workshops). Subtract from the reliability coefficient the best estimate of common or shared variance, and the remainder is the subtest specificity. Cohen (1957b, 1959) used the commonality from factor analysis as the best estimate of common variance, but Silverstein (1977a) has argued in favor of the multiplesquared correlation between a subtest and all remaining subtests. Silverstein s arguments are sensible; he points out that the commonality varies as a function of the number of factors that are extracted, but R2 is totally determined by the correlation matrix.
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Subtest Specificity of WAIS-III Subtests
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Table 7.12 presents subtest specificities for the WAIS-III subtests at ages 16 through 89. These values are from Kaufman and Lichtenberger (1999). Table 7.12 also presents the error variance for the subtests; these values were obtained by subtracting the mean reliability coefficient from 1.0. The subtests are grouped into categories based on their specificity and error variance. These empirical findings justify clinicians in continuing their half-century-old practice of interpreting the specific abilities or traits presumed to be measured by each WAIS-III subtest, with the exception of Symbol Search and Object
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