Assessment and Remediation for Children with Special Educational Needs : The role of Working Memory, Complex Executive Function and Metacognitive Strategy Training
Abstract: The overall aim of this thesis was to explore the role of different assessment tools and training regimens in assessment and remediation for children with special educational needs in school. A central purpose of assessment explored was that it should inform remediation, teaching and instruction. The concepts of working memory, complex executive function and metacognitive strategy training for children with special educational needs were specifically explored in relation to this purpose of assessment. Complex executive function refers to planning and metacognitive ability, that many children with special educational needs struggle with, and which they are expected to handle in learning during school day. Of particular interest in the thesis was the contrast between working memory and complex executive function and how these concepts inform assessment and remediation practices. In this context, special attention was given to mathematical learning difficulties.The thesis was based on four studies (I‑IV). Study I explored the prevalence of different assessment tools, and dilemmas and challenges as perceived by assessment professionals, teachers and parents, in the work with children with special educational needs in Europe. In Study II, a metacognitive strategy training framework was developed as a training regimen, guided by research on complex executive function, and applied on working memory training. Effects of working memory training were compared between the two training regimens, with and without metacognitive strategy training, and also the overall effect of working memory training on cognitive functioning and the school related skills of reading, writing and arithmetic. In Study III, different types of measures of working memory and their predictive capacities in relation to mathematics achievement in national curriculum assessments were explored, as well as the effects of working memory training on mathematics achievement. In Study IV the role of working memory and complex executive function in identifying risk for mathematical learning difficulties in children with special educational needs was explored.The results from Study I suggested that assessment and remediation practices can contribute to a deficiency‑oriented outlook on children with special educational needs. In contrast parents and teachers in Sweden also reported that assessment could help them to better understand the needs of the child. Results from studies II-IV showed that only the use of a metacognitive strategy training regimen targeting complex executive function resulted in improvements following working memory training. The results also indicated that working memory training strongly predicted mathematical performance in national curriculum assessments of mathematics in school, and that a more complex change measure of working memory was a better predictor than simple working memory measures in this regard. Finally, the results also showed that complex executive function, defined as planning ability, was a better predictor than simple working memory in the assessment of risk for mathematical learning difficulties.The results from the studies were discussed in relation to the purpose of assessment to inform remediation, teaching and instruction for children with special educational needs. It was concluded that, in addition to working memory, as complex executive function – planning and metacognitive ability - seems to be an important cognitive function related to learning, this should be addressed both in the assessment of children with special educational needs as well as in the remediation when designing training regimens and interventions for children with special educational needs in general, and children at risk for mathematic learning difficulties in particular. It was also highlighted that in remediation, the role of the teacher as a mediator of metacognition and complex executive function seems vital.
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