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Interview with Dr. Alan Kaufman
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This interview took place on July 31, 2004 at the APA conference in Honolulu , Hawaii .
I have stopped trying to think about my own personal definition because if I try to look at what is intelligence, then I know that the tests that I or anybody else can develop will fall short. So, I like Sternberg's triarchic theory. I mean, that to me comes closest to what I would view as intelligence. Something that's more analytical or bookish that we can get closer to measure something that's more creative and something that's more practical. And I don't think we need as many as seven or nine, going into Gardner . I think that Gardner pushes into areas, like sports, that I don't think really belong in the category of intelligence. But if I look at Sternberg's approach I find it very difficult to measure something like practical or social intelligence, which might be called street smarts. It's part of intelligence; it's part of what we are as human beings, but I don't feel that we can measure it as well as we'd like. Creativity-This is-My son James represents the blend of Sternberg and myself because James had Sternberg as his mentor at Yale. Sternberg was one of the big critics of our own KABC test, and James now is trying to bring to the field of creativity something I think both of Sternberg and from myself and my wife Nadeen, James's parents. And get that to be something that we also can measure. But if I look at what I think of as intelligence, then I have to not be idealistic, and I can't look at what is it in the real world. Instead I look at it much more "What do I have a prayer of measuring?" Because if I'm a clinician and if I'm developing a test for clinicians, then I want them to be able to measure something important. So I have to limit my view of intelligence to what I think can be measured. And right now, I am most comfortable with the two theories on which our new KABC-2 is based. One of them stems from John Horn's research with Gf-Gc theory, an array of abilities. The other is Luria's approach to the different [something garbled] neuropsychologically, where that focuses more on the processes. The KABC-2 that just came out a couple of months ago is founded on both theories. So, not saying that that's all intelligence, but saying that that comes closest to what I think we can measure. Then I like to think that we have departed from what used to be. What used to be was Wechsler saying "There's g, or maybe there are these two main ways we can express g -verbally and nonverbally." Um, I think now it makes more sense to think that we should be measuring a wider array of abilities and whether that number is 4 or 5 or 6 or 7, you can look at any of the major cognitive tests now, and nobody just gives two or three scores. So we have five abilities, and other tests have 4 or 5 or 7. But I think that it makes more sense to be thinking of cognitive development and cognition in terms of an array of abilities. One way where my personal approach differs from say, Richard Woodcock, where Woodcock in his Woodcock-Johnson measures seven different abilities from Horn's CHC theory-trying to make each one as separate as possible. So if you're measuring something like visual processing, then he wants to make sure that there's no reasoning or speed of problem solving and he wants it pure. The Wechsler influence on my own philosophizing or test development is still strong and from Wechsler's perspective, if you're measuring something called intelligence it should still be complex. And if you try to make abilities very narrow to fit a theory very precisely than I think you are losing the essence of what we as intelligent people can do, which is think in very complex ways. So we have not strived for factor purity. We used factor analysis results to support our scales, and they do. But we deliberately make our scales impure to match what we believe is inside people-A complex way of approaching the world.
I was interested in cognitive and developmental psychology as a graduate student, especially Jean Piaget . And I got interested in intelligence at about the same time that Piaget, in the late sixties, was being brought to the U.S. And I was fascinated by how children think, and equally fascinated about the fact that I really felt I couldn't use Piaget's techniques to measure what I wanted. I also at the same time was trained in more contemporary approaches to intelligence, and got my degree in psychometrics. I was taught intelligence a very old-fashioned way from a very psychometric point of view. And both of those two avenues-both the Piagetian theory and the very strict psychometric-neither one answered it for me. I then fortuitously had a position at the Psychological Corporation at the time when Dorothea McCarthy was developing a preschool test, and David Wechsler was revising the WISC to become the WISC-R. I then mentored with both, worked closely with both, and they, more than anybody in the world, were responsible for me to try to really bridge the gap between theory and measurement. To try to make intelligence more humanistic, and it's assessment to be more focused on the person you're testing, whether it's a child, adolescent or adult-and not so much on the numbers. And in that sense, I was able to lead intelligence in a little bit different direction.
It was David Wechsler . Dorothea McCarthy knew young children very, very well and had great insight into testing them. But I think I was in my mid to late twenties, and I think I--I thought I knew everything and I didn't realize how much I would have, or could have, learned from her. And I think I was a little bit more closed. David Wechsler had a different approach with me, and I was much more intrigued with him as a clinician. The fact that he truly felt he could diagnose somebody by asking them a few questions, like "What is the population of the United States ?" He felt based on the person's answer he could come up with a few more questions and come up with an actual diagnosis. But the notion that he put intelligence into the field of personality-He turned psychometric assessment into clinical assessment. And I was there, working with him, very closely with him. Because he used to have me come to his apartment, and just the two of us would hammer things out because he had no more toleration for bureaucratic meetings than I did. So at one point he said "Okay. No more meetings. From now on Alan comes to my house." And I spent hours and hours and hours with him just really learning from the master. And he was--always knew what I was thinking. He could always know the half a dozen things that were on my mind that I didn't say, and then after I had my agenda done-what I had to find out-he would then say "Okay. These are the six things that are still bothering you." And one by one--But seeing him as a clinician and understanding his approach to assessment shaped my whole view of the field, short of becoming theory-based. So that was the shape to get me intrigued in the possibilities of what tests could do. But he was still old school in that even though he gave us profiles, he was old school in that he was a g theorist. And most people don't know that because he often used different IQs and all these different subtests. But ultimately he believed in g theory. So it was his approach to assessment, having nothing to do with theory, that was my mentor.
In terms of contributions, I think that one of my contributions that I'm very proud of is when I wrote the book Intelligent Testing with the WISC-R in 1979. Because I think that people at that time did not know how to interpret profiles, and I think that there was a very strong tendency to think of them as manifestations of personality. And it follows from g theory, if everybody just has g , then any fluctuations in a person's scores shouldn't happen. And therefore, if they do, there must be brain damage or there must be some kind of personality disorder. And different profiles were interpreted as measuring hysteric reactions or obsessive-compulsive behavior, without any evidence. And just the field was off the wall in the seventies. And you had books on Wechsler scales that treated the tests as if they were just twelve boxes of abilities. Nothing global, and that's going too far in the other extreme, where you would just be taught well, there are 10 or 11 or 12 subtests and each one measures it's own thing. That was never true. And it was done in a way where there was no imposition of psychometrics. If a person scored just above the mean on one subtest, that was a strength. If just below, it was a weakness. So what I tried to do in the book Intelligent Testing was impose a certain order on the way we approached profile interpretation. I tried to impose theory on it by having the profiles looked at from different theoretical perspectives and not g , not general ability. And I tried to make it so you want to see-do the subtests and hang them together as opposed to just 12 separate things, where you might make 12 separate statements about a person, half of them contradictory. So I think that by imposing order on how we interpreted the Wechsler scales and then other scales I know that it had a very strong impact in the field. It changed the way people interpreted profiles, and then made me the subject of criticism in the nineties, like well, is my method of profile interpretation justified? And well, it's fun to argue and it's also-I've been a little bit responsive and I've changed the way I've done things, partly in response to it. But I think that it brought the field to thinking about these questions even if they disagreed with me. I also think that the development of the KABC in 1983 just on the heels of that WISC-R book is an equal contribution. The test itself never took over from the Wechsler. Wechsler always reigned supreme, as it does over other tests that have come out. But what the KABC did at the time was it changed the face of test publishing. For one thing it made people aware that you could challenge the Wechsler - Binet monopoly, that there were other ways of measuring intelligence. For another, it showed that you can take theory from-not just psychometric theory having to do about reliability and validity-but it showed that you could take theory and apply it to the individual intelligence test. And third, and maybe most important of all, is it changed who test publishers hired to develop their tests. Because up until that time that I was at Psychological Corporation-I got my degree in psychometrics and my major professor was Robert Thorndike -And so was everybody else! And if you looked at other test publishers, they only had people who were the Division 5 people. Reliability, norms, validity. Well did you ever test a kid? Well maybe, maybe not. But [they] knew nothing about children. One of the first things that we did was we said we want a school psychologist to be in charge of the test project at the test publisher, American Guidance Service (AGS) and they hired Randy Kamphaus, who was then our graduate student, and then went ahead and they hired Patti Harrison from the Vineland scales, and now every test publisher has neuropsychologists and school psychologists and clinical psychologists. Well, it wasn't true more than twenty years ago. So I think that that was another contribution of our KABC.
[I]n terms of my own development, I've been very responsive to what I feel theory can add to clinical assessment. And I was following much more of the Wechsler approach, where his feeling was you need to measure a couple of important abilities, and measure them well. And then the more theory became more prevalent-especially the kinds of theories that tests can be developed from-then those theories, especially John Horn's-what became the Cattell - Horn - Carroll (CHC) theory-and Luria's notions of processing from different functional units. It was really clear that those global abilities--It may be nice in theory-well not in theory-it may be nice in practice-to have these big areas, but they didn't correspond to things that were really unified in terms of a process. And the more the field has evolved, the more as a field it has evolved into processing-whether you have process deficits, or process integrities-and the global scores-Wechsler, and to a long time I, were so caught up in, have given way so that I think, I have been happy to see the field move toward a larger number of reliable processes.
[.] I think that has the best hope of making a difference in the 2000s as the IDEA guidelines get implemented, and intelligence tests are trying to be fazed out of the assessments and they get rid of the discrepancy between ability and achievement. They still can't get rid of the notion that the definition of a learning disabled child or adolescent is that they've got a deficit in a basic processing disorder, which means they must have some asset, or else they would be mentally retarded if everything was a deficit. Well we, as psychologists, no matter how the special educators or the behaviorists in the field of psychology are trying to say "Get rid of the IQ test." If they just look at see the array of IQ tests that are around now, they will see that these tests are not just Wechsler. Even the Wechsler scale gives four scales-no longer a verbal and performance IQ. And that all of these tests can address contemporary problems. But my own bottom line is, our tests have always been a reflection of society. And we have always-We have been shaped by society, and we've shaped society. And right now we're-My own personal sense of growth, I think, is to have always been aware that the tests are more important if they meet society's needs. And that has meant change, because society has changed.
I have always loved what I do. I've always been excited by it. I was excited to work with Wechsler. He was difficult to work with, but always very kind to me. And I learned so, so much from him as a mentor. I learned a lot through the various experiences I've had, but mostly I've learned to enjoy it and try hard not to let it get me down when there are people who just don't like what I do, and are frankly critical of it. But to try to learn from it. Not so shut myself out, but to use it however I can. To try to do a better job the next time around. Or if I just think their wrong, then whenever I write in my books I'm very frank and very honest. If I think somebody has said something stupid, I'll just say "This is a stupid comment." I just kind of tend to be honest with it. And maybe the only thing I've ever enjoyed more than just developing tests and working with wife on it (she's been my collaborator for years) is that with my son James we collaborated on a book called The Worst Baseball Pitchers Of All Time. And I have to admit that that was just a little bit more fun than test development. But we also had fun applying statistical psychological principles to evaluate who really were the worst baseball pitchers of all time. And we coupled that with interviewing of some of these people. But so take away our baseball research, and test development is what I love.
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Last Modified: 20 January 2017