Ways to assess self-regulation

spark* News

There are a number of ways to evaluate a child’s self-regulation skills. There are a few standardized (see notes below on standardized tests and scales) rating scales, direct standardized assessments, and quite a few non-standardized measures – in the September spark* News we included an informal survey I developed.

The list below isn’t exhaustive but it’ll give you a good start.

Standardized Rating Scales. These questionnaires are used to rate children’s performance and skills. Typically, the teacher or parent rates the accuracy or frequency of each statement about the child. For example, an item may ask how often the child “Acts too wild or out of control” – never, sometimes, frequently.

  • Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function (BRIEF). The BRIEF in its various forms  is designed for children from two to 18 years of age. It has both parent and teacher questionnaires. There’s a self-report version for children from 11 to 18 years of age as well. The results reflect such things as the child’s inhibitory/impulse control, attention, emotional control, initiation of activities, working memory, planning and organizing, organization of materials, and self-monitoring. Find out more here
  • Comprehensive Executive Function Inventory (CEFI). The CEFI is designed for children from five to 18 years of age. It too has parent and teacher questionnaires as well as one for children 12 to 18 years of age. The CEFI identifies strengths and weaknesses in attention, inhibitory/impulse control, planning, emotion regulation, self-monitoring, initiation, flexibility, working memory, and organization.  Read a review here
  • Burks Behavior Rating Scales (BBRS). This measure is for children from four to 18 years of age and has rating scales for both parents and teachers. It looks at a number of behavioral, emotional, and social issues but it also examines impulse control. Find out more here
  • Conners Comprehensive Behavior Rating Scales (CBRS). The CBRS is for children from eight to 18 years of age and has both parent and teacher forms. It looks at a number of different emotional, academic, and behavioral issues as well as executive functioning. Find out more here

Standardized Direct Assessments. These instruments require children to complete activities that tap their executive functions. I’m aware of two standardized direct measures.

  • Minnesota Executive Function Scale. The MEFS is a standardized assessment of executive function skills (specifically focusing on working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility) designed for children ages two to seven years of age. It’s a child-friendly assessment that’s administered individually on a touch-screen tablet. The assessment takes an average of four minutes to administer. I (Heather) observed a demonstration of the MEFS and found it very engaging and wonderfully child-friendly. Find out more here 
Minnesota Executive Function Scale
  • NEPSY. This measure, for children from three to 17 years of age, is designed to assess neuropsychological development. The name, NEPSY, is an acronym that was formed from the word neuropsychology, taking NE from neuro and PSY from psychology. It looks at Attention and Executive Functions (planning, cognitive flexibility, inhibitory control, working memory), as well as language, sensorimotor functions, visuospatial processing, memory and learning, and social perception. Find out more here

Non-Standardized Rating Scales. These are rating scales that haven’t been tested on larger numbers of children. They’re at least superficially valid (that is, they focus on executive functions) and can be helpful in looking at areas of need and in checking progress. 
Here’s one I developed for young children:

Here’s one I (Heather) developed for young children.

There are a lot of other informal surveys online. Just Google “executive function survey”

Non-Standardized Direct Measures. There is a growing number of direct non-standardized measures, chiefly used in research but they can be used to check progress.

  • Corsi Blocks Task. This is primarily a visual working memory task for children from seven years of age. It involves imitating a sequence of taps on up to nine identical separate blocks. The sequence starts out simple, usually with two blocks. The task has forward patterns done in the same order as demonstrated and backward patterns where the child must touch the blocks in a reversed order. Try it out here
  • Dimensional Change Card Sort –  This task is similar to the Minnesota Executive Function Scale described above. It assesses working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility in two to five year old children. After learning to sort the cards according to one dimension (shape or color), children are asked to sort the cards according to the other dimension. For example, the first sort might focus on color, the second sort on shape, and the final sort might be a mix of color and shape depending on whether a card has a border or not. Find out more here
  • Heads Toes Knees Shoulders Test. HTKS looks mainly at inhibitory control but attention, working memory, and cognitive flexibility are also needed to be successful. Children, three to seven years of age, are asked to play a game in which they must do the opposite of what the adult says. Children are instructed to touch their head (or their toes), but the children are supposed to do the opposite and touch their toes. Find out more here  and watch the video below
  • Numerous tests of inhibitory control/impulse control: Tongue Task (children are asked to hold a cracker or M&M/Smartie on his/her tongue and to keep from chewing it for increasing intervals of time); Crayon Delay Task (looks at children’s ability to keep themselves from coloring when left alone with coloring supplies); Gift Delay Task (the child is asked not to peek while the adult wraps a “surprise”, then the wrapped gift is put in front of the child and he’s told not to touch it while the adult leaves “to get a bow”); Whisper Task (children are asked to whisper the name of 12 familiar cartoon characters (e.g., Elmo, Dora the Explorer, Mickey Mouse), inhibiting the urge to shout out the names); Pig-Bull Task (children are told to do what the pig says and ignore what the bull tells them to do); Simon Says (children are told to follow a command only if it’s preceded by the words “Simon says”); See more here

Keep in mind that a standardized survey or test is carefully developed, then tested on a number of people. Developers of these surveys and tests make sure they test what they say it does (that is, it’s valid). The survey/test needs to be consistent – no matter who’s giving the test or how many different children are being tests (that means it’s reliable).

Non-standardized measures aren’t necessarily always valid and reliable. If given at different times by different people, the results may be different. In fact, they may not even be measuring just self-regulation or executive functions. This is not to say you shouldn’t use these test/surveys. They can be used to check a child’s progress, by comparing before and after you began using spark* or spark*EL. Just remember to compare only the results for that child and be aware that different testers may get different results.