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WISC IV - Low Working Memory Scores

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My child was tested with the WISC - IV series. She missed the cut off date when entering the school system therefore she is the oldest child in her class. The curriculum in kindergarten has not been challenging due to her age and prior pre-school experience. We were advised to have her tested our school has a gifted and also accelerated program for first grade.

Our daughter tested 99 percentile in both Verbal and Perceptual reasoning, however working memory was at 21%. The psychologist that performed the test stated that this was not an indication of her IQ yet our school is questioning her capabilities due to the working memory score. Is working memory speed any indication that she cannot handle a faster paced or more challenging class?

A: In general, working memory is our ability to store and manipulate information for a short span of time. It is commonly measured by dual-tasks - tasks where individuals have to remember an item while simultaneously processing another piece of information. For individual differences in the performance of working memory, this is quite closely related to a range of academic skills for instance reading, spelling, comprehension, and mathematics. Today, there has been emerging research on working memory that predicts learning outcomes which is independent of IQ scores. Rather than measuring what students have already learnt, it in fact measures a student's capacity to acquire knowledge. It should be noted that working memory is not affected by environmental influences, such as parental educational level and financial background.

A few research findings that may explain levels of working memory; firstly, there is evidence that low working memory skills constitute a high risk factor for underachievement. More importantly, the pattern of poor performance in learning outcomes due to a low working memory remains even when the child's IQ is statistically accounted. Next, children with working memory are judged (by teachers) to be highly inattentive, and have short poor attention spans and high levels of distractibility. And finally, children with low working memory tend to take much longer to process information. Hence, timed activities and quick presentation of information becomes a difficult task.

The Working Memory Index (WMI) in the WISC IV is a measure of working memory. It assesses children's ability to memorize new information, hold it in short-term memory, concentrate, and manipulate that information to produce some result or reasoning processes. It is important in higher-order thinking, learning, and achievement. It can tap concentration, planning ability, cognitive flexibility, and sequencing skill, but is sensitive to anxiety too. It is an important component of learning and achievement, and ability to self-monitor. The WMI's subtests include Digit Span (children are orally given sequences of numbers and asked to repeat them, either as heard or in reverse order); Letter-Number Sequencing (children are orally given sequences of letters and numbers together, and asked to repeat them in both numerical order and alphabetical order); and Arithmetic (supplemental - orally administered arithmetic questions).

From the above clarification, it is obvious that working memory is an important component for achievement at school; hence the school's concern is justified. The discrepancy between the other scores with WMI is an indicator of some kind of learning difficulty. I suggest you see an educational psychologist for further tests and early intervention if the need be. Hope that helps. Best of luck!

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Essentials of WISC-IV Assessment
Dawn P. Flanagan Ph.D, Alan S. Kaufman Ph.D

The WISC-IV is the top intelligence assessment instrument for children in the US, providing essential information into a child's cognitive functioning. This book applies a new, expanded theory-based approach to interpreting the latest edition of the WISCŪ and provides beginning and seasoned clinicians with comprehensive step-by-step guidelines to administering, scoring, and interpreting this latest revision of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children.

This book provides students and practitioners with an unparalleled resource for learning and application, including expert assessment of the test's relative strengths and weaknesses, valuable advice on its clinical applications, and illuminating case reports.

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