Academic journal article The California School Psychologist

A Comparison of Classification Methods for Use in Predicting School-Based Outcomes

Academic journal article The California School Psychologist

A Comparison of Classification Methods for Use in Predicting School-Based Outcomes

Article excerpt

There is growing evidence that current classification methods are not consistent with current empirical knowledge of childhood psychopathology and the optimal way to classify school-age children remains controversial. The current study investigated three classification methods (categorical, dimensional, person-oriented) for use in predicting school-based outcomes. Children (grades 1-5; N=558) were administered the Behavior Assessment System for Children - Teacher Rating Scale and results were used to form three classification systems. Educational outcome variables were collected seven months later and the predictive validity of the three classification systems was compared using regression analyses. Findings indicated that all three methods for predicting educational outcomes were modest and were best able to predict later grade point averages. Results indicate the relative superiority of person-oriented and dimensional methods of classification; however these classification methods warrant further investigation.

Keywords: classification, diagnosis, person-oriented, psychopathology

The fields of psychiatry and psychology have been grappling with the issue of classification for decades (Achenbach, 1998; 2001). Practitioners, researchers, and educators agree about the importance of classification for a variety of reasons including enhanced communication among professionals, ease of description, and the ability to differentiate individuals (Scotti & Morris, 2000; Blashfield, 1998; Cantwell, 1996). Accurate classification for school-age children is particularly critical considering the fact that the developmental courses or pathways of children are likely to influence subsequent outcomes (Jimerson, Coffino, & Sroufe, 2007; Sroufe, Egeland, Carlson, & Collins, 2005). Insight into children's adjustment and risk status (Kagan, 1997), tracking developmental pathways (Richters, 1997), differentiating individuals by etiology (Cantwell, 1996), and predicting effective treatment approaches (Scotti & Morris, 2000) are among the most salient reasons that accurate classification in school-age children is important. However, children are often classified into groups that receive services only after they exhibit significant impairment. This "wait-to-fail" treatment approach could result from current classification systems that fail to identify subsyndromal psychopathology or current risk status. Classification systems that more accurately identify children for services are thus needed as these systems could effectively aid daily decisions regarding prevention, early intervention, and treatment for children.

There is growing consensus that current diagnostic systems have lagged behind the increase in knowledge about psychopathology and classification (Beutler & Malik, 2002; Houts, 2002). Currently, most school-age children are primarily classified and diagnosed using categorical methods. This approach uses variables to form "all-or-nothing" categories based on the assumption that disorders form discrete categories (Millon, 1991). Specifically, students are placed into categories specified by the DSM (DSMIV; American Psychiatric Association) or the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). There are several limitations to these methods of classification including that only qualitative differences are noted. However, throughout the scientific literature evidence exists suggesting that symptoms of hyperactivity/impulsivity, inattention, conduct problems, depression, and anxiety occur along a continuum, or show evidence of quantitative differences (Deater-Deckard, et al., 1997; Fergusson & Horwood, 1995; Hudziak, Wadsworth, Heath, & Achenbach, 1999; Nease, Volk, & Cass, 1999). Other limitations of categorical classification methods include the failure to account for comorbidity (van lier, Verhulst, van der Ende, & Crijnen, 2003), normally or marginally functional behavioral systems (Jensen, et al. …

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