General and Specific Effects on Cattell-Horn-Carroll Broad Ability Composites: Analysis of the Woodcock-Johnson III Normative Update Cattell-Horn-Carroll Factor Clusters across Development

By Floyd, Randy G.; McGrew, Kevin S. et al. | School Psychology Review, June 2009 | Go to article overview

General and Specific Effects on Cattell-Horn-Carroll Broad Ability Composites: Analysis of the Woodcock-Johnson III Normative Update Cattell-Horn-Carroll Factor Clusters across Development


Floyd, Randy G., McGrew, Kevin S., Barry, Amberly, Rafael, Fawziya, Rogers, Joshua, School Psychology Review


Abstract. Many school psychologists focus their interpretation on composite scores from intelligence test batteries designed to measure the broad abilities from the Cattell-Horn-Carroll theory. The purpose of this study was to investigate the general factor loadings and specificity of the broad ability composite scores from one such intelligence test battery, the Woodcock-Johnson HI Tests of Cognitive Abilities Normative Update (Woodcock, McGrew, Schrank, & Mather, 2007). Results from samples beginning at age 4 and continuing through age 60 indicate that Comprehension-Knowledge, Long-Term Retrieval, and Fluid Reasoning appear to be primarily measures of the general factor at many ages. In contrast, Visual-Spatial Thinking, Auditory Processing, and Processing Speed appear to be primarily measures of specific abilities at most ages. We offer suggestions for considering both the general factor and specific abilities when interpreting Cattell-Horn-Carroll broad ability composite scores.

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School psychologists have been inundated this decade with intelligence test batteries that provide a variety of composites representing specific cognitive abilities. The majority of the specific cognitive abilities targeted by these contemporary test batteries are grounded in design blueprints based on the Cattell-Horn-Carroll (CHC) theory (1) (see Alfonso, Flanagan, & Radwan, 2005). The composites from these batteries are most often designed to measure the broad abilities of CHC theory, such as Crystallized Intelligence and Fluid Intelligence. In addition to intelligence test batteries based on the CHC design blueprint, interpretive approaches guiding users to form composites within and across batteries based on CHC theory have proliferated (e.g., Flanagan, Ortiz, & Alfonso, 2007; McGrew & Flanagan, 1998). Because broad ability composite scores typically possess substantial validity evidence and have overcome reliability limitations inherent in the interpretation of subtest scores (McGrew, 1997; Watkins, Glutting, & Youngstrom, 2005), there has also been increased research focused on their interpretation within score profiles (e.g., Bergeron & Floyd, 2006; Floyd, Bergeron, & Alfonso, 2006; Proctor, Floyd, & Shaver, 2005).

Despite this increased prevalence of test batteries, interpretive approaches, and research employing composite scores based on CHC theory, some important measurement properties of these broad ability composite scores remain unstudied--the effects of general and specific cognitive abilities. The goal of this article is to produce the estimates of these effects on the broad ability composite scores from the first intelligence test battery based on CHC theory, the Woodcock-Johnson III Tests of Cognitive Abilities (WJIII COG; Woodcock, McGrew, & Mather, 2001).

General and Specific Abilities

Mental ability as a general, unitary trait was first postulated by Spearman (1904) based on his observation that all mental test scores were positively intercorrelated. Spearman supported this postulation with research using factor analysis. This method led him to discover the general factor (Spearman, 1927) underlying the positive manifold across mental ability test scores. Since the time of Spearman, hundreds of studies have demonstrated that the general factor accounts for approximately 25% to 50% of the variance shared by such tests--typically the largest percentage of any factor. In addition, another large body of research has demonstrated that scores representing the general factor (e.g., IQs) are strong predictors of representations of personal competence, such as academic success and job performance (see Jensen, 1998; Schmidt, 2002).

Despite extensive evidence for the general factor and its predictive properties, a number of challenges to its primacy has been levied. Some scholars have argued that largely independent, specific cognitive abilities better account for the relations between and among mental test scores. …

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