The History and Development of the K-ABC


The K-ABC was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was published in 1983, during a time when IQ was largely a Wechsler-Binet monopoly; anti-IQ sentiments were rampant, with racial inequities at the forefront of most discussions; and the gap between theories of intelligence and measures of intelligence was a chasm.  The Binet tradition was empirical and practical in contrast to the clinical tradition spawned by Wechsler the man and Wechsler the test developer.  Neither orientation paid more than lip service to the burst of theories in cognitive psychology, neuropsychology, intelligence, and learning.  Even the original Woodcock-Johnson Psycho-Educational Battery (WJ; Woodcock & Johnson, 1977), whose subsequent revisions became the quintessential application of intelligence theory to practice, was developed from a decidedly practical, nontheoretical foundation.  And when old test were revised (Wechsler, 1974, 1981) or new tests were developed (McCarthy, 1972), there were precious few novel tasks to supplement the traditional tasks developed during the early 1900s.  The 1978 WJ was indeed replete with novel subtests, but for years the cognitive portion of this instrument was primarily a test used by special educators, not psychologists.

Although more than a half-century's worth of brain-related and thinking-related theories were obviously related to the measurement of intelligence, they did not invade the domain of  IQ assessment until the 1980s with the advent of the K-ABC in 1983.  The K-ABC broke from tradition, as it was rooted in neuropsychological theory--Sperry's (1968) cerebral specialization approach, and the Luria-Das successive-simultaneous processing dichotomy.  Both the Sperry and the Luria-Das models are characterized by a dual-processing approach that has been well supported by a large body of cognitive and neuropsychological research (Das et al., 1979; Neisser, 1967).

Shortly after the publication of the K-ABC, other tests were developed with theoretical underpinnings, such as the Standford-Binet IV (Thorndike, Hagen, & Sattler, 1986) and the Woodcock-Johnson--Revised (WJ-R; Woodcock & Johnson, 1989).  In the 1990s and early 2000s, further clinical tests with strong empirically grounded theoretical foundations were developed:  the Kaufman Adolescent and Adult Intelligence Test (KAIT; Kaufman & Kaufman, 1993), the WJ III, and the CAS.

In addition to the K-ABC's theoretical underpinnings, its fairness in assessing children from diverse minority groups made it stand out above other tests, such as those developed from the Binet-Wechsler tradition.  The size of group differences on tests of cognitive ability between white children and minority children is thought to reflect, in part, the cultural fairness of a test.  Tests such as the Wechsler scales have typically yielded differences of about 15-16 points in favor of white children versus African-American children, but the K-ABC cut those differences in half (Kaufman & Kaufman, 1983b).  Numerous research studies have shown that Latino or Latina children and Native American children also tended to score higher on the K-ABC than on conventional measures, resulting in reduced differences between white and minority children (e.g., Campbell, Bell, & Keith, 2001; Davidson, 1992; Fourqurean, 1987; Valencia, Rankin, & Livingston, 1995; Vincent, 1991; Whitworth & Chrisman, 1987).

The innovative features of the K-ABC did not shelter it from controversy, with many psychologists and educators expressing strong positive and negative comments about the test.  Voicing the diverse and varied responses among professionals was a special issue of the
Journal of Special Education that was devoted to the K-ABC (Miller & Reynolds, 1984).  Kamphaus (1993, 2003) has reviewed and summarized the various perspectives on the K-ABC.  The K-ABC's psychometric qualities were recognized as a clear strength, as well as its use of teaching items and the implementation of several novel subtests (Kamphaus, 2003).  In contrast, the limited floor and insufficient ceiling on some subtests were noted as negative aspects of the K-ABC.  Additionally, some professionals questioned whether the K-ABC's scales measured their intended mental processes (sequential and simultaneous) as opposed to measuring other abilities, such as semantic memory and nonverbal reasoning (Keith & Dunbar, 1984).

In revising the K-ABC and developing the K-ABC-II, the Kaufmans considered several factors:  the perspectives of psychologists and educators on the original K-ABC, the enormous amount of research on the test, and the current needs of clinicians as dictated by political, social, economic, and educational concerns.  The goals for the K-ABC's revision included strengthening the theoretical foundations, increasing the number of constructs measured, enhancing the test's clinical utility, developing a test that fairly assesses children from minority groups, and enhancing fair assessment of preschoolers.


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This article was reproduced from the book:
Essentials of KABC-II Assessment (2004) by Alan and Nadeen Kaufman, Liz Lichtenberger, and Elaine Fletcher-Janzen with kind permission from John Wiley & Sons, New York.