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CogAT K-12 Ability Assessments

The CogAT Difference: Key CogAT Features to Advance Equity

Riverside Insights
Written By Riverside Insights
On Jun 24, 2022
10 minute read

The CogAT Difference 

Key CogAT Features to Advance Equity 

Recently, a district administrator asked us how she could be sure that using the Cognitive Abilities Test™ (CogAT®) would be a fair and equitable experience for her 2nd graders, including English Learners (ELs) and students in Special Education (SPED) with individual education plans (IEPs).  Enabling every student to demonstrate their best performance is near and dear to our hearts at CogAT.  In fact, we find that students with language challenges, learning difficulties, or lack of exposure and experience often have their very best opportunity to show their potential on an abilities assessment like CogAT where previous academic attainment is less of a barrier.   


Lower Language Load   
      • The CogAT assessment for primary levels (grades K-2) uses picture-based item formats in the Verbal and Quantitative sections to ensure that scores reflect reasoning with semantic constructs / quantitative constructs and not language proficiency or acquisition.   
      • By reducing the language load, the administration of CogAT is language independent, or  “nonverbal1,” because it does not require students to understand a specific language to be successful completing the test and achieving a high score. 
      • For ELs who are dominant in a language other than Spanish, the Alternative Verbal (ALT-V) version is offered at the primary levels.  By omitting the one subtest requiring receptive language, Sentence Completion, students can still receive a fair and equitable score on the Verbal section of the test by basing their scores on the two language-neutral verbal subtests. 

1 For more on CogAT's item design and the Alt-Verbal scale, click here:


Leveling the Playing Field for All Students 
      • Free practice activities are provided for teachers to use as a classroom activity prior to testing to make the experience more equitable for all students. 
      • To ensure that students understand how to complete the test successfully, CogAT provides clear and concise instructions offered in a variety of formats including computer-audio (with 6 language options including Arabic, Chinese (Mandarin and Cantonese), Russian, Somali, and Vietnamese). For older students, these instructions can appear on the testing screen in the student’s native language as needed. 

Testing Accommodations  
      • The primary test levels untimed and may be paced by a proctor or by the students themselves. 
      • The time limits outlined for the upper levels (Grade 3 and higher) were designed to ensure that students have ample time to answer all questions that they are likely to get correct without persevering unnecessarily and becoming frustrated. When time limits are a concern, they can easily be extended. 

Guidance for a variety of accommodations, including extended time, is provided in the Directions for Administration in accordance with student IEPs.  Many of these (such as Read Aloud and Extended Time) are not needed for the primary levels, because there is no time limit and no reading required.   


Representation of All Students 
      • EL students and students with IEPs – as well as a balanced sample of students across a variety of demographic groups/characteristics – were included in the standardization sample for the assessment, in the approximate proportions these groups appear in the student population. This is to ensure that the performance of all students and all groups are represented in the development of the test and of the normative data. 
      • Bias and fairness reviews and differential item functioning studies were conducted on all test items with respect to cultural and other differences (such as gender differences) to ensure that items do not advantage any one group over others.  Details on this are found in the Guide to Research and Development - and will be featured in an upcoming blog post. 
      • Last, but not least, we always recommend looking at local norms / subgroup local norms on populations of interest.  For instance, we work with several districts that look at student performance overall and then further segment their data to look at subgroups including EL/non-EL and within-building norms.  Even when not used directly for identification, this is an excellent way to build a talent pool of students to observe further and nurture.  
      • In addition to our representative national age and grade norms for CogAT, we provide local norms comparisons to enable the most locally relevant comparisons for your students’ scores. 
      • Our reporting platforms provide a variety of tools to facilitate a deeper and more meaningful dive into your student data including Dashboard reporting, report filtering and sorting, and an interface to easily export your students’ scores and testing information.  

CogAT Forms 7 & 8 introduced the most sweeping revisions to the test since the publication of the first form in 1968.  Primary considerations in this redesign were to meet the needs of ELs and students from disadvantaged backgrounds while maintaining CogAT’s tradition of excellence in measuring reasoning abilities.  So, if the question is about “fairness,” CogAT Forms 7 and 8 were designed to provide greater equity and fairness for students who might otherwise be disadvantaged. 

CogAT is a tool that helps unlock the potential for every student. We know that not universally screening at all and/or only using academic data or referrals to qualify students for accelerated programs can put ELs, SPED students, and students who have less exposure at a disadvantage.  Allowing all students every opportunity to demonstrate their ability and potential for learning is the best way to create a more fair and equitable experience for all.  


Click the image below to explore Case Studies and other resources that showcase the benefits of these key features in action on our CogAT equity page.

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