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CogAT K-12 Ability Assessments

How CogAT® Provides Insight into Student Ability and Learning

Riverside Insights
Written By Riverside Insights
On Jul 17, 2020
51 minute read
In our public schools, the most common use of the Cognitive Abilities Test™ (CogAT) is for identification of high ability students for accelerated academics or “gifted and talented” programs. However, ability measures provide insight into student ability and learning that is vital to better understand how to help all students achieve. School interruptions and closures this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic will likely affect student achievement in 2020 – and may carry forward into later school years. Student ability is closely linked to success in school, but ability continues to develop whether students are engaged in formal schooling or not. This fall, we must be ready to assist students in every way possible to help them access the curriculum, learn successfully, and make up gaps where needed. CogAT can help educators and students to address these aims. 


How is CogAT® used?

Three primary uses of CogAT scores are (1) to guide efforts in adapting instruction to the needs and abilities of all students, (2) to provide a measure of cognitive development, and (3) to identify students whose predicted levels of achievement are markedly different from their observed levels of achievement. The first and most important use of CogAT scores is to help classroom teachers of all kinds adapt instructional goals, methods, and materials to the individual needs of students. The second use of CogAT is to provide a measure of each students level of cognitive development to capture important information not represented in school grades or in other measures of school achievement, included identifying academically gifted students. The third use of CogAT scores is to identify students whose levels of academic achievement are substantially lower or higher than expected given their CogAT scores. Students whose achievement is significantly below expectations should be checked for other problems such as learning disabilities, poor vision or hearing, disrupted formal education, language barriers, the need for more assistance in completing school lessons, markedly different preparation for the current grade level, or the need for a different instructional program. Students whose achievement is much higher than expected relative to their ability scores may need help learning to solve novel problems and to work independently. 


CogAT Forms 7 and 8 appraise the level and pattern of verbal, quantitative, and nonverbal (figural) reasoning abilities for students from kindergarten through grade 12. These abilities reflect the overall efficiency of cognitive processes and strategies that enable individuals to learn new tasks and solve problems. Because these abilities are closely related to success in school in virtually all subjects, CogAT test results are helpful in planning effective instructional programs and adapting instruction in ways that enhance students’ chances of success in learning. 


"The first and most important use of CogAT scores is to help classroom teachers of all kinds adapt instructional goals, methods, and materials to the individual needs of students."


Each test section - Verbal, Quantitative, and Nonverbal (Figural)  has three subtests. The abilities appraised are those that enable students to acquire, organize, store in memory, and recall information; to make inferences; to detect relationships; to comprehend and analyze problem situations; to form concepts; to discover and remember sequences; to recognize patterns; to classify or categorize objects, events, and concepts; to infer rules and principles; and to relate and use previous experience to accomplish new learning tasks or solve novel problems. All three sections are designed to assess both general inductive and deductive reasoning abilities and specific reasoning abilities that are unique to that area of reasoning. Please view this brief video for more information on how CogAT measures reasoning. 


The tests for young students, typically those in grades K, 1, and 2, is picture-based, requiring no reading and no specific language.  This enables us to assess the ability levels of students from diverse backgrounds, including English-language learners. The tests for students in grades 3-12 transition from the picture-based Verbal and Quantitative subtests used with younger students to text- and numeric-based subtests that reflect the skills and abilities needed for success in learning at these higher grades.  Testing three different areas of reasoning while using several item types for each area provides students multiple chances to demonstrate their ability to reason through problems.  For instance, older students who are still developing their English language skills can still shine by demonstrating their ability to reason through quantitative or figural problem solving.  


What is the Importance of an Ability Profile™

By providing separate measures for three areas of reasoning that align with the skills needed for learning and achievement, CogAT enables a unique view into how to help the student learn.  CogAT offers an Ability Profile score which efficiently summarizes the student’s demonstrated level of ability while providing insight into their strengths and areas for growth. The Ability Profile captures two important characteristics of the student’s scores: 

  • Level – the typical magnitude of scores on the three batteries 
  • Pattern – whether some scores are significantly higher or lower than other scores 




Each CogAT Ability Profile begins with with a number that represents the student’s median stanine, or overall level of demonstrated ability. In a student’s Ability Profile, this number provides an indicator for the student’s CogAT results in terms of overall reasoning ability – “very low” (1), “below average (2-3), “average” (4-6) “above average (7-8), or “very high (9).  


Based on the relative position of the Verbal, Quantitative, and Nonverbal (Figural) reasoning scores, CogAT Ability Profiles also contain an A, B, C, or E designation that illustrates the pattern of scores


  • In an A profile, the student’s Verbal, Quantitative, and Nonverbal Battery scores are roughly at the sAme level. About 44% of all students have this profile pattern 
  • In a B profile, two of the scores are similar, and the third score is a relative strength or weakness, significantly aBove or Below the other two. About 33% of students have a B profile.  
  • In a C profile, two scores Contrast. The student shows a relative strength and a relative weakness. About 12% of students have a C profile.  
  • An E profile indicates an Extreme score difference. At least two scores differ by 24 or more points on the standard age score (SAS) scale. About 10% of students have an E profile.  High ability students are more likely than others to have an E profile, because it is not uncommon for one area to be significantly above – or lag behind – the other scores when exceptional performance occurs.  


These patterns are supplemented by indicators for B, C, and E profiles to identify the areas that were above or below  V for Verbal, Q for Quantitative, and N for Nonverbal/Figural.  The plus sign + indicates an area of strength and the minus sign – indicates an area of opportunity. For instance, an Ability Profile of 8 B V+ describes a student whose overall performance is above average with a median stanine of 8 and a strength in Verbal reasoning. An overview of Ability Profiles can be found here and in this issue of Cognitively Speaking.  More information and instructive guidance for specific Ability Profile scores is found at


Using the information that CogAT provides – including the overall estimate of ability, contrasts or similarities in levels of ability across areas of reasoning, and comparisons with demonstrated levels of achievement – is instructive in guiding learning strategies and differentiated instruction for students.  Pairing CogAT with achievement data highlights opportunities for student growth and learning by contrasting students’ ability and achievement scores to recognize those students who may be capable of much more than their current achievement indicates.  For instance, many students who score low on achievement measures attain scores on CogAT that indicate that they reason at higher levels than their current academic performance suggests. In fact, the lower a student scores on an achievement test, the greater the probability that their CogAT score will be significantly higher. The relative strengths and weaknesses highlighted in the Ability Profile can provide valuable insight into what types of adaptations will increase these students’ classroom performance. 


We will discuss further strategies for using achievement and ability scores together using Ability Profiles for differentiation in an upcoming blog post.  

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