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Test of Memory and Learning

Reynolds, C.R. & Bigler, E.D. (1994). Austin, Tx: Pro-Ed.

For a comprehensive review see:

Dumont, R., Whelley, P., Comtois, R., & Levine, B. (1994) Test of Memory and Learning (TOMAL): Test Review Journal of Psychoeducational Assessment, 12, 2, 414-423

Drs. Cecil Reynolds and Erin Bigler, through Pro-Ed, have released the Test of Memory and Learning (TOMAL) ($159). It is designed to assess persons 5 through 19 years of age and is composed of Verbal , Nonverbal , and Composite Memory Indexes. An Delayed Recall Index may be computed from the scores of 4 recall subtests. Descriptions of terms used to define memory are adapted from the work of Kolb and Whishaw (1990) and L. Squire (1987). Five subtests form the Verbal Memory Index while five more form the Nonverbal Memory Index. Additional subtests for each Index are available as additions to the core subtests. Four measures of delayed recall, given 30 minutes after the start of testing, permit the comparison of performance across time. Also included with the TOMAL are directions for computing 5 Supplementary Indexes (Attention/Concentration, Sequential Recall, Free Recall, Associative Recall, and Learning). Finally, normative tables are provided on the Supplementary Analysis forms so that a person's learning and retention curves can be drawn and compared.

Test material comes in a box which contains: 2 booklets containing the stimuli for subtests; Facial Memory chips; Visual Selective Reminding test board; Delayed Recall cue card set; protocols for test including separate Supplementary Analysis forms; and the examiner's manual. The booklets do not stand on their own, and an easel is recommended by the publisher. The picture stimuli books were cumbersome when flipping from page to page. Tabs would have been helpful for selecting the correct pages to turn to. Because some of the pages are printed on both sides, laying the booklet flat on the table allowed the child to see, and often be distracted by the material on those pages.

Standardization

The TOMAL was standardized on 1342 people selected as representative of the US, 1990 population estimates. 15 different age groups were divided by geographic area (17 states), race, gender, and ethnic group. Socioeconomic Status (SES) was determined on the basis of the test site chosen. The sample was also stratified by urban versus rural residence. The size of the 15 sample ages tested ranged from a low of 42 at age 18 to a high of 163 at age 11.

Reliability

Internal reliabilities for the TOMAL are generally high, ranging from a low of .56 to a high of .98. Of the 4 core Indexes, all but Delayed Recall have reliabilities in the 90's. Delayed Recall averages .85 across all ages. Each of the 5 Supplementary Indexes have reliability estimates in the .90's. Nine of the fourteen core subtests have an average reliability in the .90's while the remaining 5 are in the 80's. Delayed recall subtests generally had lower reliabilities than did the other subtests.

Test-retest reliability coefficients for the Core and Supplementary Indexes ranged from .81 to .92. The fourteen subtest reliabilities averaged .81. Average test-retest reliability for 3 of the fourteen subtests was found to be in the .70s. Two of these subtests, Facial Memory and Abstract Visual Memory, are primary subtests of the Nonverbal Memory Composite.

Validity

Content validity was assessed by reference to initial development and tryouts, task analysis, and representativeness. Because of the newness of the TOMAL and the lack of agreement as to the definition of the construct, the authors state "Until the field can coalesce the innumerable designations of forms and types of memory, an empirically verifiable analysis of content validity under this definition will always go wanting."

The exploratory factor analysis found that the TOMAL subtests all had positive correlations with every other TOMAL subtest. The results of factor analysis show strong evidence for a measure of general memory and thus for the TOMAL's Composite Memory Index (CMI). A Two Factor solution did not support the Verbal/Nonverbal index interpretation. The Four Factor solution did not lend support for the Verbal/Nonverbal division of the TOMAL. The process determined groupings are said to supplement the "content-driven" and "expert derived" indexes.

The TOMAL showed low correlations to measures of achievement, typically about .10 points below what is typical of IQ/Achievement comparisons. When compared to the WISC-R and the K-ABC, the TOMAL correlated in the mid .50's. No comparisons between the TOMAL and other measures of memory, such as the Wide Range Assessment of Memory and Learning (WRAML, 1990) are included in the manual.

A single diagnostic validity study was reported for a sample of learning disabled children.

Administration and Scoring

Administration time for the Core Battery (10 subtests) is approximately 45 minutes while the entire battery (10 core subtests, 4 alternative subtests, and 4 recall subtests) takes approximately 60 to 75 minutes. Directions for each subtest are contained on the protocol pages, so the manual is not needed during administration. The Facial Memory, Paired Recall, Digits Backwards, and Letters Backwards subtests are the only subtests to provide unscored teaching tasks. Teaching items are also allowable on a number of other subtests, but only after the person has attempted an item and received a score of 0.

Seven of the 10 core subtests have different starting or stopping points depending on the age of the person. Discontinuation rules vary from subtest to subtest, and are noted on the individual record form.

Administration flows smoothly from subtest to subtest. Recording responses on the protocol is straight forward but certainly not without some difficulty. Without considerable practice, examiners will find this task quite difficult on a number of subtests.

A number of specific questions that seem unanswered by the manual were found during these authors' administrations of the TOMAL. The manual states that for the Memory for Stories (MFS) subtest, a child is given "1 point for each element of the story repeated correctly." Some children tested simply repeated back to the examiner correct elements, but missequenced them, resulting in correct recall of facts but a total misunderstanding of the story content. Does a child who recalls only salient facts at the expense of the story comprehension receive credit? Must the answers be in some logical sequential manner? Along those same lines, there may be confusion on the subjects' part about how they are expected to retell the story. For the first story the child is instructed "I'm going to tell you a story. Listen carefully, because when the story is done, I want you to tell me everything you remember about the story." The story is then read to them. Only after this reading is the child instructed to "Tell the story back to me the very best you can". The need for verbatim responses is not clearly conveyed in the initial instructions. It is only later in the second and third stories that the child is instructed "Tell it back to me just the way you heard it." One subject asked "Do you want me to use your words?" This suggests that the manual is not clear enough, at least for the persons taking the test. There is no direction for the examiner to query possibly ambiguous responses. There are guide words listed in the table but no criteria is given as to how to judge accuracy of close but not verbatim words, colloquialisms, and synonyms.

Interpretation

Since the use of the TOMAL is recommended for those considered professionally competent to give assessments, some level of interpretive skill is expected of examiners. Three chapters of the manual provides background information about the subtests and theoretical information to aid in interpretation of the test. Tables in the manual provide information about the frequency of differences when certain comparisons are made. Such baseline data are helpful in determining the relative frequencies of differences and thus making logical statements about the abnormality of a suspected difference.

Regarding the meaning of scaled scores, the TOMAL authors state: "Because a scaled score of 10 is average on the TOMAL, scaled scores higher than this average indicate a strength, and scaled scores below this average indicate a weakness, or impairment, relative to age peers." (p. 41). For years, psychologists have been taught that reliance on scaled scores are suspect since they are unstable. All scores contain error, and because of that a scaled score of 9, although "below the mean" and supposedly indicating "impairment" on the TOMAL, must be viewed with caution. The inclusion of this sort of interpretive guideline in the manual for the TOMAL may lead some to over-interpret scores that are otherwise meaningless deviations from the mean.

A second point of apprehension these reviewers had is regarding Global score comparisons. When discussing the Global Scale Comparisons, the TOMAL authors note: "..if a child performs in the average range on the Verbal, Nonverbal, and Composite Indexes, but the Delayed Recall Index is more than 13 points below the other indexes, this would be significant at the p<.05 level. This would be an indication of disturbed retention of information in this child." (p. 42). This sort of blanket statement, if taken out of context of the manual, must be viewed with caution.

One further caution. The manual discusses how to link a subtest or composite score result with brain hemisphere pathology (pp 44-48). Although the authors caution against making specific assertions based on the test results, they then offer examples of this type of interpretation. The potential for abuse in this area seems immense.

Conclusion

The TOMAL appears to offer a new and comprehensive addition in psychologists' choice of memory assessment tools.

In the process of reviewing the test, these reviewers administered over twenty TOMAL's. It was found at first to be difficult and often burdensome but after repeated administrations increased in its user friendliness. Interpretation required more time and extreme caution since the test is new and the manual offers limited guidelines. The theoretical nature of the test is still undefined and examiners may choose from content driven, process derived, or expert derived factors.

As stated earlier the TOMAL has a steep learning curve for administration. Although this is definitely a factor in the ease of administration it is secondary to the reactions of the children we observed with this instrument. Both children and older adolescents found the test to be difficult, and for some, very challenging. Frustration was evidenced by quite a few of the subjects. One wonders how a child who is deficient in memory skills, and who is aware of such deficiencies, might react to the administration of the TOMAL. One student's comment was particularly telling. After being administered the entire TOMAL in standardized fashion, the child noted to the examiner "This test made me feel stupid." These factors need to be considered when choosing this instrument. Some examiners may wish to only use portions of this test. The information contained in the manual is insufficient to judge subtest specificity. As with any standardized test, examiners who pick and choose subtests run the risk of misinterpretation. Given that the TOMAL factor analysis did not support the hypothesized factors, examiners who simply use individual subtests, or subtest groupings must do so with the knowledge that they are reliant on clinical inference rather than factorial inference.

Concerns about the protocol, the scoring, and the interpretation are all issues that raised concern to these reviewers. Valuable research is yet to be done using the TOMAL and school aged populations so that its merit can be proven.

Ron Dumont

Peter Whelley

Rita Comtois

 

References

Kolb, B. & Whishaw, I.Q. (1990). Fundamentals of human neuropsychology. New York: Freeman.

Sheslow, D., & Adams, W. (1990). Wide range assessment of memory and learning. Wilmington, DE: Jastak Associates.

Squire, L. (1987). Memory and the brain. New York: Oxford University Press.