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The Role of Intellectual Assessment at Greene Valley Developmental Center (1980)

The Role of Intellectual Assessment at Greene Valley Developmental Center (1980)

©1980, 2013 by Dallas Denny

Source: Denny, Dallas. (1986). The role of intellectual assessment at Greene Valley Developmental Center. Paper for Dr. James Rust, Psychology 627D, Middle Tennessee State University.


My official MTSU transcript shows me taking this course in Fall, 1980, but that mystifies me, since I hadn’t even heard of Greene Valley before I took a position there in October of that year. Nonetheless, I’m going with 1980.


Thumbnail photo: Greene Valley from my garage apartment, 1981 or 1982.


The Role of Intellectual Assessment

At Greene Valley Developmental Center


By Dallas Denny


For Dr. James Rust

Psychology 627D


Greene Valley Developmental Center (G.V.D.C.), in Greeneville, Tennessee, is a state-operated residential facility which houses approximately 800 mentally retarded individuals. A currently accepted definition of mental retardation was proposed by the American Association of Mental Deficiency. According to this definition, the individual, to be considered mentally retarded, must have a serious deficit in intellectual functioning concurrently with a deficit in adaptive behavior (the ability to behave normally in social and everyday living situations). Furthermore, these deficits must manifest themselves within the first 18 years of life. G.V.D.C. uses this definition of mental retardation for its admission criterion.

One function of the psychological examiners at G.V.D.C. is to determine whether potential residents are mentally retarded. Periodically, Developmental Evaluation Clinics are held. In the course of a single day, the individual is assessed by a psychological examiner, a speech and hearing specialist, a physician, physical and occupational therapists, and other specialists. Prob­ably the single most important criterion for admission, however, is the recommendation of the psychological examiner.

At the D.E.C. the psychological examiner assesses both intellectual and adaptive functioning. Assessment of adaptive be­havior is by report of the parent or guardian of the individual, or by the person who knows the individual best. The instrument used for assessing adaptive behavior at G.V.D.C. is the American Association of Mental Deficiency’s Adaptive Behavior Scale. This instrument is easy to administer and score, and compares the adaptive behavior of the individual to a large normative sample of institutionalized retarded persons. The AAMD-ABS also provides a measure of maladaptive behaviors.

A number of instruments are used at Greene Valley to assess the intellectual functioning of the individual: the Stanford-Binet, Form L-M, the WAIS, WISC, WISC-R, and WPPSIJ, the Leiter, and the Slosson, among others. The psychological examiner, upon meeting the individual, must make a decision about which instrument(s) to use; this decision is made on the basis of the individual’s age, the estimated level of mental functioning, and the sensory and physical disabilities which the individual may have.

Unfortunately, most of the individuals tested at the D.E.C.s deviate so far from the mean of the normative samples that there are little data available to assess their performance. That is, many of the D.E.C. examinees fall within the lowest one-tenth of one percent of the bell-shaped distribution of intelligence. Some of the psychological examiners at G.V.D.C. feel following standardized procedures with these individuals is fruitless and unimportant; I prefer to stick with standardized procedure, however, so the test is valid, even if the person is formally untestable with a particular instrument. The Vineland Social Maturity Scale is a useful instrument to use when the Stanford-Binet and Weschler tests don’t yield numerically interpretable results.

Even if it is impossible to obtain a numerical score on an instrument, the attempt at administration can tell the examiner many things about the individual, and may suggest a more appropriate assessment instrument.

Often the D.E.C. examinee will have severe sensory or physical disabilities; perceptual difficulties, quadriplegia, tremors, hearing loss, blindness, or speech difficulties, any of which will necessarily effect testing, procedure. This is where I believe it is necessary to compromise standardized procedure in order to get some indication of the mental ability of the handicapped person; here standardized procedure can be cautiously violated, using administration tech­niques suggested in Sattler’s Assessment of Children’s Intelligence, or working up an individualized method tailored to the examinee’s abilities.

If testing suggests brain damage or bizarre patterns of thinking, the examiner can suggest the individual be tested further by G.V.D.C.’s clinical psychologist at a future D.E.C. If the examiner feels the individual need not return for future assessment, then a report is written and a recommendation made for a priority for admission, based upon the definition of mental retardation previously discussed. Once a month an admissions committee meets, and the psychological examiners present their test findings and recommendations.

G.V.D.C. residents have their adaptive functioning reassessed every three years. This insures the progress or regression of an individual is monitored, and can suggest that the intellectual abilities of the individual be reassessed. psychological examiners can at any time retest residents whom they feel are operating at a higher or lower level than that indicated in records.

In addition to psychological testing, psychological examiners at G.VD.C. have a number of other responsibilities: attendance of planning meetings for each resident, as well as preparation of an annual psychological update; development, supervision, and evaluation of behavioral management programs; individual and group counseling of residents; and education of staff to make them more responsive to residents’ needs are just a few of their responsibilities. The psychological examiner is allowed a relatively free rein in design and implementation of services to meet the needs of the residents. Perhaps this is one reason why Greene Valley Developmental Center has a solid reputation as one of the best developmental centers in the country.