3.3 Score-based measurement of development

3.3.1 Motivation for score-based measurement

Score-based measurement takes the responses on multiple milestones and counts the total number of items passed as a measure of development. This approach takes all answers into account, hence leading to a more stable result.

One may order milestones in difficulty, and skip those that are too easy, and stop administration for those that are too difficult. In such cases, we cannot merely interpret the sum score of a measure of development. Instead, we need to correct for the subset of administered milestones. The usual working assumption is that the child would have passed all easier milestones and failed on all more difficult ones. We may repeat this procedure for different domains, e.g. motor, cognitive, and so on.

3.3.2 Example of score-based measurement

Figure 3.4 is a gross-motor score calculated as the number of milestones passed. It varies from 0 to 3.

Same data as in Figure 2.3, but now with the vertical axis representing gross-motor score.

Figure 3.4: Same data as in Figure 2.3, but now with the vertical axis representing gross-motor score.

The plot suggests that the difference in development between scores 0 and 1 is the same as the difference between, say, scores 2 and 3. This is not correct. For example, suppose that we express the difficulty of the milestone as an age-equivalent. From section 3.1.2 we see that the difference between stepping and standing is 27.2 - 16.1 = 11.1 weeks, whereas the difference between walking alone and walking with help is 63.3 - 43.3 = 20 weeks. Thus, according to age equivalents scores 0 and 1 should be closer to each other, and ratings 2 and 3 should be drawn more apart.

3.3.3 Limitations of score-based measurement

Score-based measurement is today’s dominant approach, but is not without conceptual and logistical issues.

  1. The total score depends not only on the actual developmental status of the child, but also on the set of milestones administered. If a milestone is skipped or added, the sum score cannot be interpreted anymore as a measure of developmental status. It might be possible to correct for starting and stopping rules under the assumptions described in Section 3.3.1, but such will be involved if intermediate milestones are missing.
  2. It is not possible to compare the scores made by different instruments. Some instruments allow conversion to age-conditional scores. However, the sample used to derive such transformations pertain to that tool and does not generalise to others.
  3. Domains are hard to separate. For example, some cognitive milestones tap into fine motor capabilities, and vice versa. There are different ways to define domains, so domain interpretation varies by instrument.
  4. Administration of a full test may take substantial time. The materials are often proprietary and costly.