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The measurement of Executive Function (EF) difficulties is a hot topic in assessment these days. This issue of The PAR Connection is designed to help school psychologists define EF and understand the critical factors to consider when choosing an EF measurement instrument—an instrument that will provide the information they need to design effective interventions that target a student’s specific needs.

What is executive function?

Executive Function is a multi-dimensional construct that is responsible for managing cognitive, emotional, and behavioral functions. EF affects planning, decision making, abstract thinking, cognitive flexibility, rule acquisition, initiating appropriate actions, and inhibiting inappropriate actions. It is particularly important during active, novel problem solving. EF is an important component of how individuals function at home, in school, and at work. For many students, its impact is greatest at school, where they are required to transition from one task to another. A large body of research shows a strong link between EF and how students perform in the classroom (Clark, Pritchard, and Woodward, 2010).

Important considerations for choosing an executive function instrument

  1. First and foremost, it is important to recognize that EF is a multi-dimensional construct. To represent it as a single function ignores its complexity and provides little useful direction for individualized intervention planning. According to National School Psychologist of the Year (2009) Steven G. Feifer, DEd, “Executive functioning skills do not represent a single unitary trait, but rather reflect the dynamic properties of human frontal lobe functioning that allow us to adapt to our cognitive and emotional worlds. The BRIEF represents one of the few instruments capable of capturing multiple traits underscoring both cognitive and emotional executive functioning skills.”
  2. Clinical sensitivity is another important consideration. An effective measure of EF must be sensitive to clinical populations, as EF difficulties are a contributor to many exceptionalities including Learning Disabilities, Attention Deficit disorder, Traumatic Brain Injury, Tourette's disorder, Obsessive Compulsive disorder, and others (Gioia, Isquith, Kenworthy, and Barton, 2002). The school psychologist needs to look for a measure that uses statistically derived clinical scales to provide a clear picture of a child’s strengths and weaknesses in the various aspects of EF, including emotional control, working memory, and planning/organizing, as well as the ability to initiate and handle changes, to self-monitor, and to inhibit inappropriate speech or actions.
  3. Validity and reliability are always a point of consideration. A representative sample is a key factor in choosing a reliable and valid instrument. EF instruments lend themselves more easily to this requirement because research has indicated that EF norms are similar not only within regions of the US but also worldwide.
  4. The most effective EF instruments are backed by research. School psychologists should look for established assessments with a significant body of research supporting them.
  5. Finally, it is important to remember that the pattern of EF strengths and weaknesses in every child is unique, and that Executive Functioning in the individual is responsive to targeted intervention. Therefore, it is important that an EF assessment provide accurate, scale-specific information so that you can develop interventions that address a child’s individual, specific needs.


There are many excellent resources for families, school personnel, and others who work with young people who have Executive Function problems. For parents, a good choice is Late, Lost and Unprepared: A Parent's Guide to Helping Children with Executive Functioning by Joyce Cooper-Kahn, PhD and Laurie Dietzel, PhD. School personnel should consider Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents: A Practical Guide to Assessment and Intervention by Peg Dawson, ED and Richard Guare, PhD. LDOnline (, a website about learning disabilities and ADHD, includes a series of articles about helping children with EF problems tackle everyday challenges such as managing homework and curbing inappropriate behavior.

PAR instruments and resources

Developed by pediatric neuropsychologists who routinely work with parents and children in their practice, the Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Function® (BRIEF) is:

  • Based on a multi-dimensional construct of executive function widely accepted in the research literature.
  • Designed to inform interventions based on individual profiles.
  • Supported by more than 250 published research studies.
  • Used by professionals not only in the U.S. but all over the world—and translated into 40 languages.

“The BRIEF was designed by outstanding clinicians working with parents to meet a clinical need,” says Elaine Fletcher-Janzen, EdD, NCSP, ABPdN, Associate Department Chair of School Psychology at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. “It became the gold standard for understanding how executive functions translate into behavior in the real world and continues to be the measure with which all newcomers seek to correlate. The BRIEF forged a way for us all to incorporate these kind of data into the comprehensive examination—the perfect example of translational neuropsychology at work!”

The BRIEF family of products includes assessments at the preschool, school-age, adolescent, and adult levels. The BRIEF Software Portfolio can be used to score the BRIEF and generate reports with intervention recommendations. To learn more, visit to see all of the available options in the BRIEF family of products.

PAR’s Test of Executive Control (TEC) is a recent addition to the EF toolkit. The TEC uses a novel approach to EF assessment that looks at two fundamental components of EF: working memory and inhibitory control. Visit to learn more about how the TEC can work for you.


Clark, C.A.C., Pritchard, V.E., & Woodward, L.J. (2010). Preschool executive functioning abilities predict early mathematics achievement. Developmental Psychology, 46(5), 1176-1191.

Gioia, G. A., Isquith, P. K., Kenworthy, L., & Barton, R. M. (2002). Profiles of everyday executive function in acquired and developmental disorders. Child Neuropsychology, 8(2), 121-137.