Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 24 Number 1
January 1985


James B. Connelly, Southeast Regional Resource Center, Juneau, Alaska

Indian children demonstrate unique patterns of interpersonal communication. These patterns may result in their attaining lower scores on a vocabulary test which requires expressive language responses compared to one which does not. The PPVT-R and the WISC-R Vocabulary subtest were administered to 100 Indian and 106 non-Indian students in grades one through three. Significant and similar correlations of .59 and .65 were obtained between the two tests in the two groups, respectively. Although the Indian students obtained significantly lower mean scores on both tests, the difference between the two tests means was significantly greater in the Indian population. Factor analytic studies are recommended.

INDIAN CHILDREN tend to attain relatively low scores on tests which assess verbal skills and attain at least average scores on tests which assess nonverbal skills (Berry, 1971; Connelly, 1983; Teeter, Moore, & Peterson, 1982; Zarske & Moore, 1982). Many researchers feel that the lower scores may be due to unique patterns of interpersonal communication which often appears as reticence during test administration and in classroom situations. Sattler (1982) reported that "Some Indian children may be hesitant to speak, or they may speak softly and their responses may be short and lacking important details" (p. 376); Garcia and Hynd (1978) reported that behaviors during assessment may include less spontaneous verbal interaction; Schubert and Cropley (1972) said that Indian children may not engage in as much verbal reflective thought as non-Indian peers; Goodwin and Orvik (1977) reported that Indian and Eskimo students often hesitate to articulate because they are embarrassed about their "different" lexicon; and Kleinfeld (1973) reported that a warm, supportive atmosphere helps to encourage participation among Indian and Eskimo students.

If reticence, shyness, fear, and/or other cultural factors reduce verbalizations among Indian children, tests requiring increased verbal expression may underestimate their understanding of language. That is, Indian children may appear weaker in their understanding of language than they are because of their unique patterns of interpersonal communication. If this is the case, they should attain higher scores on a verbal test which requires little or no language expression than on one which requires more.

The purpose of this study is to investigate the relationship and the amount a of difference between two tests of receptive and expressive vocabularies as measured by the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test-Revised (PPVT-R) and I the WISC-R Vocabulary subtest, respectively. Specifically, it was hypothesized that 1) there would be no significant difference in the correlation coefficient obtained with the PPVT-R and the Vocabulary subtest in an Indian and in a non-Indian population; and 2) there would be no significant differences between the two groups in the mean differences between the two scores.



The population consisted of all of the students in grades one through three from four schools in rural southeastern Alaska. Two schools consisted of primarily Indian students (89% and 96%); two schools consisted of primarily non-Indian students (95% and 92%). The "non-Indian" students were all white except for one Hispanic and two black students. In this study, there were 49 male and 51 female Indian students (mean age, 7-11), and 52 male and 54 female non-Indian students (mean age, 7-9).


The Vocabulary subtest and the PPVT-R were administered by two certified school psychologists. One was male and one was female; both were white. The tests were administered in counterbalanced order. In each school, children from one randomly selected classroom were administered the Vocabulary subtest first, and children from the remaining classroom were administered the PPVT-R first. The female school psychologist gave the first administration of the Vocabulary subtest in one school and the first administration of the PPVT-R in another. The male school psychologist did the same for the remaining two schools. Fifteen samples of each test were randomly selected from each psychologist and scored by a third school psychologist. The Pearson product movement correlation for interscorer reliability was .91 for the PPVT-R (p < .01) and .96 for the Vocabulary subtest (p < .01).

The correlation between the raw scores of the Vocabulary subtest and the PPVT-R in each group was determined by performing a Person product movement correlation. In order to determine whether there was a significant difference in the obtained coefficients, a z transformation was used (Edwards, 1973).

In order to directly compare the test means within and between groups, all raw scores were first converted into standard scores with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. The PPVT-R manual (Dunn & Dunn, 1981) provides for the direct conversion from raw scores into standard scores; the WISC-R manual (1974) provides for the conversion from raw scores into scaled scores, and estimates of equivalent standard scores with a mean of 100 and a standard deviation of 15 are also given (p. 25). The differences between the two scores within each group were investigated by performing a t test for correlated means. In each group, every studentís Vocabulary subtest standard score was subtracted from his or her PPVT-R standard score, and the mean and standard deviation were then derived. The differences between the two groups on the means of each test and on the means of the difference scores were investigated by performing t tests. Statistical significance for all analyses was set at .05.

Results and Discussion

The obtained correlation coefficient between the two tests was significant in the Indian group (.59), t (98) = 7.23, p < .001 and in the non-Indian group (.65), t (104) = 8.72, p < .001. However, there was no significant difference between the two coefficients, z = .69.

As indicated in Table 1, the Indian students attained a significantly lower score on the PPVT-R (99.1) than the non-Indian group (100.7), t (204) = 4.60, p < .001 and on the Vocabulary subtest (80.3 and 98.4, respectively) t (204) = 8.04, p < .001. In the Indian group, the difference between the mean scores of the two tests (10.8) was significant, t (99) = 8.66, p < .001 but not in the non-Indian group (2.3), t (105) = 1.8. The difference score was significantly larger in the Indian group than in the non-Indian group, t (204) = 7.39.

Table 1
Mean PPVT-R and WISC-R Vocabulary Subtest Standard
Scores of Indian and Non-Indian Children
































p <.001

These results are similar to those found by other researchers: the Indian students attained lower scores than their non-Indian peers on the two verbal tests. However, it is important to notice that the "gap" between the two tests was significantly larger in the Indian population. This indicates that, even though both tests present single words and purport to measure vocabulary, the demands made by the Vocabulary subtest result in much poorer performance, both within and between groups, than those made by the PPVT-R.

Since the PPVT-R requires few or no verbalizations, presents pictures with which words can be associated, allows and even encourages guessing, and may tap deductive reasoning and visual scanning skills, it may present a format which is more compatible with Indian patterns of interpersonal communication and visual strengths. However, one should be cautious when directly comparing these tests as similar measures of vocabulary or language. Although both tests essentially shared the same significant amount of variance in both groups, this shared variance may be related to different factors. Also, there is a considerable amount of variance which is not accounted for. Factor analytic studies with a larger number of tests may shed light on what factors are common to these tests in Indian populations.

The results do indicate, however, that the Indian students were able to do better on a vocabulary task which was presented in the PPVT-R format, both within their group and compared to a non-Indian group. This may indicate some methods which could be explored to develop verbal skills and increase participation among Indian students, such as requiring short or non-verbal responses, presenting multiple choice tasks, and giving visual clues. The results also indicate that Indian studentsí understanding of vocabulary may be underestimated since most tests and classroom activities require responses more similar to those of the Vocabulary subtest.


Beery, J. W. Psychological research in the North. Anthropologia, 1971, 143-157.

Connelly, J. B. Recategorized WISC-R score patterns of older and younger referred Tlingit Indian children. Psychology in the Schools, 1983, 271-275.

Dunn, L. M., & Dunn, L. M. Peabody picture vocabulary test-revised. Circle Pines, Minn.: American Guidance Service, 1981.

Edwards, A. L. Statistical methods. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston, 1973.

Goodwin, P. A., & Orvik, J. M. Cross-cultural aspects of academic performance: Implications for the sciences. In R. Barnhardt (Ed.), Crosscultural issues in Alaskan education. Fairbanks, Alaska: Center for Northern Educational Research, University of Alaska, 1977.

Hynd, G. W., & Garcia, W. I. Intellectual assessment of the Native American student. School Psychology Digest, 1979, 446-454.

Kleinfeld, J. S. Classroom climate and verbal participation of Indian Eskimo students in integrated classrooms. Journal of Educational Research, 1973, 51-52.

Sattler, J. M. Assessment of childrenís intelligence and special abilities. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 1982.

Teeter, A., Moore, C. L., & Peterson, J. D. WISC-R verbal and performance abilities of Native American students referred for school learning problems. Psychology in the Schools, 1982, 39-44.

Wechsler, D. Manual for the Wechsler intelligence scale for children-revised. New York: Psychological Corporation, 1974.

Zarske, J. A., & Moore, C. L. Recategorized WISC-R scores for non-handicapped, learning disabled, educationally disadvantaged and regular classroom Navajo children. School Psychology Review, 1982, 319-323.

James B. Connelly received the Ph.D. degree from the University of South Florida and is currently School Psychologist for the South East Regional Resource Center, North Slope Borough School District, Barrow, Alaska 99723.

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