Journal of American Indian Education

Volume 25 Number 2
January 1986


Rhett Diessner and Jacqueline L. Walker

Patterns of Bannatyne's recategorized Wechsler Intelligence Scales (WISC-R and WAIS) scores for 75 Yakima Indian Students were investigated. In congruence with similar studies, this statistically significant pattern was found: Spatial Ability, Sequential Ability and Verbal Conceptual Ability. Evidence is presented indicating that this cognitive pattern may be typical across American Indian populations.

ALTHOUGH THE CULTURES of American Indians are heterogenous in many ways, there are certain commonalities in cognitive style being suggested for American Indians, as a population (McShane & Plas, 1984). Based on the use of Bannatyne's (1974) recategorization of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC), it has been theorized that American Indians have a typical cognitive pattern (Connelly, 1983; McShane & Plas, 1982; McShane & Plas, 1984; Zarske & Moore, 1982.

Bannatyne describes four categories based on the WISC: (1) a Spatial Ability score based on the Picture Completion, Block Design, and Object Assembly subtests; (2) a Sequential Ability score based on the Arithmetic, Digit Span, and Coding subtests; (3) a Verbal Conceptual Ability score based on the Similarities, Vocabulary, and Comprehension subtests; (4) an Acquired Knowledge Ability score based on the Information, Arithmetic, and Vocabulary subtests.

The pattern that may be indicative of an Indian cognitive style demonstrates Spatial Ability scores significantly higher than Sequential Ability scores, and Sequential Ability scores significantly higher than either Verbal Conceptual Ability or Acquired Knowledge Ability scores. Connelly (1983) demonstrated this pattern for Tlingit Indian children, and provides some evidence indicating that it may be a typical pattern for Inuit Eskimo children as well; Zarske and Moore (1982) found this pattern with Navajo children; while McShane and Plas (1982) report the same pattern for Ojibwa children.

Whereas we believe caution must be taken in forming generalizations about American Indians as a single population, we believe that this cognitive pattern of abilities is also shared by Yakima Indian children.



The students that participated in this study were Yakima Indians enrolled in a private, tribally controlled and operated Junior and Senior High School in the Columbia River Basin. There was no selection process; the sample comprised all students attending the Tribal School during winter quarter of 1982-1983. Students ranged in age from 12 to 19 years. Forty-two of the younger students were administered the WISC-R, age range 12-16 (7th to 9th grade students) and thirty-three older students took the WAIS, age 16-19 (older 9th grade through 12th grade students). Fifty percent of the students taking the WISC-R were female and 27 percent of the students taking the WAIS were female.

All students involved in the study spoke American English as their primary language, both at home and in school. All of these students had also attended public schools at some time during their elementary years, and many of them had also attended BIA boarding schools at some point in their education.

There is some possibility that the students at the Tribal School are not fully representative of the population of Junior and Senior High School students of American Indian background in the Columbia Basin area. Most Indian students in that area attend public schools, and this private Indian school had been in existence only four years at the time of this research. Some selection process may have been operating to differentiate the private school students from the public school Indian students. One possibility is that students that have experienced a greater degree of discrimination and prejudice in the public schools might be attracted to a tribally operated, private school.

Another source of differentiation is that students that have failed to make academic progress, for a host of reasons, in the public school system, would be given a "second chance" at the Tribal School. Students that have dropped out of public schools are encouraged to consider the Tribal School as an alternative. Also, as the private school teachers, both Yakima Indian culture and language, a more traditional family might wish their child to attend. There most likely would not be economic differentiation based on private school tuition, as the Tribal school is free of charge.

This Tribal School is an accredited private school in the State of Washington. It is a Bureau of Indian Affairs contract school, and is guided by a school board appointed by the Yakima Indian Nation Tribal Council.


The Wechsler tests were given school-wide to assist in developing local norms, particularly as an aid in determining cultural norms against which to compare students referred for psychoeducational evaluation. As it was full sampling of all attending Junior and Senior High School students, no attempt was made at randomization. The students were informed that the testing was to be used by the administrators of the school in helping plan educational policies and curriculum. The students were urged to do well, and standardized test administration was adhered to carefully.


Analysis of Variance of Bannatyne Categories for Yakima Indian Junior High Students

Source of Variation

Sum of Squares


Mean Squares


Between students




Within students
















*F .99 (2,80) = 4.79


In order to examine whether Yakima Indian students exhibit a pattern of Spatial Ability greater than Sequential Ability, which is greater than Verbal Conceptual ability (previous studies did not find significant differences between the Verbal Conceptual and Acquired Knowledge categories, and consequently only analyzed Spatial, Sequential, and Verbal Conceptual categories), a repeated measures analysis of variance and subsequent Newman-Keulstests were performed. For the (N = 42) sample of Junior High School students the Spatial Ability score mean was 10.07; the Sequential Ability score mean was 7.55; and the Verbal Conceptual Ability score mean was 6.75. Tables 1 and 2 present the results of the ANOVA, F(2/80) = 49.26, p<.0l, and the post hoc Newman-Keuls comparisons, which revealed that the differences between the Spatial vs. Sequential and Spatial vs. Verbal Conceptual were significant at .01; and the difference between Sequential and Verbal Conceptual was significant at .05.

The Senior High Students (N = 33) demonstrated similar results, the repeated measures analysis of variance and Newman-Keuls tests revealed significant differences between the Bannatyne categories. The Spatial score mean was 11.33; the Sequential score mean was 8.58; and the Verbal Conceptual score mean was 7.59. Tables 3 and 4 present the results of the ANOVA, F(2/64)=59.78, p<.0l, and the Newman-Keuls tests, which demonstrated significant differences between the Spatial vs. Sequential, and Spatial vs. Verbal Conceptual at the .01 level; and the difference between the Sequential vs. Verbal Conceptual at the .05 level.


Newman-Ketils Tests of Pair-Wise Comparisons with the WISC-R


Verbal Conceptual






Verbal Conceptual = 839




Sequential = 940



*q.95(2,80) = 84.79

** q .99(3,80) = 128.23

Analysis of Variance of Bannatyne Categories With the WAIS

Source of Variation

Sum of Squares


Mean Squares


Between students




Within students
















*F .99 (2,64) = 4.79

Thus, for this sample, the pattern found typical for American Indians was again supported.


These results increase the possible validity of a particular American Indian cognitive style. Evidence has been provided, based on the Bannatyne categories of the Wechsler Scales, of a shared cognitive pattern for Tlingit, Inuit, (Connelly, 1983), Navajo (Zarske & Moore, 1982), Ojibwa (McShane & Plas, 1982), and, with this study, Yakima Indian students.

Caution, however, must be taken in two areas in regard to interpreting these results; one ethical, the other psychometric. The psychometric caution involves the sampling of students from these various tribes. None of the samples were randomly drawn from a group of regular education students. The Tlingit and Ojibwa students were students that had been referred for psychoeducational evaluation, the Navajo students had all been identified as learning disabled (and spoke English as a second language), and the Yakima students all attended a private school. The ethical caution involves the social and political ramifications of inviting invidious racial comparisons (Gould, 1981).

McShane and Plas (1983) speculate upon the causes of this tentative Indian pattern; they cite psychoneurological research that indicates spatial processing may interfere with left brain hemisphere processing, thus resulting in a deficit in linguistic processing and overuse of the spatial mode. They also cite the rampant otitis media (middle ear infection) problem that Indians have, far above the incidence in the overall American population, which may contribute to this type of cognitive style.


Newman-Ketils Tests of Pair-Wise Comparisons with the WAIS


Verbal Conceptual






Verbal Conceptual = 751




Sequential = 940



*q.95(2,12) = 76.65

** q .99(3,12) = 125.44

Other possible factors contributing to this Indian pattern may be in the background of the instruments themselves: the Wechsler Scales were developed by white upper-middle class researchers, and the tasks on the Wechsler Scales certainly reflect its cultural background. Another possibility is the problems of intergenerational transmission of culture and cognitive abilities (Feuerstein, 1979), faced by American Indian communities of this century.

In regard to curriculum considerations, it is always of benefit to know the strengths and weaknesses of an individual or a population. Administrators and teachers enabled to evaluate what areas of remediation are most necessary. In this case, it would appear that for these Indian students to be competitive in pluralistic America they will need to increase their English language and basic information achievement. Realizing that spatial ability appears to be a relative strength for these students, it would seem warranted to search for curricular materials that use a spatial, visually presented format to teach language conceptualization and basic world knowledge/information.


Bannatyne, A. (1974). Diagnosis: A note on recategorization of WISC scale scores. Journal of Learning Disabilities, 7, 272-273.

Connelly, J. B. (1983). Recategorized WISC-R score patterns of older and younger referred Tlingit Indian children. Psychology in the Schools, 20, 271-275.

Feuerstein, R. (1979). The dynamic assessment of retarded performers. Baltimore: University Park Press.

McShane, D. A. & Plas, J. M. (1982). Wechsler scale performance patterns of American Indian children. Psychology in the Schools, 19, 8-17.

McShane, D. A., & Plas, J. M. (1984). The cognitive functioning of American Indian children: Moving from the WISC to the WISC-R. The School Psychology Review, 13, 61-73.

Zarske, J. A., & Moore, C. L. (1982). Recategorized WISC-R scores of learning disabled Navajo Indian children. Psychology in the Schools, 19, 156-159.

JACQUELINE L. WALKER, Ph.D., is currently Assistant Superintendent at the Yakima Tribal School in Toppenish, WA. The author earned her doctorate in special education from the University of Oregon. Professional experiences in the area of early childhood special education are broad. Also serves as an associate faculty member at a local four year private college.

RHETT DIESSNER was reared in Yakima, WA. He received his B.S. in Psychology and M.S. in Educational Psychology from the University of Oregon. Served as school psychologist for the Yakima Tribal Schools from 1982 to 1985 and Associate Faculty Heritage College from 1983 to 1985. He is currently a doctoral candidate in Human Development at Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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