Psychologists review the Conners’ Parent Rating Scales.

William J. Gianarris et al., Center For Psychological Studies, Nova Southeastern University, Fort Lauderdale, Florida sought to clarify issues regarding the proper use of this instrument. These researchers report that there has been a general willingness to accept the Conners’ scale at face value over the last 30 years with little specific research into its validity and reliability. This lack of targeted research makes a critical review difficult. A total of 108 studies published over the last three decades were reviewed. Nearly half were rejected as lacking statistical adequacy or for other inaccuracies. Most of the remaining studies took for granted the diagnostic and psychometric properties of the assessment, which has been used to diagnose, to track therapeutic progress, and to validate other instruments.

These researchers do not believe that all of these uses are valid. These scales have undergone significant revisions since they were first published in 1970, but they have not been re-evaluated in light of the variety of purposes for which they are used by educators and clinicians. The Conners’ scale consists of questions intended to assess problematic behavior in children across a wide range of areas. Each item includes a brief description of a potentially problematic behavior that the parent is asked to rate on a four-point scale. The number of questions and the areas evaluated have changed with the different versions of the test developed over the years.

Gianarris et al. point out that the Conners’ scale is not a direct measure of the child’s behavior, but a reflection of parental perception. It is subject to parental mood and ability, time spent with the child, motivation for seeking treatment, and parents’ tendency to be concerned about certain behaviors while overlooking others. These factors all have a significant impact on the resulting scores. These researchers state that while this instrument has appropriate applications, it is often used beyond the scope of its proven effectiveness. Studies show that the scale consistently distinguishes children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder from normal children. It also appears to be a reliable and valid tool to screen for abnormal behavior, but can not be used to diagnose specific disorders. These researchers conclude that, therefore, there are only three valid uses for the Conners’ Parent-Rating Scales. It is a reliable general screening device for abnormal behavior, an ancillary diagnostic aid to add evidence for an existing diagnosis, and a valid measure of progress from treatment. 

These researchers stress that the Conners’ scale should not be used to diagnose, but only as a screening device to help target children who may need medical or psychological evaluation and treatment. Despite this restriction, its comprehensive nature and standardized administration make it a good complement to diagnostic evaluations. In addition, treatment outcomes can be effectively monitored through the use of an abbreviated form of the scale. The abbreviated form has been shown to be especially effective in detecting behavior change in response to treatment. These researchers warn, however, that there tends to be a significant drop in score between the first and second administrations of the scale. They recommend that the assessment be given twice before treatment is initiated so comparisons can be made on the basis of the second administration. In addition, they caution that scores will differ significantly when it is adapted for use with teachers, since teachers and parents have different perceptions and perspectives of the child.

“The Conners’ Parent Rating Scales: A Critical Review of the Literature,” Clinical Psychology Review, Volume 21, Number 7, October 2001, pp. 1061-1093.

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