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A collection of key findings on executive function research in early childhood and beyond. Use our award-winning MEFS App™ to collect valid and reliable Executive Function data.

Child Executive Function Skills Research

Measuring Cognitive Flexibility, Working Memory, and Inhibitory Control Skills

The MEFS App™ provides an efficient and reliable way to directly assess Executive Functioning skills. The ease of use, child engagement, and immediate scoring compared to national norms makes the MEFS App™ ideal for Executive Function research with children. The MEFS App™ can be administered repeatedly to the same child to track changes over time. Existing Executive Function measures developed for research and clinical purposes are lengthy and/or require Ph.D. credentials. Some of these measures are not sensitive across the entire preschool age range. The MEFS App™ is the most reliable Executive Function measure for children as young as 24 months.

Reliability of the MEFS App™

Pre-screening helps determine who can benefit most from EF guidance

Measuring EF over time shows efficacy of teaching and curriculum

Quick feedback provides data on efficacy of activities

Early activity is critical to help prevent children from falling behind

The Role of Executive Function in a Clinical Setting

Understanding, Measuring, and Improving Executive Functioning Issues

Executive Functioning development is associated with a variety of conditions that affect learning and adaptation, including ADHD, autism, and emotional and behavioral problems. The MEFS App™ is an objective, standardized, and brief assessment that yields reliable and valid information about a child’s Executive Function skills.  The MEFS App™ will also track changes in these skills over time. Although the MEFS App™ is not a diagnostic tool, it provides information about a child’s current level of proficiency and growth in Executive Function relative to national norms and a child’s therapeutic goals.

Validity of the MEFS App™

Assesses Executive Functioning skills like working memory, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility in one brief, composite score measure.

The MEFS App™ is highly correlated with other Executive Function assessments including the NIH Toolbox Battery of Executive Function Measures, Executive Function Touch Battery, and the Head-Toes-Knees-Shoulders task. The MEFS App™ is briefer than any other measure; designed for a younger/less advantaged starting point; more sensitive to gradual changes; and normed starting at 24 months of age. The MEFS App™ is the only Executive Function measure supported by training, professional development, intervention activities, and data analytics based on over 100,000 test results.

The MEFS App™ is not strongly correlated with IQ, and it predicts outcomes over and above IQ, suggesting it is measuring a distinct construct.

The MEFS App™ has high concurrent correlations with Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement, a widely used school readiness assessment.The MEFS App™ has been shown to predict kindergarten reading level and first grade math achievement. In one recent longitudinal study, the MEFS App™ utilized in pre-K predicted 3rd grade reading and math performance on the MAP assessment delivered by NWEA.

Children known to have difficulty with Executive Function perform more poorly on the MEFS App™ (e.g. socioeconomic disadvantage, ADHD-symptoms).

The MEFS App™ Technical Report

Explore the MEFS Technical Report on performance outcomes, the 2021 updated norming sample, reliability, validity, correlations, case studies, and more.

The MEFS Growth Charts (monthly and half-yearly versions) are based on our 2021 youth norms.

“The research literature clearly points to the critical role that early Executive Function plays in children’s academic and social success, so we need to make sure the study effectively captures children’s skills in this area. The MEFS App™ combines the strength of a trusted measure of Executive Function with the power of big data, allowing us to view the findings from our study within the context of the thousands of other children who have used the app.”

– Stephanie Jones, Ph.D., Professor of Education, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Researcher Spotlight

Dr. Jolene Johnson

Associate Director and Assistant Professor
Department of Education and Child Development
Munroe-Meyer Institute, University of Nebraska Medical Center

Q: What is UNMC’s mission?
A: The mission of our department is to serve families, schools and students through providing program evaluation, professional development and clinical services. Of primary focus is to reach students with multiple obstacles to learning. 

Q: Why focus on Executive Function (EF) in your research?
A: Executive function skills are important to academic achievement. By focusing on executive function skills in early childhood settings more students are likely to enter kindergarten with skills setting them up for success. Helping teachers be intentional about noticing and integrating opportunities for students to practice has been key to some of our professional development offerings.

Q: What is your research group working on now?
A: Currently, our focus is on delivery of professional development around social-emotional learning, mindfulness strategies and executive function activities for early childhood teachers across thirteen national sites and evaluating the impact that has on students’ executive function skills. We are two years into a three-year project and hope to examine the relationships between student executive function scores, language scores, teacher burnout and classroom quality.

Q: Why do you use the MEFS App™?
A: The MEFS App™ is a direct assessment of students’ executive function skills. It is a time-efficient and cost-effective measure that can be used with young children and allows for teachers to track student growth.

Tools for Researchers

In this new Institute of Education Sciences paper, Reflection Sciences, Inc. Co-founder Dr. Phil Zelazo and Co-authors Clancy B. Blair and Michael T. Willoughby highlight key findings on executive function in relation to its relevance in educational research and practice. Read the full article here.

The CSUS is a validated caregiver-report measure of children’s developing understanding of the mind and mental states of others, such as what other people perceive, think, and feel. This awareness grows throughout childhood, and is highly correlated with executive function (EF) (e.g., Carlson & Moses, 2001; Devine & Hughes, 2014). With stronger EF skills, children are better able to see things from another person’s perspective, as well as their own. Together, EF and social understanding provide a foundation for successful social interactions and conflict resolution.

Download the Long CSUS Form.

Download the Short CSUS Form.

The DEFSS is a standardized set of photographic stimuli, including both child and adult faces, that has been validated by participants across a range of ages. It consists of 404 validated facial photographs of people between 8 and 30 years old displaying five different emotional expressions: happy, angry, fearful, sad, and neutral.

Download the DEFSS Files.

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