3.2 The Snow Academic Aptitude Model (SAAM)
The Snow Academic Aptitude Model (SAAM)
Psychologists (educational psychologists in particular) have been actively studying educationally- related individual difference characteristics for decades.  Based on a systematic program of educational research, the integration of the extant literature (which included a review of four existing taxonomies; Snow, 1973), and an emphasis on the relatively stable constructs causally related to educational performance, Richard Snow ventured a provisional taxonomy (Corno et al., 2002; Snow, et al., 1996).  I believe the Snow taxonomy holds promise as a formative structure from which to begin to “see the forest and the major trees”.
Briefly, the Snow Academic Aptitude Model (SAAM) focuses on human aptitudes which represent “the characteristics of human beings that make for success or failure in life's important pursuits. Individual differences in aptitudes are displayed every time performance in challenging activities is assessed” (Corno, et al., 2002, p. xxiii). Contrary to many current erroneous assumptions, “aptitude” is not the same as with “ability.” According to Corno et al. (2002), ability is the power to carry out some type of specific task and comes in many forms—reading comprehension, mathematical reasoning, spatial ability, perceptual speed, domain-specific knowledge (e.g., humanities), physical coordination, etc.  According to Snow and colleagues, aptitude is more aligned with the concepts of readiness, suitability, susceptibility, and proneness, all which suggest a “predisposition to respond in a way that fits, or does not fit, a particular situation or class of situations. The common thread is potentiality—a latent quality that enables the development or production, given specified conditions, of some more advanced performance” (Corno et al., 2002, p. 3; see Scheffler, 1985).  Academic aptitudes represent the multivariate repertoire of a learner’s degree of readiness (propensities) to learn and to perform well in general and domain-specific learning settings.  Pivotal to the notion of academic aptitude is the recognition that aptitude is more than ability.  As per the SAAM model (Snow et al., 1996):
  • Aspects of personality—achievement motivation, freedom from anxiety, appropriately positive self-concept, control of impulses, and others—are aptitudes as well, contributing importantly to coping with some challenges. The opposite qualities—anxious caution or impulsiveness, for example—can also be assets (i.e., aptitude) at certain moments (p. 4).
Mirroring a message articulated by prominent psychologists for decades (for examples, see Spearman, 1927; Wechsler, 1944), a complete theory and taxonomy of academic aptitudes must include affective and conative processes in addition to cognitive and achievement abilities.  There is more to knowing about an individual's propensity for academic learning than simply knowing their IQ scores!  Even Alfred Binet, who is considered the father of the modern day intelligence test, recognized the importance of “non- intellectual” factors in cognitive or intellectual performance.  According to Corno et al. (2002):
  • "Binet summed up his investigations in a famous description of intelligence: ‘the tendency to take and maintain a definite direction; the capacity to make adaptations for the purpose of attaining a desired end; and the power of auto- criticism” (translation by Terman, 1916, p. 45).  All three of these phrases refer at least as much to conative processes and attitudes as to reasoning powers. Binet's concept of intelligence was much like Snow's concept of aptitudes." (p. 5)
Contemporary calls for a more comprehensive school learning aptitude model/framework is illustrated viz-a-viz the presentation of an "opportunity-propensity" model of school achievement (Byrnes & Miller, 2007).  The rationale for Byrnes and Miller's model was grounded, in part, on the following:
  • "As any comprehensive handbook of educational research illustrates (e.g., Alexander & Winne, 2006), the field of educational psychology is subdivided into distinct research areas such as motivation, instruction, reading achievement, math achievement, and so on. Scholars who specialize in one of these areas tend not to specialize in others. In addition, researchers within each of these areas often focus on specific components of some predictor of achievement (e.g., motivational goals) to the exclusion of other components of that same predictor (e.g., motivational attributions), and also rarely include constructs from other research areas in their studies (e.g., domain-specific skills and aptitudes). Because the problem of student achievement is so complex, it makes sense that various subgroups of researchers would try to make this problem initially more tractable by examining individual or small sets of factors in their studies of achievement. Indeed, much has been learned about these aspects of achievement in the process. However, the continued tendency to focus on a limited number of predictors within each study of achievement has led to two related problems. One is that scientists and policy makers do not have a sense of how all of the various pieces of the achievement puzzle fit together. A second problem is that the relative importance of various predictors is still largely unknown because researchers have not typically included adequate controls in their studies." (p. 599- 600).