I hear this so often from parents. They get a cognitive score or even an IQ score on their child and the number is very different from what they observe at home. Some tell me that their child is reading far above grade level. How can he/she not be scoring in the gifted range?
There is a simple answer. There are NO subtests on an IQ battery that test reading, or math or science. That is not the purpose of an IQ test; testing academic skills requires a different approach.
That is the reason we often do academic testing along with IQ testing. The academic testing is sometimes referred to as “achievement testing” and often includes reading skills (decoding and reading comprehension), math abilities (reasoning and calculation), science knowledge, spelling and writing skills. Some of these tests also include a measure of what they call “fluency.” This indicates how quickly the child can complete the task.
Why are these important?
- Achievement tests can help in planning academic programs. Where should we provide academic support? Where should we mainstream a handicapped child, based on his/her strengths?
- This type of test information really helps to measure how effective academic interventions are. For example, if your child is getting extra reading help on a regular basis, has there been any change in scores? If not, you will need to go back and modify the program.
- Sometimes, we compare IQ data with achievement data. Some students score in the average range of IQ but then do poorly on the achievement tests. The question, then, is why is this child not acquiring academic skills at the rate we would expect. There are many factors that interfere with learning so this situation requires some detective work.
- Another comparison that is made is between achievement data and grades. Some students are doing poorly on their report cards, but when tested, show good ability. This is another case where we need to look for outside causes that may be impacting the student.
- These tests give some benchmarks for students. Schools will sometimes measure progress by what goals a student has achieved but there is no way to independently measure progress. These tests give that additional data.
Specialized Achievement Tests
In addition to the batteries, there are some tests that provide a more detailed look at specific subjects. The most frequently used are the tests that assess reading. There is a wide variety available. Some look at reading comprehension. Others target oral reading ability. There are a number that evaluate a student’s ability to sound out, or decode words.
There are also several good tests that assess math abilities. These will help with progress both in math calculation skills as well as measuring math reasoning, as would be found in algebra.
Writing is another academic area that has gotten attention recently. There are tests that are sensitive to the organization of writing, the vocabulary used in written work, and the quality of the themes expressed.
Much less testing attention is focused on science or social studies. I suspect this is because people assume that reading and math are the foundational skills on which science and social students are built.
Don’t forget—achievement testing is important in planning educationally for your child!
Many parents come to me with their young children who have shown a pattern of precocious development. These young people have reached milestones at a younger age than expected. Many have huge vocabularies and seem to understand concepts that are far above their age level.
Parents want to know if they should schedule some testing for their children, to determine if they are truly superior in intelligence. There are some things that you may want to consider before moving ahead with testing.
We do have intelligence tests that start at about 2 ½ years of age. We usually use the Stanford Binet Intelligence Battery (SBIB) or the Weschler Preschool and Primary Scales of Intelligence (WPPSI). For school age children, we use the Weschler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC). (In a separate blog, I will discuss more details about each of these). The result of this kind of testing will be a number that is labeled “IQ.” These numbers are often misused. Some parents look at the results and think that this number represents a firm intelligence level, one that will persist as the child gets older. That is not true. Some of the early tests tend to overestimate IQ and there can be a great change in these scores over time. A child who scores in the superior range at 4 years of age is likely to score in the average range at 9. The opposite can also be true. Be careful in interpreting IQ scores in young children.
Children show great variability in their developmental patterns. Some children show a pattern of growing very quickly at first, and then leveling off. Other children show the opposite pattern, starting slowly but then showing spurts of development as they grow up. So, if you test your child at one point, can you count on that information to make predictions about the future? No, you can’t. You don’t have any information about your child’s future development pattern.
The other consideration relates to brain development. There are many skills that we cannot measure until the brain itself matures. For example, if you want to get an estimate of your son or daughter’s reasoning, you will need to wait until adolescence to have that type of skill tested.
So, are there times that testing can be helpful? Yes. Here are some general rules of thumb about when to get testing.
- One time that testing is warranted is when you are trying to design a behavior program for your child. The test results will tell you what is happening NOW, and that is what you need to know so you can tailor the program to your child.
- I like to test the younger children if they come to me for treatment of anxiety. Children who seem to be bright often can perceive things intellectually that they can’t deal with emotionally. The test results can help determine if this is what is happening and this helps me in my treatment of their anxiety.
- Sometimes, testing is required to access particular academic-type programs.
What should parents do? I would suggest not pursuing testing unless it has some current application, especially if your child is young. Many parents are hopeful that their child will be found to be gifted. It is far more important that parents focus on providing for their children’s emotional, social and also intellectual needs as they are now. In that way, you can be sure you are meeting all your child’s needs.