Tag: Testing

Psychological Testing—All tests are NOT created equal

One of my favorite parts of my practice was when I could do evaluations. I liked trying to figure out ways to get good data, even when the situations were complicated. It was like solving a puzzle, putting all the parts together to get a picture of how someone worked with information. Then, I could start to figure out what could be done to help.

Many times, parents would bring in reports to me that had received from other psychologists. Even though the results were clear to me, many parents said they had no understanding of what all the numbers meant. They also didn’t know how to use the information to help with planning for their child. So, I decided to write a series of blogs to help sort out the confusion.

There are many kinds of tests and more are coming out every day. Psychologists sort through all these and usually use only the ones that have two important characteristics.

First, it is important to be sure that the results are consistent.  If a child is tested one day, will the results be similar the next time. The question is, can we count on the test results. One way to be sure about this is to have given the test many times, to many different groups of students. Even though this kind of research is not interesting to non-psychologists, it is crucial if you are going to base treatments on the results.

Second, does the test really assess what it says it does. If a test is developed to identify the presence of an Attention Deficit Disorder, for example, is it really able to sort out what is ADD behavior from what is “squirmy boy” behavior, or sensory seeking behavior, or just normal behavior for that age. How can we be sure? They all can look similar. So, research is needed on a large number of children, from different areas, different backgrounds to make sure that the test is really valid. In general, the more children in the sample groups and the more care in studies, the more accurate we can be.

I know many parents don’t worry too much about these factors, but in my opinion, they should. I have seen tests used to label or categorize children when the tests themselves were of questionable value. Unfortunately, I have also seen times when the choice of tests was made to give a desired result, usually to deny services to a child.

So, I have written a series of blogs where I try to outline to variety of tests available so that parents can be sure that they are getting the best assessment possible for their child. In defense of the testors, it is important for parents to know that buying the test kits is extremely expensive so most independent psychologists don’t have a wide variety. Instead, they choose the ones that they have the most use for.

What should a parent do either when testing is recommended or when you feel your child needs an assessment?  

  • Make sure the questions to be answered are clear.  Do you need to know about your child’s overall ability or are their specific questions about his/her vocabulary development, for example.
  • Look at the lists of tests in the next blogs to be knowledgeable when you talk to the psychologist.  Ask what tests will be used.
  • Carefully review the results, to be sure you understand what the results indicate about your child.

What About a WPPSI?

Many parents ask me about a test called a WPPSI. What is it? What is it for? How accurate or valid are the results?  The WPPSI (Weschler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence) is a test that is becoming more widely used. It is designed to begin measuring children’s abilities at about 2 ½ years of age and goes up to 6 years of age.

It is called an intelligence test, but this is one place that parents will need to be careful. It is a test of where a child falls relative to his/her peers. It is not the kind of test that will allow us to predict how a child will do in the future. We find it to be helpful in determining if a child needs some intervention in preschool. It also can be helpful in designing a specific program for a child. For some, we emphasize working with visual materials, because their profile seems to be too focused on language tasks. For some children, the opposite is true.

For psychologists, one of the important things to consider is not necessarily the names given to the subtests, but what the items really measure.  There are many variables that can change a score.  For example, on the WPPSI III, which is the current publication, there is a subtest that measures the ability to make a block design. What if a child doesn’t have the fine motor skills needed. His/her score will be lower but his ability to work with patterns may be unimpaired. With young children, as a colleague of mine used to say, “it is hard to get a fix on a moving target.” Young children are hard to assess.

A second consideration is how many items are given to a child. There are times when a child can only complete a few items. For example, when doing block patterns, maybe the child can complete one or two of the designs. How much confidence should we have in the results of just two items? Psychologists are very hesitant to draw conclusions based on such limited data.

You can imagine how difficult it is just to get a two or three year old to cooperate with testing, no matter how interesting it is. The session has to be short. The child’s concentration will vary. It is a new setting and probably a new person to the child. All these things will impact the child’s score. As a result, the WPPSI is helpful, but is not as accurate as we would like. We usually wait until a child is at least six years old before we begin to feel confident with test scores.

“I Think My Child is Gifted”

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.