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IQ Tests and Your Child

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I.Q. Tests And Your Child
by Carolyn Callahan and Howard Eichner

A reader from Tampa, Florida writes "I think my child is very bright. Should I ask the school district to give my child an IQ test?"

Before requesting that an IQ test be administered to your child, it is very important to know why you wish to know your child's IQ. You have information that leads you to conclude that your child has an exceptional capacity to learn. Is that capacity recognized by the school? Is your child's current level of achievement taken into account in the teacher's planning and instruction? Is your child challenged by the learning environment in which he or she is currently placed? If the answers to these questions are "yes", then there is little reason for requesting further assessment of your child. The teachers in the school are obviously responding to the characteristics you have recognized and an IQ score will do little to enhance the education of your child.

On the other hand, if your child is bored or unchallenged by the classroom activities and his or her teachers do not recognize the level of achievement or the knowledge and skills your child has already mastered, there may be a need to provide documentation of your child's learning capacity. If you have attempted to provide evidence of your child's learning capacity and it has been denied by the educators in your child's life, then a request to have further evidence to use as argument of need for a more challenging curriculum may be warranted. Finally, if there are educational opportunities that are available only to students with a demonstrated level of aptitude (as in test score), and you believe that your child should be afforded these opportunities, then you may wish to request testing.


Nearly all experts in the field of gifted and talented education today agree that:

* Intelligence is multi-faceted;

* Intelligence is displayed in many different ways;

* The assessment and identification of gifted students should focus on diverse talent or ability areas and include information from multiple sources and

* Educational programming should be based directly on the specific talents and needs that are defined and identified. 

IQ scores only give the information about one specific facet of intelligence as displayed in children who excel in verbal and logical thinking in the most traditional sense. This type of ability is often called general intellectual ability. Of the 49 states that have policies on gifted education, every one includes general intelligence ability as one type of giftedness to be identified. IQ is the best overall predictor of school achievement and educational success; hence intelligence tests are often one of the assessments used to identify exceptional general intellectual ability in children.


Individualized intelligence tests take considerable time to administer and interpret, but they provide the most information about overall general aptitude. They must be administered by licensed psychologists or psychometricians. Group intelligence tests often underestimate the scores received on individual tests. If you are requesting that your child be assessed, request that a school psychologist administer an individualized test.

The most widely used individual IQ tests for school-aged youngsters, and the best, are the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children - Third Edition (WISC-III) and the Stanford Binet Intelligence Test - Fourth Edition (SB-IV). These tests represent the latest version of each test.


Individual IQ tests do not require reading or writing, and each consists of a series of subtests. Some are verbal subtests that are oral questions, usually without time limits. Other subtests are generally visual or spatial in nature, and usually are timed. The test takes about 1 to 2 hours to administer. The psychologist will use subtest scores to identify relatively weak or strong areas of performance (e.g., verbal ability as manifested by vocabulary or mathematical reasoning ability).

The "Full Scale" or "Composite" IQ score based on all or most of the subtests, is the number most people are referring to when discussing someone's IQ. (Unless otherwise specified, when "IQ" is mentioned in this column, it will mean Full Scale IQ.)

The developers of IQ tests use mathematical calculations to find the mean or average score. An IQ score from 90 to 110 is generally considered average, corresponding to roughly the middle 50 percent of the population. If we just look at the scores at the high end, 2-3 percent of the population will have IQ scores above 130. An IQ score of 145 should occur 0.1 percent of the time or one time in a 1,000.

No IQ score should be considered an exact measure of intellectual ability. For example, good guesses may artificially increase an IQ estimate or having a bad day may decrease the estimate. There are many factors that might make an individual score vary a little from one occasion to another on any test. These include anxiety, motivation, rapport with the examiner, and guessing. Hence, psychologists will most often present a range of scores. A psychologist is likely to say "your child's IQ falls in the range 123-137. This is the exceptional range." This range takes into account the random error of testing.

A WISC IQ score will not be the same as a SB IQ because the test items are different, the children to whom your child is compared are different and the ideas which underlie the construction of the test differ. However, the scores are highly correlated. That is, children who earn higher scores on one test tend to earn higher scores on the other. Individuals with the same IQ are still very different people, with different strengths and weaknesses, behaviors, and personalities. A child's IQ score tells us about only one dimension of a person.

IQ is not the best measure or predictor for everyone or for all success measures. IQ tests do not measure creativity, leadership, initiative, curiosity, commitment, artistic skill, musical talent, social skills, emotional well-being, or physical prowess - all components which can be included in definitions of giftedness. There is considerable evidence that students who are economically disadvantaged, from ethnic minorities, and/or speak English as a second language generally receive a lower score on IQ tests. This is a fault in the tests, not the students.

Full-scale scores on an IQ test may be lower for a gifted student who also has a learning disability; however a trained psychologist will be likely to see discrepancies in performance on the sub-scales which indicate a learning disability.


So we are back to the question of "Why ask for an IQ test?" and just as important "What should a parent do?" IQ testing and obtaining an IQ score should be viewed as a means, not an end in itself. IQ testing can be helpful if you suspect a problem in school. IQ scores can help determine if your child is underachieving or the pattern of strengths and weaknesses reflected on an IQ test may help to determine if your child has a specific learning disability. But remember, an IQ score alone does not determine a student's needs, an appropriate curriculum, or what program a district offers.

Having a high IQ does not mean that a child will reach his or her potential. If an intelligence test is used as part of a process for identifying gifted children it will provide only one piece of information. The full identification process should enhance understanding of the child. The patterns of strengths and weaknesses on an IQ test convey more individualized information than the Full-scale score; however, other data collected the process of screening for identification and placement may provide even more valuable information on educational needs. An IQ score should never be the sole basis used in determining giftedness, and minimum "cutoffs" should not be used.

Most importantly, assessments of children should provide additional information useful for educational planning or intervention, not just for labeling. Before requesting an IQ test you should be sure you have determined that the information you give will be used for that purpose.


Dr. Carolyn M. Callahan is Professor in the Curry School of Education, University of Virginia, and Associate Director of the National Research Center on the Gifted and Talented. Dr. Callahan is a Past President of both the National Association for Gifted Children and the Association for the Gifted (TAG). She also sits on the editorial boards of Gifted Child Quarterly, Journal for the Education of the Gifted, and Roeper Review.

Howard Eichner is a school psychologist at Vernon Center Middle School in Vernon, Connecticut. He is happily married and has three sons. He has been a school psychologist for the past 20 years.