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Reliability of IQ Test Score

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: I am writing with regard to the testing of Gifted Children.

My son was assessed by the school last year, after a bit of a battle to have it done. Unfortunately they brought in a Psychologist with no background testing this type of child. All four composite scores were used to determine IQ.

In my extensive research of these composite scores (WISC-IV) the processing speed was below average, and the working memory was at average. It is my understanding that when there is a discrepancy between verbal, perceptual of 23 points or higher, the working memory and processing speed should NOT be used in determining IQ, or giftedness as these children can score low in this area. Can you please comment?

My son has met the criteria for gifted, but he is not being accommodated based on the test. IQ included. He was superior range in verbal, and reasoning.

The tester rushed him, she had to go to lunch. She directed him incorrectly, and states my son was more interested in the test process, and how it was written then answering the questions. In one area there were 60 questions, normally a child would complete about 30 due to time. My son completed all 60, and did half correctly. He mis-interpreted the goal of the exercise. what a mess.... Thanks in advance.

A: I'm sorry to hear what your son had to go through during a crucial test. This certainly sounds quite unfair and it surprises me that the school employs such testers. This should definitely be brought up as retest will only be allowed in about two years; in this case, due to "mistakes" made by the tester. In reality, for such tests, the person who administers it is the key to getting an adequate indication of your child's abilities. From your letter I can understand your concerns and they are truly of priority.

Your research had been fruitful in understanding your son's scores and not just letting it be by believing that is indeed his IQ based on the test. In reality, most gifted children score at least averagely on processing speed and working memory, though there are always exceptions. Best indicators of giftedness are the Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning Composites indices as they access verbal abstract reasoning and provide meaningful tests of visual reasoning with less importance given to speed.

On the other hand, working memory and processing speed are less correlated with giftedness compared to verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning. When verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning scores are higher than working memory and processing speed, as in the case of your son, the Dumont-Willis Indices can be used in evaluating the scores (apart from the full scale IQ). You may want to find out more on this from the school as it should be tied to the testing.

Intelligence is seen as primarily abstract reasoning ability; therefore the emphasis on short term auditory memory and processing speed on such tests may be less helpful. According to experts (e.g., Silverman), it would be better if children are identified as gifted based on assessments that emphases reasoning, provide them gifted learning experiences, and then add any accommodations based on relative weaknesses to the gifted accommodations. Unfortunately, this is not exactly how most schools may do their placements. Apparently, IQ test setters (and strangely, a number of experts) assume that gifted children have high processing speed as a distinct gifted ability.

While this may be true for some gifted children, there are a variety of gifted characteristics that may not hold true to this assumption as some may have high speed; at the same time, there are others who may be reflective (a perfectionist attitude) which will no doubt slow their processing speed. It was also found that as gifted children learn better with materials that are meaningful to them; non-meaningful task may not see such good performance. This is strengthened by the fact that was mentioned by the psychologist when your son appeared more interested in the testing process rather than the test itself. Therefore, I believe that the more important scores to determine giftedness would be superior scores on verbal comprehension and perceptual reasoning.

You may want to highlight this to the school. Perhaps get them to ask the test administrator for clarification and explanations on your concerns. Additionally, you could get a second opinion on the test scores from an experienced psychologist. Subtest scores may reveal a rather different picture so overall scores should not be seen as definitive. Interestingly, as one website puts it, "what help is an overall score in the case of the rabbit who runs really fast, but can't swim? Isn't it most important to learn that the rabbit is a gifted runner, rather than an average overall athlete?"

Here's wishing you all the best and hope your son will be accommodated for a programme that best caters for his educational needs.


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