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Discrepancy Between Achievement and Intelligence Test Scores

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My 9 year old daughter took the MAP test in Missouri last spring (3rd grade). She scored 780 out of 780 in mathematics and 694 out of 790 in communication arts. Both scores place her in the advanced column. Her Terra Nova NP is 99 for both tests. Before these test results were in she was given a brief screening test for the gifted program which she scored too low for the program to test her further. I am told that while both of her scores are very impressive that her math score is extremely outstanding. I don't have any further break down of the scores.

My question is, should I be asking for more information? Should I push for my daughter to be tested further for the gifted program in her school? Even if she isn't accepted for the gifted program I plan to challenge her further at home. Any advice is appreciated.

A: It is very possible to get different range of scores between intelligence and achievement tests, as the two are not the same thing. It could also give an indication of some kind of learning difficulty. As it is, most tests vary in their content, appropriateness with different populations, and usefulness as a basis for educational requests. Therefore, it is important that tests (especially individual rather than group) are conducted by a trained and experienced tester who would be able to document the strengths, relative weaknesses and advise on the suitability of a program to cater for the educational needs of the child. High IQ scores are predominantly used as a main criterion for screening gifted individuals for specific programmes. However, if only one test is allowed for such screening, there is a possibility of missing out gifted children who may not fulfil the criteria for cut-off scores as some abilities emphasized on a particular test may or may not correspond with the child's strengths.

Screening tests for gifted programmes are usually intelligence-type testing. Lower IQ scores as determined by an intelligence test simply indicate that the child is probably not able to master the components tested in the test. The tester would be able to advise if the scores are even, especially if the full score is low but there are subsets of the test in which the child scores very highly or vice-versa. This appears to be the case for your daughter as he scored very high in Maths. Many other external factors may cause lower scores on IQ test (test anxiety, physical state, extreme pressure to perform, etc.).

Above average scores on achievement test indicate the ability for the child to better grasp the concepts and items tested on the test. It should be noted that when a child's intelligence test score is significantly below their true ability, it may be an indication of certain learning disabilities. This may be due to the way information is presented in school and the way innate intelligence is tested on intelligence tests.

The assessment of children's abilities should always lead to a better understanding of the child. This is to enable appropriate recommendations and interventions to be made, regardless of whether that assessment is an individual or group assessment of ability or achievement, or on specific performance.

It would be best to get further information especially on the breakdown of the scores. It would be a good idea to get him checked and tested by an educational psychologist to rule out any concern and if there is a problem, start intervention immediately. You have the right to know the reason your daughter is not performing well on the screening test. Many a times, schools would just use the final score without looking at the breakdown due to time constraints. At the end of it, a good match between a child's abilities and educational material is crucial to cater for their needs. Here's wishing you all the best!


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