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Controversy over the Use of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: Can you please tell me why is there so much controversy over the use of "Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale" with children? Thank you.

A: Let me start with some bit of history to understand the controversy better. As is known, Lewis Terman and his colleagues designed the Stanford-Binet which was developed by Alfred Binet. The scale was specifically designed to identify extremely advanced children. As such, no other individual intelligence test was designed with the above intent, and other intelligence tests constructed were not able to capture the full strengths of the abilities of highly, exceptionally and profoundly gifted children. Therefore, the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale remained the test of choice for identifying highly gifted children until 1986.

However, the 4th edition of the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale had a ceiling of 148, since there were not enough children in the norm sample who scored beyond 148 to warrant higher scores. Higher scores (149 to 164) were statistically extrapolated by rather than basing it on normed samples. It was also found that rather than the gifted population, items for the test were more appropriately designed for the general population. This is based on the observation of James Flynn who found that the general population is increasing in intelligence by approximately a third of an IQ point per year across the globe (this is still being debated strongly and perhaps applies more to the extremes in intelligence).

Because of all these controversies, a good number of psychologists who are familiar with gifted children prefer to use the older version of the scale. However, parents are usually quite confused as it is expected that the latest and revised scale is always better than the older one. Apart from that, the newer scale with lower ceilings somewhat disguise the exceptionally gifted child as moderately gifted. Hence, it is not uncommon for psychologists who work with exceptionally gifted children to offer the SBL-M as a second test when children have hit the limits of the first test.

Currently the Stanford-Binet is in its 5th edition (SB-5). There are still controversies on this latest edition although it had been revised well. Over a span of time, the purposes of intelligence testing have changed and the SB-5 now bears little resemblance to Binet's original work!

Hope the brief explanation would shed some light on the scale.


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