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Testing for the Gifted Programme

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D


Q: My son is 8 and in 2nd grade. He recently took the Terra Nova and scored in the 99% for both reading and math. The InView section - he scored in the 99% for total nonverbal, total verbal and the total score with a CSI of 141.

These scores qualified him to take the WISC-IV for admittance in the gifted program. The school gives 2 subtests and he needed to score a 99% in one of the areas to qualify. He scored a 82% in verbal comprehension and a 79% in perceptual reasoning. A total score was not given since the whole WISC test was not administered. As a result, he does not qualify for the gifted program.

Is the large discrepancy between the Terra Nova and WISC common? Is the WISC reliable when it wasn't fully administered? His strengths are memory and math.

Every teacher he has had since Kindergarten has told us that he is highly gifted and would be able to skip a grade no problem, which is not something we want for him, we would like him challenged in the grade he is in. However now he can not even get into the gifted program. Thank you for your advice.

A: Different schools have different criteria for testing to screen students for their gifted programmes. In almost all reasonable selection, more than one method may be used. This usually includes an achievement and an ability test. Now, the main difference between the tests mentioned is that the Terra Nova is an achievement test (nationally-standardised group assessment) whereas the WISC-IV (and others such as the Stanford-Binet, Woodcock Johnson Test of Cognitive Abilities, etc) is ability/aptitude tests. This does not warrant a one-to-one comparison.

In principle, achievement tests are more directly concerned with what is taught is schools, which is not the case with ability tests. Most achievement tests items resemble closely to the knowledge and skills taught at school. As for ability tests, the skills tested may not be school based with less reliance to specific knowledge (e.g., analogical thinking, although essential for success, is not something that is taught at school). This is why students who score lower on an achievement test than on an ability test may be regarded as underachieving. However, this may not be true as there is no single test to measure potential in general and perhaps a combination of different tests may be better to determine the potential of a student.

However, the InView section is specifically formulated to measure skills and abilities directly related to academic success such as verbal reasoning, sequences, analogies, and quantitative reasoning. Tgis helps in the planning of programmes for students, diagnose possible learning disabilities, and screen students for placement into special programs. The CSI (Cognitive Skills Index) is derived from this portion. I would not do a direct comparison between the CSI and the FSIQ.

The WISC, if partly administered is not reliable if a full scale IQ is reported. However, in this case, only the subtest scores were analysed. Therefore, the scores itself are reliable for the individual subtest alone. A fully administered test would give a full scale IQ score and enable interpretations of the 10 core subtest used. In your son’s case, I believe that the school decided on the two main indexes as both the VCI (verbal comprehension index) and the PRI (perceptual reasoning index) are known to be better predictors of giftedness. It has been researched that the VCI alone accounts for 62% of variance in general intelligence, which is why the school probably used them rather than the complete them. Having said that, I feel that it is somewhat unjustifiable to interpreted incomplete protocols unless under professional supervision.

Therefore, based on the results alone, the school has decided that he did not meet the cut-off criteria for a gifted programme. However, if you are convinced that the scores do not justify his non-entry, you should discuss this with the school and present evidence. There should be exception to the case, especially since he did very well for the Terra Nova. I believe you have a case here so do bring this matter for further evaluation.

I wish you all the best in making the best of this situation.


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