Evaluating Intellectual Potential

“My child is only five years old, and he reads at a fourth grade level. but he’s doing cutting and pasting in his kindergarten class and complains of being bored. He doesn’t want to return to school. When I told his teacher this and suggested that his school work was much too easy for him, she just patronized me and hinted that if I pressure him he may become frustrated and stressed out. She just didn’t understand and believed I was a pushy mother. Can you help?”

A fifth grader sits in his classroom and daydreams. He pays little attention, frequently acts out his anger and frustration by talking at inappropriate times, and has become disruptive. The family seems stable. What’s the problem?

An eight grader sits quietly in the back of the classroom. She is shy and rarely volunteers answers. In elementary school, she was always at the head of her class, yet now she never excels and gets by with very little effort. What’s happened?

Scenarios like these are repeated countless times every school year, and parents are often at a loss as to how to deal with them. Sometimes, if they suggest that their child may be advanced and bored in class, they are met with skepticism. They know their child and their abilities, and they don’t want to make mistakes with their education. Yet, they may come to doubt their knowledge and judgment when faced with critical reactions.

One solution to this problem is an individualized evaluation of the child’s intelligence. Despite receiving considerable criticism in recent years, in the hands of a competent professional, individualized intelligence testing yields important information. It provides objective data that can be valuable in determining educational placement and guidance. A good evaluation answers many questions and provides insight into many situations, and is often very persuasive to administrators and teachers.

Intelligence tests compare a child with others of his or her age on tasks presented in a standardized manner. How well a child responds to these tasks indicates a level of competence that can be quantified as a deviation from the norm and converted to an age or grade equivalent score. IQ scores are typically reported on a scale in which 100 represents the 50th percentile; the higher the score, the fewer people receiving it. For example, an IQ of 115 means that a child scored above 84% of the population of 130 above 94%, and of 145, above 99%.

Intelligence tests can also reveal non intellectual characteristics of a child. These factors may be equally, if not more important than cognitive skills in predicting school success. This is because a child’s approach to problem situations and level of task persistence and motivation are traits that are very important to competing in the real world and succeeding in school. A good psychological report addresses a child’s capacity to tolerate frustration, level of anxiety, need for approval, need to be coaxed or encouraged, readiness to take risks in responding to difficult questions, and clearly spells out a child’s strengths and weaknesses. This is best accomplished on a test such as the WISC-R, which has been constructed in a manner that easily reveals this information. An examiner may “test the limits” of a child’s abilities by continuing the interview past the formal testing period to gain further information about the child’s response style and cognitive strategies.

Although children of all ages can be evaluated, the reliability of the scores of children younger than five years old are suspect. When young children do not score well, it only means that they did not perform well on particular tasks on a particular day. When as child scores well, it proves that the child can perform at a high level, given the right conditions. High scores, therefore, are much more meaningful than low scores. It is usually difficult to determine if poor performance accurately reflects ability, or if it is due to a host of other influences, such as illness, uncooperativeness, or fatigue. The reliability (the results can be duplicated) and validity (the test measures what it is supposed to measure) of intelligence testing is good for children older than eight. By this time, the negative influences are lessened and the uneven intellectual growth of the first eight years of life has slowed down and evened out.

It is important to note that any score needs to be viewed as an estimate of ability at a particular point in time. While a high score is generally strong evidence of superior intellectual ability, a low score does not.

April 8th, 2010

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