I am going to take on one of the sacred cows of the gifted industry. I think IQ testing is expensive, inconclusive, and can lead to inaccurate labeling of the child. I have seen too many parents bow to the industry’s pressure to test; it is required to join groups, apply for schools, and diagnose abilities. There are many gifted professionals whose main income is derived from IQ testing. Publishers of tests have established successful businesses based solely on testing. Testing is a firmly entrenched part of our education system, purportedly designed to identify who will be successful in their efforts towards a higher education. But it is not a good indicator of success. According to Dr. Robert Sternberg, eminent psychologist and expert in giftedness, IQ tests do not test intelligence, but rather are equivalent to achievement tests. “Intelligence tests typically measure the achievements a person is supposed to have attained several years earlier.” He believes that IQ tests are not a good measure of potential.
Interestingly enough, most IQ tests were designed to identify children with an IQ below normal, not above. There have been some efforts to revamp IQ tests to more accurately identify extremely high IQ’s, one such test is the Stanford Benet LM. While it probably comes closer to identifying a number that reflects ability, it is still very limited in identifying a child’s strengths and intellect. At best, an IQ test is a snapshot of how that child was thinking at that particular time, in that particular place, with that particular tester. These variables can affect the outcomes quite significantly.
One of my clients is a very young math prodigy who was doing calculus at age seven and has an incredible mind. He sees the whole world through a math filter. Despite my misgivings and advice to the contrary, the parents decided to have him tested. How did he score? Below average, in fact his IQ score was 95, five points below “normal intelligence.” This information sent his parents into a tailspin of doubt and misgivings. Had they misread their child’s abilities? Was he a savant in math but below normal intelligence in general? As they struggled with this information, it changed how they looked at their son. Meanwhile, their son was the same boy, had the same abilities and quirks, and still loved math above all else. So what did that achieve? Perhaps it satisfied parental curiosity, though the outcome was not what was expected. Perhaps if he had scored higher it would have qualified him for a gifted program. It really wasn’t necessary and it cost the parents a good deal of money and emotion to go through with the testing. Luckily, they never shared the scores with their son, so he is happily ignorant of his IQ score; but it is out there and very likely as he matures he will have access to that information. How will it affect his view of himself?
The same complications exist for parents whose child scores extremely well on an IQ test. It can alter the parents’ views and expectations of their child. One of my clients, whose daughter scored as profoundly gifted (IQ 200+) was completely rattled by this knowledge. The parents became very unsure of their ability to meet their child’s intellectual needs, despite the fact that they had been doing an excellent job to that point. Other clients have become more controlling of their child’s destiny once a high IQ score is received. Suddenly, the parent sees a whole new career path for their child which might or might not be related to how the child sees themselves in the world. An IQ score can overshadow everything else and make it harder for the parents to work towards developing a well-rounded child. It can also be frightening for a child to be tested, categorized, and labeled. They may begin to doubt their own abilities and desires.
I am not against identifying strengths, disabilities, weaknesses, areas of interest, and talents; but it must be done in a more holistic way. Robert Sternberg, a noted psychologist and expert in developing talent and ability, has launched a new form of testing called “The Rainbow Project” which tests IQ in a whole new, whole-mind way. It tests creative, practical, and analytical abilities using art, humor, and ingenuity. Perhaps this form of testing, which gives right-brained gifted children the same chance of scoring well as it does left-brained children, will open up a whole new way of looking at how we test ability. Perhaps somewhere down the road someone will design tests that include what type of learner you are, where your interests lie, and how you process information; but even if the tests are holistic, we would still have to contend with the bias of the person scoring the exam. In the end, it really doesn’t matter. The proof is in the pudding, so they say, and gifted children’s abilities can be observed in their activities and pursuits. Do we really need an IQ score to determine how best to support our unique children? I have great trust in children’s abilities to seek out what they want to learn and their self knowledge of how they learn best. Perhaps our money would be better spent in helping our children to experience first-hand their areas of passion. Take them on a field trip, buy them a chemistry set, travel to a volcano, take them to the opera, sign them up for art classes, buy them ingredients to experiment with cooking, let them fly in a plane, teach them to scuba dive…these real world experiences will help them define and develop their talents in ways a test cannot possibly identify. Be courageous parents, step outside the narrow view of identifying ability through IQ testing and give your children your full support to develop their own self-identified talents and interests. Life experience will tell them how best to use their gifts, will teach them to respect themselves, and will open up their pathways to the future.