While standardized IQ tests are not without their flaws and inadequacies, they have come a long way since their inception in the early 1900s, when psychologist Alfred Binet was tasked with finding a method to identify those children who might need additional assistance at school.
The resulting test dubbed the Binet-Simon scale in honor of Binet and his colleague, Theodore Simon, was revolutionary in that it focused not on academic knowledge so much as gauging cognitive abilities themselves, e.g. attention, memory, and problem-solving skills—principles still currently in use. Binet found that through assessing such qualities, one could often predict a child’s relative level of academic success.
Today, IQ tests are not merely used as a sort of “advanced warning system” to indicate the likelihood of academic issues, they are also frequently employed to help determine which children may be gifted (and thus benefit from specialized gifted services) and to aid in detailing the various strengths and weaknesses of individual children.
IQ tests are often used as the final step in the process of selecting a child to be tested for giftedness owing to the fact that they are very expensive to administer (in addition to the expense of the tests themselves, they take hours to grade and require the involvement of highly trained professionals, e.g. psychologists). This, however, often ironically leads to wasted money, as the “front line” in pre-selecting the children who ought to be tested for giftedness, therefore, becomes testing scores on automated achievement-based computer tests (e.g., CAT, CTBS, ITBC, etc.). These scores could be misleading as these tests are a relatively poor indicator of giftedness. Many gifted children do not perform well on these tests (boredom at school, which is experienced by many gifted children, often creates apathy regarding such tests; other gifted children may score lower than they could due to anxiousness), many otherwise “average” children score quite well due to having a honed ability for rote memorization.
Ergo, when and where it is possible, it’s best to instead administer a “group intelligence test” such as the Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) or the Otis-Lennon School Ability Test (OLSAT) to students in order to pick out those who may be gifted. These teste focuses not on knowledge or memory so much as reasoning and thinking ability in order to better assess how a child thinks—a more effective means of judging the relative efficacy of his or her mind.
To select those children who are likely in need of gifted testing, school boards will sometimes task the teacher with filling out relevant questionnaires in order to assess which children not only show particular academic aptitudes but who display “gifted characteristics” in addition to (or in place of) high academic test scores.
Types of Standardized IQ Tests
When the school board has selected a group of students who display strong signs of being gifted, these students will be sent for a formal IQ test administered by a licensed psychologist.
While there is a selection of different IQ tests available today, two, in particular, are usually recommended owing to their high rates of reliability:
The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children
Designed primarily for children between the ages of seven and 16 who display signs of being gifted, this highly accurate test is favored by many educators. If your child is selected to take the WISC test, make sure that the district is using the WISC IV, as this is the most current version of the WISC test.
There is also the WIPPSI test, an equivalent of WISC used for children under the age of seven, but it is used less frequently than the WISC test as giftedness is often harder to detect in younger children. (While the reasons why this is the case are not yet fully clear, it is believed that an emphasis on early education at home may skew the results through making otherwise average children appear far ahead of their years academically.)
Additionally, there is an “adult” variant of the WISC test, the WAIS, which may be used to identify those adults who may have slipped through cracks earlier in life, but who are in actuality gifted.
To be seen as gifted, a child will usually need to have an IQ score of 130 or higher, though there is some variation in the requirements depending on the school district in question.
The Stanford Binet 5
The Stanford Binet test version 5 (or SB5), derived from the original ideas set forth by Binet, is preferred by some educators as it can be used for testing people of almost any age (from two to adult). The SB 5 is also more suitable for some students as it places less emphasis on timing so it may induce less performance anxiety, a common issue among gifted children (who tend to be prone to perfectionism). It is also better when working with those children who are highly intelligent but who do not possess verbal skills which align with their overall level of intelligence (though the WISC test has been modified to better accommodate such children as well, in recent years).
Once again, a child will usually need to have a score of at least 130 to qualify as gifted when taking the SB 5 test.
As a final note, IQ scores often vary by a few points over the course of a child’s development, so if your child comes very close to scoring as gifted, it may be worthwhile to have him or her tested again a few years later. In the meantime, nurturing his or her intellectual abilities—not merely knowledge but also cognitive processing skills—may be helpful; emerging research suggests the human brain is more malleable than was previously thought, meaning that intelligence may be in part a learned aptitude.