Group-Administered Intelligence Tests and Gifted Identification

rsz hand mathMany school districts are using group IQ tests (aka, intelligence tests, or tests of cognitive ability) to identify children’s need for gifted education. These tests have some advantages, and also some inherent problems.

Individually-administered IQ tests—tests where a psychologist sits with one child for 90 minutes to 2 hours, and asks a series of standardized questions that vary depending on the child’s responses—are by far the most reliable indicators of kids’ learning needs. They have many flaws (which we discuss elsewhere—see links below) but they provide the most useful and targeted information about a child’s learning strengths and weaknesses.

Compared to individually-administered tests, group IQ tests are enormously time- and cost-efficient. They can be given to many kids at once in a classroom setting, and can be administered by a teacher or teacher’s aide. Sometimes kids who don’t do well at school because they’re bored or have learning problems will do surprisingly well on group IQ tests. In these cases, group IQ tests can be helpful tools for preliminary screening for giftedness.

Group IQ tests are very limited, though. There’s no opportunity to consider individual differences in response styles, or the reasons a given child might have for making mistakes. Group IQ tests can’t provide information on a child’s attitudes, learning problems, or strengths, or how these come together, all of which are critical to making an informed decision on something as important as a potential change in educational programming.

Even the most valid and reliable IQ tests can yield low scores for many reasons that have nothing to do with a child’s ability (fatigue, distractions, lack of motivation, anxiety, poor health, etc.). However, when a score on a group IQ test is the major criterion relied upon for important decision-making such as gifted identification, these concerns are multiplied. Group IQ tests don’t allow for thoughtful interpretation of a child’s responses, so creative or divergent thinkers can miss the cut-off mark, even though they may need gifted education.

Additionally, although there’s increasing evidence that kids’ giftedness tends to be domain-specific, group IQ tests don’t identify individual areas of educational mismatch, or the type of accommodations that may be warranted in specific subject areas (e.g., math-giftedness). It’s for these reasons, and more, that the American Psychological Association standards of practice state that any test being used for a high-stakes decision (such as gifted identification) must be only one of a multi-measures approach.

In Being Smart about Gifted Education, we devote several chapters to the who, what, where, when, why, and how of testing and identification procedures. We discuss reasons people should be cautious about tests and testing, including group IQ tests. There’s a real danger that inaccurate information about a child’s abilities can be generated and communicated to parents and those making placement decisions. This can have serious long-term implications for a child’s self-esteem, subsequent academic achievement, and future decision-making.

The best approach to gifted identification is to administer standardized high-ceiling subject-specific achievement tests. These should be used alongside dynamic classroom-based assessment. This includes teachers’ day-to-day learning assessments, individual portfolios, and a thoughtful consideration of the various factors and experiences that lead to a particular child’s successful learning outcomes.

Ultimately, when thinking about any kind of assessment, parents should ask, “What practical, useful information is being provided so we can better understand—and then address—our child’s learning needs at this moment in time?”

For more thoughts on this topic:

For some relevant articles and other resources:

Being Smart about Gifted Education:

Limitations of IQ in understanding intelligence:

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