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Assessment and Testing:
What about the SB5, WISC-IV, and Other Tests?

Kathi Kearney M.A. Ed. and Barbara J. Gilman M.S
March 20th & 21st, 2004
Closing Statement by Barbara Gilman

click for printer-ready article

Thank you for attending our online conference and providing a wealth of interesting questions and comments. Highlights are presented below from what I considered to be a fascinating discussion! Many thanks for this wonderful experience. Bobbie

Promising New or Still Valuable Tests
or Portions of Tests

WISC-IV  (Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children-Fourth Ed.)

I like the new WISC-IV's increased ceiling; the test offers additional harder questions at the upper ends of a number of subtests. The WISC-IV has eliminated the Verbal IQ and Performance IQ scores of its predecessors.  The 10 required subtests (5 are supplementary) yield a Full Scale IQ score and four Composite scores: Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual Reasoning, Working Memory, and Processing Speed.  The Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning Composites are very good indicators of giftedness (Working Memory and Processing Speed are not), that do an admirable job of assessing verbal abstract reasoning and provide very useful tests of visual reasoning with less timing emphasis. I like the Dumont-Willis Indices (check out John Willis's and Ron Dumont's website at http://alpha.fdu.edu/psychology/) to evaluate WISC-IV scores when Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning Composite scores are higher than Working Memory and Processing Speed (the WISC-IV technical manual suggests this will usually be the case). A DWI-1 score can be computed for the combination of Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning, while a DWI-2 score can be computed for the combination of Working Memory and Processing Speed. These computations, based on the Tellegen and Briggs formula, could be helpful to schools. The DWI-1 score would be an excellent identifier of gifted children for school programs, and only six subtests of the WISC-IV are needed to produce it.

The WISC-IV is yielding many gifted-level scores at the GDC.  However, some of the Full Scale IQ scores are excessively lowered by Working Memory and Processing Speed scores. As intelligence is primarily abstract reasoning ability, emphasizing short-term auditory memory and processing speed on paper-and-pencil tests is less helpful.  Two Working Memory subtests (only one was required on the WISC-III) and two Processing Speed subtests (only one was required on the WISC-III) place more weight on these processing skills in the Full Scale IQ score.  This is unfortunate for gifted children and confounds the FSIQ as a gifted identifier at times.

In the normative sample for the WISC-IV, the gifted group (which had scored at least 130 previously) earned a Full Scale IQ score of 123.5 on the WISC-IV.  Their Verbal Comprehension score was 124.7 and Perceptual Reasoning score was 120.4.  However, in line with our experience, their Working Memory averaged only 112.5 and their Processing Speed was 110.6 (WISC-IV Technical Manual p. 77).

Watch how this can affect scores.

One girl, age 9-10 earned these scores:

VC- 148
PR -147
WM- 123
PS- 123
FSIQ- 147   

Her lower Working Memory and Processing Speed didn't lower her FSIQ.

But look at these two, who earned FSIQs of 127 and 125:

VC- 119 VC- 140
PR- 127 PR- 123
WM-126 WM- 107
PS- 112 PS- 97
FSIQ- 127 FSIQ- 125

The child with the Verbal Comprehension score of 140 (often the best indicator of success in a gifted classroom) really needs to be identified as gifted and her WM and PS scores lower her FSIQ below the gifted range. The best solution is to use the Verbal Comprehension and Perceptual Reasoning Composites for gifted identification and not insist on the FSIQ.

SB5 (Stanford- Binet Intelligence Scale-Fifth Edition)

The SB5 has wonderfully advanced mathematical reasoning and spatial reasoning items. Gale Roid , the test's author, has shown flexibility in considering alternate ways to score this test when young children perform at a level far above age expectations, using Rasch -ratio scores. And, he has condoned the use of portions of it for gifted identification (e.g., omitting the Working Memory portion). The SB5 has continued the Binet tradition of being largely untimed .

SBL-M (Stanford- Binet Intelligence Scale Form L-M)

The SBL-M remains probably our strongest test of verbal abstract reasoning and has established its usefulness over many years. Revising and renorming this instrument as a test of giftedness would be appropriate. The SBL-M and SB5 show real strengths used together because their content varies significantly.

What are the differences between the SBL-M and SB5

The SBL-M is wonderful for assessing verbal abstract reasoning--the kind that often defines gifted classrooms where students discuss concepts at advanced levels, compare and contrast ideas, make inferences, debate points of view, and write at depth about issues. This kind of reasoning is primarily assessed in only 1 of the 10 subtests of the SB5: Verbal Fluid Reasoning. Although the SB5 is composed of 5 "Verbal" and 5 "Nonverbal" subtests, this refers to the way the items are administered. Other Verbal subtests include "Verbal Quantitative Reasoning," "Verbal Visual-Spatial Reasoning," "Verbal Working Memory," and "Verbal Knowledge" (vocabulary). So, of 10 subtests, only 2--Verbal Fluid Reasoning and Verbal Knowledge (vocabulary), assess the most important elements of verbal reasoning in the typical sense.

However, because the Nonverbal portion of the SB5 includes Nonverbal Fluid Reasoning (matrices), Nonverbal Knowledge (visual reasoning), Nonverbal Quantitative Reasoning, Nonverbal Visual-Spatial Processing, and Nonverbal Working Memory, you can see the SB5 is a strong assessment of visual reasoning, visual-spatial reasoning (presented both verbally and visually) and mathematical reasoning (both verbal and visual). It emphasizes areas the SBL-M also has, but has less of. The SBL-M is a wonderful test of verbal abstract reasoning, which also has some excellent mathematical and visual-spatial items, while the SB5 emphasizes mathematical and spatial reasoning. The tests complement each other.

It is unlikely the SBL-M will be significantly redesigned to include more visual-spatial items because producing an entirely new IQ test like the SB5 is very costly. However, Riverside would be wise to continue supporting the SBL-M because its content exists nowhere else and it is a proven test of giftedness. Just slightly revising it and renorming it as solely a test for the gifted would be a great idea. I would propose calling it the SB-GT.

WPPSI-III (Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence-Third Edition)

The WPPSI-III offers improvements over its predecessor for gifted children. It appears to us to be a better diagnostic test and it emphasizes abstract reasoning quite well. It has two forms : one for children ages 2-6 (2 years 6 months) to 3-11, and one for ages 4-0 to 7-3 (although we would give a WISC-IV at 6-0). The form for very young children is short (4 required subtests) and only Object Assembly is timed (rather generously). The portion for ages 4-0 and up requires 7 subtests and has a good mix of verbal and visual reasoning in a child-friendly test (administration is more comfortable than with the WPPSI-R for little ones).  The test does have a Processing Speed Quotient, but only one of the two subtests from which it is calculated is included in the Full Scale IQ score. This is a timed handwriting-like test.

You're Asking Me to Do WHAT With Those Letters/Numbers/Words/Pictures That You Just Told/Showed Me??
(The Increased Emphasis of Processing Skills Measures as Part of the FSIQ)

Several years ago the GDC hosted a gifted testing Summit attended by several test developers and experts in testing gifted children. As new tests were being developed, the conversation focused on gifted testing needs. While the test developers were planning a host of measures of processing skills (working memory, processing speed, auditory processing, etc.) to augment reasoning items, all of the testers emphasized the need for tests that assess abstract reasoning ability (verbal, mathematical, visual-spatial) with processing skills assessed separately. Reasoning tests best identify gifted children.

Perhaps (and I'm not convinced of this) the inclusion of more processing skills measures is appropriate for lower functioning children. If the child's processing speed on paper-and-pencil tasks is so slow that he or she cannot complete work in a reasonable amount of time in the classroom, processing speed may be such a limiting factor that it should be included in IQ scores. Likewise, if short-term auditory memory is so poor that the teacher's instructions can't be retained at all, this is a significant problem. However, gifted children rarely perform extremely poorly in these areas on an absolute scale. It makes much more sense to identify them as gifted based on assessments emphasizing reasoning, provide them gifted learning experiences, and add any accommodations based on relative weaknesses to the gifted accommodations. A Full Scale IQ score that "averages" gifted reasoning and average processing skills fails to identify either the giftedness or the relative weaknesses.

One test author at our Summit was surprised to learn gifted children weren't especially fast processors. It had just been "assumed" that gifted children would be the fastest processors. We explained some were very quick; others were reflective or perfectionistic , slowing their speed. We also discussed the gifted child's preference for meaningful test materials, and the problem of short-term memory tests or other tasks that utilize non-meaningful material. Gifted children usually perform so much better with meaningful material that their scores with non-meaningful material are difficult to interpret. Our concern was that whenever a strand is added to an IQ test that identifies a different group as scoring the highest, than was identified by the other strands, there will be a "confounding" of the Full Scale IQ score.

Now that we have some newly revised and renormed tests, we do have confounding in the Full Scale scores (Note the fact that the gifted group in the WISC-IV normative sample scored a 124.7 on Verbal Comprehension and a 120.4 on Perceptual Reasoning, but only earned a 112.5 in Working Memory and a 110.6 in Processing Speed, according to the WISC-IV Technical Manual p. 77). The only real way to continue to identify the gifted children who need accommodations in school for their advanced reasoning and efficient learning will be to carefully assess the instruments we have, and choose the ones--or parts of them--that can be useful in identification. Experts in gifted testing will need to share the best approaches, and some different ways of using tests in schools will need to be established.

My Child Showed a Large VIQ- PIQ Discrepancy.
Does That Warrant a Serious Diagnosis, or Is It No Problem At All?

Discrepancies between Verbal and Performance IQ scores on Wechsler tests can be diagnostically important. For example, on the WPPSI-R, a table in the manual indicates that for 4-year-olds, a discrepancy of 10 points is significant at the 5% level. Another table notes that a discrepancy of 25 points between Verbal and Performance IQ scores occurred in only 16 percent of 4-year-olds in the normative sample. A discrepancy of 50 points occurred in 9 percent of cases. Tests offer such tables to evaluate the significance of discrepancies. (This one isn't too specific.) However, a discrepancy of 32 points (VIQ-150, PIQ-118) [the example given in the post] should be further investigated.

Verbal items are administered verbally (the child responds to the tester's verbal questioning), while Performance items are administered visually (the child looks at pictures, manipulates objects, completes paper-and-pencil tasks). Verbal items require reasonable speech and language skills (including good hearing and auditory processing). Performance items require good visual processing, visual acuity, and visual-motor coordination and speed. So, the first thing to rule out when Verbal scores are higher than Performance is visual problems. Frequently, young children are somewhat farsighted (longsighted) and may have trouble seeing detail. Children may also have good distance vision and healthy eyes, but may have some visual processing problems. Perhaps their eyes don't easily track words on the line of a page (they inadvertently skip to the next line) or they have difficulty changing from far-point to near-point focus (these children have trouble copying from the blackboard). Or they may have difficulty copying designs, reproducing angles in the wrong direction. Such problems can be subtle in a gifted child who compensates well.

We find that behavioral optometrists are helpful here. They are trained to assess these additional visual processing issues and can either rule them out as problems or prescribe vision therapy, which has been effective in many cases (see http://www.covd.org for a referral). The book Developing Your Child for Success by Dr. Kenneth Lane also describes these issues and offers vision exercises (helpful if you don't have a behavioral optometrist nearby).

If Verbal scores are significantly lower, we first see if there is a history of chronic ear infections and rule out auditory acuity or auditory processing problems. Auditory processing has also often proven to be a culprit when children have difficulty with short-term auditory memory. Such children may have difficulty understanding the sounds they hear (it may take a little longer to comprehend what is heard) or they struggle with background noise, even when they pass hearing screening tests. Keep in mind that the brighter the child, the more subtle such difficulties may be to detect.

If none of the above problems exist, the VIQ-PIQ discrepancy may mean something else, but ruling out basic problems with vision and audition has proven to be important. The most common discrepancy we see in gifted children is high Verbal/low Performance and vision is usually the culprit. Vision therapy usually requires 6-9 months, with exercises practiced daily at home for 15-20 minutes to be effective.

Tests often give us indications of problems which then require specialists for further evaluation. Following up on such apparent problems can bring extremely helpful results.

How Can We Accommodate Aspergers , Learning Disabilities and Other Deficits in Testing?

Dr. Deirdre Lovecky's new book, Different Minds: Gifted Children With AD/HD, Asperger Syndrome, and other Learning Deficits (Jessica Kingsley Pub, Mar 2004) might be helpful. My experiences testing gifted children with Aspergers have varied from no difficulties during testing and an apparent enjoyment of the test situation to one young man who required several days to test (instead of one) because it was felt he couldn't function before later in the day and had serious motor problems that lengthened the time it took to complete any written work on the achievement test.

There are many children who present challenges in testing and testers need to develop strategies to meet varying situations (and remain flexible for the situations they've never before experienced). Once in a while, we encounter a child who is so difficult to test that we attempt to document only the most important strengths, so that parents have something until the child becomes more testable.

Parents might try to establish a relationship with a very experienced tester, so that a child feels as comfortable with that person as possible. Then, when testing is tried, agree to discontinue as soon as difficulty is encountered. You can always finish another day.

Of course refusing to finish the test lowers scores. Just because the child in this example is "regularly uncooperative and recalcitrant" doesn't mean that his lowered scores actually reflect his true potential. The results must be considered minimal estimates of his abilities for now...

With Likely EG and PG Children, Is It Important to Seek Testing From Testers Experienced With This Population?

It is very important. Children at this level have the characteristics of giftedness, only to more extreme degrees. They will respond best to testers who are familiar with these traits and enjoy them. Testers who are also familiar with their response styles will know when to speed up the administration to accommodate a child who needs a very fast pace (and will lose focus without it), and when to slow down to accommodate the child who offers an initial answer, then continues to "hone" it to perfection. I have seen experienced testers of more average children test their first exceptionally gifted child and make mistakes for lack of experience with this population. I have observed a tester hearing an initial answer, rushing to administer the next question, and "training in" a short-answer response style, which lowers such a child's score.

Question 2: In general, when working with specialists (such as OT's, psychotherapists, etc.) is it important to find people that have experience dealing with EG/PG kids? Does it really matter?

It certainly helps. One behavioral optometrist in the Denver area says flatly, " gifted children should have gifted vision" and knows to continue vision therapy longer with more gifted children to support their other extraordinary abilities. A local hospital has realized that with gifted children, it is benefiting them to undertake OT when their tests indicate less need than the hospital usually recommends therapy for. It is the discrepancy that is important, so the more the specialist understands about gifted children (including the higher levels), the better. When counseling or psychotherapy is involved, it is important to understand the differences of these children and to avoid simply counseling them to "fit in."

Is Early Testing Valid?

If a young child, say age 4-3, earned a Verbal IQ score of 150, it would be a reliable estimate of highly gifted abilities. He earned that score on a test in which a child must generate his own answers. His score is not a fluke. When compared with age peers, his score indicates he is at the 99.9th percentile. If, further, he has successfully been accelerated, it is testament to his abilities. Giftedness is a permanent "developmental lead," not a temporary one. The idea that children eventually even out is not borne out by our experience.

Responding to a highly gifted child's needs early can prevent considerable frustration. The test scores are only one indication of a child's developmental advancement. Another is his response to acceleration at school. If he is doing well and likes his placement, he needed the acceleration. A typical child would be overwhelmed, but for a child this advanced, accelerated placements would be necessary solutions. The test scores, resulting diagnoses, and observations of a child should fit together well, and they usually do.

When Is the Best Age to Test?

We set testing age guidelines more for the sake of "testability" with a young child. Children under 6 are more unpredictable in their responses. Sometimes, they will respond beautifully to tasks they like and refuse to do others. Or they may arrive for testing and answer far fewer questions than their parents know they could answer. Other times, they perform beautifully. Most testers would probably prefer children who are 6 or 7 because the added maturity largely eliminates these problems, but educational decisions often won't wait. Many younger children are testable and perform well. Gifted children are cognitively advanced, so there is a good chance they will respond as older children would.

Only rarely do children who are tested young score lower when retested. It is more common that they will score similarly (on a test with a similar ceiling) if the test sessions went well, or higher if there were problems in the early testing getting them to answer questions or attempt items.

If there is a question whether or not a young child is testable, it is a good idea to seek a local tester and, perhaps, arrange a brief visit between the child and tester beforehand. On the testing day, if it appears the child is not responding, the test should be quickly discontinued and tried when the child is older.

"My parents told me some people wanted to test me for the gifted program. I was 4 and kept waiting for my presents to show up."
(What to tell children about testing)

I tell children I am testing that my purpose is to find out more about them and suggest ways to make their education more successful and fun for them (vocabulary varies somewhat with this explanation, but not too far from what I would tell any adult!). I work for them. The tests give me the information I need to make suggestions.

I explain that we are going to do a number of activities, some "verbal" (I will be asking questions), some involving things they do with their hands (puzzles, looking at designs or pictures, etc.). I would say something like this to prepare a child, as well as ensuring a good night's sleep, and bringing snacks to have at breaks on test day.

One little boy I tested told me the following. He said, "My mom says everyone has gifts; I've come to see what mine are" (although this might have resulted in the misunderstanding about where the presents are!)

How Can I Find a Good Tester in [Insert location Here]?

Try these sources:

www.educationaladvancement.org
Hoagies' Gifted Education Page: Psychologists familiar with testing the gifted  www.hoagiesgifted.org/psychologists.htm

Be choosy. You want a good testing situation for your child that offers the best opportunity to document his abilities. Look for people who like working with these children, have high standards of professionalism, and write reports you will feel comfortable using on a number of occasions for placement decisions and program admission.


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