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On Testing

by Elizabeth Meckstroth

Sean and his parents drove to our offices from two states away.  They were astute in recognizing that intelligence testing materials are available to many practitioners who are not sensitive to gifted children's enormous range of abilities or the intensity of their emotions.  Sean's parents brought with them records from his private school testing which showed Sean's IQ as 132 at the age of five, and the psychologist's report from when he was 4, indicating he had an IQ of 139.  My testing first showed Sean's IQ at 152 on the Weschler Intelligence Scales for Children - Revised (WISC-R); then 180 on the Stanford-Binet Intelligence Scale (Form L-M).  Are we talking about the same child?  How could this happen?

As is commonly done, the IQ score obtained through Sean's school was determined by a group test, in his case, the Otis-Lennon.  Like many group tests given in schools, the Otis-Lennon primarily measures scholastic aptitude, rather than abstract reasoning abilities.  These tests require one right answer and sometimes confuse children who consider many possible answers.  Group tests have few items at the higher ranges of difficulty.  These "ceiling effects" depress scores in the exceptionally high range.  Almost half of gifted population is missed by group tests (Marland, 1972).  The WISC-R also has a lower ceiling than the Stanford-Binet (L-M).

In addition to the problems of the tests themselves, there are many reasons children may not show what they can do in a testing situation.  Some may not want to risk creating higher expectations from their parents and teachers.  Others may be guarding themselves from being placed in a gifted program that requires them to be separated from their friends.  or a child might have an ear infection and not hear clearly.  By contrast, it is impossible for children to perform on a test beyond what they know or what they can do!

When children feel safe and liked and encouraged, they are more likely to risk showing examiners who they are and what they know.  They are more likely to guess when they are not absolutely certain.  In the case of Sean's testing at age four, for example, we do not know if he was eager to "play" with the person administering the test or whether he was uncomfortable with the examiner.

One of the most important ingredients in obtaining an accurate test score is rapport with the examiner.  Now, I want to give you my "trade secret" for establishing rapport with children.  When I arrange an appointment to see a child, I always request that the child select about a dozen favorite photographs to show me.  Then I sit with the child and the parent(s) and enjoy being led into the child's world.  The child feels in control of the situation.  I add interest and enthusiasm to what I see.  It's magic!  If you ever want to help your child become comfortable with an adult, ask if the adult will plan time to look at a few photos before beginning your arranged purpose.

Research continually confirms that parents know their children best (Silverman, Chitwood, & Waters, 1986).  For example, Jacobs (1971) found that parents could identify 61% of their gifted kindergarten children.  By contrast, their teachers identified only 4.3% of these children.  If you suspect that your child is not being recognized as gifted and stimulated in accordance with his or her abilities, you might pursue having some independent assessment.  Numbers, derived through objective evaluation from a professional, may help get the attention and credibility of school personnel.  However, it is interpretation - what those numbers mean - and what they do not mean - that is essential to understand your child.  So be sure to select a knowledgeable individual to asses your child.  The following guidelines may help.

A Testing Test

bulletIs the examiner experienced in testing gifted children?
bulletDoes he or she have a good reputation among your "gifted community"?
bulletDid your child enjoy the experience?
bulletDo you think the test scores accurately reflected your child's abilities?
(If not, seek a second opinion.)


Jacobs, J. (1971). Effectiveness of teacher and parent identification of gifted children as a function fo school level.  Psychology in the schools, 8, 140-142.

Marland, S. Jr. (1972). Education fo the gifted and talented.  Report to Congress fo the United States by the U.S. Commissioner of Education.  Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office.

Silverman, L.K., Chitwood, D.G., & Waters, J.L. (1986). Young gifted children: Can parents identify giftedness? Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 6(1), 23-28.

Elizabeth Meckstroth is a therapist and consultant [previously] in Dayton, Ohio and one of the authors of the award-winning book, Guiding the Gifted Child
1989 Elizabeth Meckstroth, reprinted with permission of the author.

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