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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

IQ Testing and Admission to a Gifted Education Program

Admission to a gifted education program at a school such as Quest Academy most frequently requires an assessment of the applicant. As such, one may be tempted to conclude that educational institutions are being selective and primarily concerned about screening students out. I would much prefer to look at the assessment as an opportunity to screen students “into the program,” or in other words determining if there is a good fit between the program and applicant designed to set the applicant up for success. The word “admission” really conveys the idea of “working toward the mission,” implying that the work of admitting students into a program is all about alignment with the mission or cause of the program.
Therefore, applicant testing to gifted education programs is appropriate and mutually beneficial to the applicant and the mission of the gifted education program. Missions of such programs vary – an orientation toward “academic achievement” or “intellectual development” or a “challenging curriculum” or an “emphasis on creativity” may point to different objectives within various gifted education programs. Thus, gifted education programs turn to an admission process that fits their mission – testing may be designed to assess an applicant’s cognitive ability as opposed to an applicant’s achievement level.
The work of assessing a student’s fit with a particular gifted education mission is important. It should, therefore, be transparent. “IQ testing and selection for programs is thought by some to be a mysterious and secretive domain understood only by the chosen few. It shouldn’t be,” according David Palmer, Ph.D., author of Parents’ Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education. Selection into any program such as a high school varsity sport or a regional or state Science Fair frankly involves some subjectivity on the part of the assessors – selection to a gifted education program should include objective testing. “The administration of an individually administered comprehensive IQ test offers a more valid and reliable picture of a child's learning needs,” according to Palmer. Many but not all gifted education programs require submission of an individually administered IQ test as a final criterion, possibly in conjunction with teacher recommendations or previous academic records.
While typically the majority of applicant parents understand the normative bell curve scoring between 90 and 110 to indicate the median range of scores, we find that not as many understand what is actually being tested on an IQ test. There are numerous publishers and therefore numerous versions, all of which are updated both in terms of content and re-calibration of raw scores into scaled scores (so that the median scores always fall into the 90-110 score range). In his book Palmer outlines a few general areas that most IQ testing instruments share in common:
·         Verbal skills: Palmer defines this as “the ability to understand and use words, to understand verbally presented information and answer comprehension questions, and the capacity to analyze and solve puzzles or problems in which verbal skills are involved.” This area of testing includes more open-ended questions.
·         Visual (or Nonverbal or Perceptual) Problem Solving: This component, according to Palmer, will test for “the ability to solve visually presented problems and puzzles, recognize visual patterns, and identify visual details.” This testing component includes more performance-oriented tasks that usually have one correct answer.
·         Memory Index: This testing component measures “the ability to hold words, numbers, patterns, and symbols in the mind long enough to solve a problem or produce a response,” according to Palmer.
·         Problem-Solving Speed: IQ testing determines one’s “ability to think and act quickly and to use available information to swiftly solve a problem,” according to Palmer.
As you read between the lines of these testing descriptions, you may be able to recognize that while various testing components do not measure specific academic skills (i.e. skills that are taught in school), it is generally agreed that all IQ tests serve as a good indicator for student success in school. In a previous blog, I wrote about a new definition of giftedness that speaks of a trajectory of potential in elementary school years to one of achievement in teenage years to a stage of eminence in adult life. I view IQ testing as a measure of one’s potential. There is evidence of students being “prepped” for these tests, as Dr. Kirk Erickson, a northwest Chicago suburban psychologist and IQ testing practitioner, points out. “You can practice online performance area tests such as certain designs and puzzles – and that may add a few points, but it won’t help the student. Attempts to prepare the student are a disservice to the student because the few extra points earned would not really be points that reflect her true score, potentially placing a student in the wrong program.”
It is important that testing results be reviewed and explained by a psychologist. Typically, IQ testing results are accompanied by narrative reports, but a face-to-face meeting with the psychologist to interpret the scores is important. Dr. Erickson believes that the spread in scores among the various testing components is worthy of deeper analysis. Should scores be vastly different from each other (a score differential of about 15 points or more would qualify as such), Dr. Erickson would point toward asynchronicity. While a Verbal Skills score may indicate a score of 145, a Problem-Solving Speed score may be at 125, which in isolation is a score well above average. Such a range in scores, according to Dr. Erickson, may be explained by “brain development in that one area of the brain is not as developed as others or it may point toward a learning disability.” Dr. Erickson would be the first to recommend “additional testing to determine a learning disability.”
Anytime assessments are performed to qualify students for entry into any given program, we should take great care in making that selection process live up to a high standard of consistency. In my opinion, IQ testing adds a consistent measure in determining the suitability of applicants to a gifted education program. As such, we should remove any mystery from such testing.