The IQ Test and your child

Should I get my child’s IQ tested?

The short answer is NO(!)  . . . UNLESS you have a good reason and you understand what IQ testing has become.  It’s better to understand that stuff in advance, but few people do.

IQ (a judgement about a person’s intelligence) is a loaded concept with a controversial  and often dark history.  The IQ test or evaluation also had a loaded history.  But as with most things, the tests have evolved over time and test developers continue to try to make them more useful.  There has been so much evolution in the concept and the tests, that I know longer refer to IQ in my assessments (even though I give those tests).  IQ is just too loaded a concept and why freak everybody out.

But why duck and dodge around “the IQ?”

I remember my first developmental psychology professor talking about IQ testing.  I was 18 and what she said stuck with me to this day.  She said, “Knowing your IQ is like knowing the day you are going to die.  It does not matter what it is, you are not going to be quite happy about it.”

What she meant was – If the number is high, you worry about living up to that potential.  If the number is too low (by your estimation), you think, “Can I achieve anything with that!?!”  And what if it is average?  Our society seems to crave superlatives, average just won’t do.

Back then, in 1980 or so, we were often still focusing on a single score in the IQ test.  That weighty single number that summarized your cognitive ability. . . . set in stone . . . . forever. . . for better or for worse.

I am here to clear that up.

Here are some things to remember about an IQ test.

  • The IQ test is not the oracle. It is not going to produce a magic number that can be used to predict your child’s future.
  • An IQ score is not set in stone, particularly for children. There are a number of factors that can cause a score to go up or down (again, particularly in children).
  • An IQ, even with multiple subtests, is not the sum total of who your child is (it’s not even the sum total of his cognitive ability).

And don’t get me wrong.  I like IQ tests.  I give them all the time.  I just do not tell people I am giving them an IQ test.  I say, “I am exploring your cognitive profile, looking for strengths and weaknesses.”

It’s now all about the cognitive profile

The commonly used IQ tests have evolved into something different.   With each update of the various IQ tests, the singular IQ score becomes less of a focus.  Basically, we gave up on the elusive and singular score that represents thinking.  Now there is a focus on a person’s “cognitive profile.”  We measure several types of thinking and processing.   Although there is a single summarizing score available, we often pay little attention to the single score.  We are more interested in “the profile.”

The most common “reasoning” areas assessed include:

  • Verbal Reasoning – This is how a person works with words and uses language to think and express themselves
  • Visual Spatial Reasoning – This is how a person uses visual and spatial skills to solve problems, such as duplicating designs or solving visual puzzles.
  • Fluid Reasoning – This is how a person integrates information to draw a conclusion either visually or verbally. Think “butterfly goes with butterfly net, so fish goes with . . . “
  • Quantitative Reasoning – This is the ability to use mathematical principles to solve problems
  • Knowledge – This reflects how much information a person has absorbed and retained. This is also dependent on how much information a child has been exposed to.

Most IQ tests also incorporate tests of “processing.”  These are subtests that are sensitive to learning disabilities or other impediments to learning.  Typical areas assessed include:

  • Processing Speed – These are usually fairly simple visual tasks that are assessing how quickly someone works. There is no problem solving or reasoning involved. Just work quickly.
  • Working Memory – These are tasks that require people to hold information in their heads and work with it.  The tasks range from simply repeating number sequences to solving math word problems mentally.

But Processing Scores Often Change the Overall Score

It’s convenient to have these processing subtests in the test, but they certainly color or influence the summary IQ score.  In fact, the inclusion of more “processing” subtests in the last 20 years of IQ test development has changed how school districts determine who gets special education services.  In the past (when IQ tests were not sensitive to learning disabilities), the determination for services was made on the discrepancy between the IQ score and the academic scores.  (IQ score higher than academic score=learning disability.)   But the inclusion of Processing subtests “pulled down” the IQ score for kids with learning disabilities, closing the discrepancy in many cases.  Many school districts had to change their criteria for determining who received special education services.

So, the IQ test has evolved into something that will give you 4-6 subdomain scores (some about reasoning and some about processing skills) and an overall IQ score.  (Most of the major tests have even moved away from calling it IQ. They simple refer to it as a “General Cognitive Ability” score or something like that.  Even the test developers know that IQ is a loaded concept and prone to misinterpretation).  These 4-6 subdomains each have a score that goes into the profile.  This can result in a mountain range of scores from below average to above average . . . . or a series of below average scores . . . . or a series of higher scores . . . are a single low or high score amongst a series of more consistent scores.

The profile is the thing that matters.  This is what gives us insight into a child’s ways of reasoning and learning. For example:

  • If the reasoning scores are high, but the processing speed is low, then this is a child who is quite bright, but will need extra time to show it.
  • A weakness is working memory is often a marker for dyslexia.
  • High Visual Spatial skills, but low Verbal skills means this child might struggle from kindergarten through high school, but sill make a great architect or construction engineer.

A lot of research has gone into what can be gleaned from 10 subtests.  Good evaluators can tell you a lot about your child’s learning by looking at their profile.

So what is an IQ test?

  • It is ten to twelve subtests. It is NOT the subtotal of who your child is.
  • It is a profile of 4 to 5 cognitive and processing abilities and says nothing about creativity, emotional status, social intelligence, academic ability or any myriad of factors that will play a part in your child’s future.
  • It’s a tool . . . an extremely useful one in the hands of a good evaluator. But, like any tool, it can be mis-used and mis-interpreted.  It is also only one of many tools we have at our disposal and only one of many tools that need to be used in a comprehensive evaluation.
Does the IQ test tell you everything
IQ Testing does not measure everything about a child

I like these tests.  I give them all the time.  In addition to scores, I pay attention to the child’s attention, behavior, motivation and all sorts of fun stuff (like who ends up sitting on the table while working) while giving the test.  These tests tell me stuff, but they do not tell me everything I need to know.

If you would like more information about evaluations, learning challenges, attention problems, behavior issues and ways of supporting or treating these, leave a question or check out our book, Child Decoded.