Intelligence Testing for Children

Students taking a test in classroom

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Most parents give little thought to the idea of intelligence testing until a need presents itself—either their child appears to be gifted or their child is struggling in school. In these cases, parents may wonder if determining their child's intelligence quotient (IQ) can provide some insight.

In both situations, the important question lies in how intelligence testing can help parents and schools meet a child's individual learning needs. Before you seek testing for your child, learn about why it's used, its benefits, and the types of testing available.

What Is Intelligence Testing?

Intelligence involves the ability to think, solve problems, analyze situations, and understand social values, customs, and norms. Intelligence testing is the estimation of a student's current intellectual functioning. It requires them to perform various tasks designed to assess different types of reasoning.

Standardized testing with norm-referenced tests indicates a child's IQ. While IQ tests have long been used, educators continue to debate their usefulness and current relevance.

Types of Intelligence Testing

Most intelligence assessments look at two different areas.

Purpose of Intelligence Testing

Intelligence testing can help educators assess a student's needs and understand how the student can be expected to perform academically. In the past, intelligence testing was used to confirm or rule out the presence of learning disabilities and to establish IQ for the purposes of diagnosing an intellectual disability.

Depending on the type of intelligence test administered, it may provide important information on how students approach problem-solving. Properly interpreted, intelligence testing may help educators develop appropriate specially designed instruction and educational strategies that can help kids learn. These are often spelled out in an individual educational plan (IEP).

Benefits of Intelligence Testing

Sometimes when a child is not succeeding in school, it is the result of a learning disability. When left unidentified or unaddressed, learning disabilities can make a child appear less capable of learning than they actually are.

As many as 8% to 10% of kids under the age of 18 have a learning disability. These include dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyslexia, and other specific learning disabilities, all of which can affect achievement at school.

Intelligence testing can rule out a low IQ as a reason for poor performance in school. Intelligence testing also can help clear up any misjudgments made by educators who might not realize that a child’s classroom performance doesn't indicate their true abilities.

Overall, IQ tests for children can be a controversial subject. But it is generally accepted that intelligence testing can be useful to identify gifted children and children with developmental delays.

They can also be used to highlight areas a child excels in and point out areas where they might require extra support. For instance, a child with learning disabilities might score high in math but low in reading. Or, they might have high oral language skills but struggle with writing. These insights can help educators determine the interventions a child needs.

Common Intelligence Tests

IQ tests are one well-known form of normed testing. They compare "normal" skill levels to those of individual students of the same age. Intelligence tests (also called instruments) are published in several forms.

Group Intelligence Tests

Group intelligence tests usually consist of a paper test booklet and scanned scoring sheets. Group achievement tests, which assess academic areas, sometimes include a cognitive measure.

In general, group tests are not recommended for the purpose of identifying a child with a disability. In some cases, however, they can be helpful as a screening measure to consider whether further testing is needed and can provide good background information on a child's academic history.

Individual Intelligence Tests

Individual intelligence tests may include several types of tasks, some of them timed. They may involve easel test books for pointing responses, puzzle and game-like tasks, and question and answer sessions.

The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) and the Stanford Binet-Intelligence Scale, formerly known as the Binet-Simon Test, are examples of individualized intelligence tests. The WISC test includes language-, symbol-, and performance-based questions, while the Stanford-Binet test helps to diagnose students with cognitive disabilities.

Computerized Tests

Computerized tests are becoming more widely available. They may include tasks similar to those on an analog individualized test, presented in a digital format. As with all tests, examiners must consider the needs of the child before choosing this format.

Nonverbal Intelligence Tests

Nonverbal intelligence tests, such as the Comprehensive Test of Nonverbal Intelligence (CTONI) and Universal Nonverbal Intelligence Test, Second Edition (UNIT2), are used to assess students who have language processing problems or limited English proficiency.

In these tests, tasks are designed to remove verbal intelligence from the assessment of a child's reasoning abilities. Instead, these tests isolate and assess a student's spatial reasoning, analogical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Before You Ask for Intelligence Testing

If you feel your child needs additional learning support or that they might be gifted or talented, you might want to consider an IQ test. However, intelligence testing only gives you a small part of the picture. It can describe your child's logical or verbal intelligence, but not other kinds of intelligence.

Test scores can be used as a baseline to monitor your child's intellectual growth and progress. Ideally, testing will help zero in on the root of your child's challenges and help you and their educational team determine if they need intervention or accommodations. But it is very important not to define your child by their IQ, imply that it limits their success, or use it to categorize or label them.

Research has shown that children who believe their intelligence is fixed—or have a "fixed mindset"—are far more likely to avoid challenges. But kids who believe they can become more successful in school—or have a "growth mindset"—achieve more academically through effort and persistence. Use IQ test results to help your child understand what challenges they are facing, but make sure they know that they can overcome these challenges with hard work.

A Word From Verywell

An IQ test can identify areas where a child excels as well as areas where they might require additional support. It does not measure emotional intelligence, creativity, tenacity, resilience, or perseverance. Parents and teachers should not use intelligence testing to define a child's potential or future success.

Instead, look at intelligence testing as one tool you can use to understand your child's abilities and challenges. While most public school districts offer intelligence testing in some capacity, you can also go to a private psychologist. If you need help finding one, speak with your child's pediatrician for a referral.

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