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'90s FAMILY : The Tests of Time : IQ Tests Only Measure a Child's Academic Abilities at That Moment

September 20, 1995|DR. PAUL GABRIEL | THE ASSOCIATED PRESS; Dr. Paul Gabriel is professor of clinical psychiatry at New York University School of Medicine

Intelligence tests can seem important to parents who are trying to get their children accepted into programs for the academically gifted or enrolled in a specific private school.

Understanding what factors these examinations measure can help parents understand the information that they provide about their children.

The tests generally measure what children know and can do at a given age in terms of verbal skills, hand-eye coordination or motor functions.

The majority of these tests are based on studies in which thousands of children of the same age perform the same series of tasks, such as working on puzzles, interpreting pictures or making drawings.

The tests compare children's abilities and the time it takes them to complete tasks, giving statisticians what is known as a bell-shaped curve.

Most children fall in the middle of the curve. The wide range of normality is defined as 30 points on either side of the middle of the bell-shaped curve.

Children who exceed their age level in ability to perform tasks are on one side of the normal range; children who are slower are on the other side.

Some of the most common tests are used in the schools include the Wexler Intelligence Scale for Children-Revised and the Wexler Preschool and Primary Inventory-Revised, which is often used for children younger than 5.

There is also a series of tests called the Wide Range Achievement Test that give psychologists grade-level abilities--that is, what a child should know in his or her specific grade.

In some instances, these tests are timed so that children's speed in performing the tasks can be compared with their peers.

There are some important facts for parents and children to understand about intelligence tests and the information they present:

First, test scores are not absolute. They change with time, tending to rise in young children and beginning to drop a bit after the age of 14 or 15.

The drop may be caused by the tests' inability to examine real accomplishments as teen-agers and young adults adapt to different tests.

Intelligence tests examine what children know at a particular time in their lives. But they cannot measure special talents such as musical or artistic ability.

They do indicate whether children will do well in certain tasks that are part of schoolwork.

It is important that parents avoid jumping to conclusions. If a child does poorly on a test, do not assume the child is not smart, only that he or she didn't take that test well.

Do not rush to retest a child who tested poorly; instead, wait at least two years. This period will allow children to learn in a comfortable setting and give their abilities the chance to mature.

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