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What is the Purpose of IQ Testing in the Public School Setting?

Updated on February 27, 2020
denise.w.anderson profile image

Denise is a former School Psychologist and Special Education Director. She understands the challenges facing those with disabilities.

The bell curve is used for the graphing of Standard Scores and their Deviations.
The bell curve is used for the graphing of Standard Scores and their Deviations. | Source

What is IQ testing?

Intelligence Quotient, or IQ testing, is frequently used in the assessment of children who are suspected of having disabilities as defined by the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). IDEA requires that students be evaluated by a multidisciplinary team of professionals qualified to asses the child in all areas of suspected disability.

The controversy over IQ testing is whether or not it is needed to determine the presence of a disability in individual students. Proponents of it indicate that it is necessary to determine the potential of a student for learning, as well as a tool for comparison with other standardized testing to determine patterns of strengths and weaknesses. The test is designed to compare the ability of the person with his or her chronological age.

Opponents of IQ testing indicate that this information can be gained in other ways. These may include but are not limited to direct observation of the student, other standardized testing procedures, and the use of Response to Intervention. The most recent version of IDEA specifically states that disability status must not be based solely upon IQ testing, rather, a "multidisciplinary" evaluation is to be conducted in all areas of "suspected disability."

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A multidisciplinary team contains all regular education teachers of the student, a special education teacher: a school administrator, School Psychologist, the parents of the student, and depending upon the suspected disability, the Speech/Language Pathologist, Occupational Therapist, Physical Therapist, Vision or Hearing Specialist may be involved.

IQ Testing is standardized and must be administered according to specific procedure by qualified personnel. The testing session is highly controlled to solicit valid results. Testing includes verbal questioning to determine the ability to use logic, long and short term memory activities, spacial organization, manipulation of visual and tactile media, and recall of information gained through involvement with the environment of the individual.

How is IQ testing used to determine disability status?

Schools that are based on the Response to Intervention (RtI) model use curriculum-based-measurement (CBM) such as DIBELS or AIMSWEB to progress monitor students for benchmarking 2-3 times per year. The data from these CBM's is used to determine curriculum for the students primarily in the elementary grades. Students involved with the intervention process are progress monitored weekly or monthly, depending upon the intensity of their interventions.

Children who fall far below their peers in CBM's are referred for further assessment and placement in special education. Special Education allows for specialized instruction either within the classroom or in specialized rooms, depending upon the severity of the skill deficits or disability. Once the referral is received, a mult-disciplinary (IEP) team meets to review the data already collected and determine the need for further evaluation.

Students with multiple issues need more intensive assessment, and usually require IQ testing for medical diagnosis. Medical personnel will often accept the school's multi-disciplinary team report directly and include it in their preliminary workup in determining intervention. Students that are very low functioning intellectually, who may need full-time aides or placement in specialized classrooms, show IQ scores below a Standard Score of 70.

Standard Scores have a mean, or average of 100 and a standard deviation of 15. In other words, on the bell curve, the center point is 0. A standard deviation of +2 is very high, and reflects a Standard Score of 130, meaning that the child has superior abilities. A standard deviation of -2 is 70, or intellectually disabled, meaning that the child is least likely to be successful in the regular education environment and will need a high degree of assistance.

IQ testing is usually coupled with achievement testing in the areas of reading, mathematics, and language use; social/emotional/behavior rating scales; adaptive skills rating scales; occupational therapy assessment of hand/eye coordination, hand grasp, and ability to use small motor muscles to perform various tasks; and physical therapy assessment of large motor skills. The objective is to obtain a full picture of the child's unique skills and abilities, and determine the type of intervention needed.

Once assessments are completed, the multidisciplinary team meets to compare its results and determine if the child qualifies for special education services. Looking at the results of the IQ and other educational assessments, patterns emerge that indicate strengths and weaknesses. Certain patterns reflect certain types of issues, such as language-based disorders, or disorders that reflect difficulty with reading or mathematics.

Low Standard Scores in IQ, achievement, and adaptive skills assessments may mean that the student has an intellectual disability and needs a comprehensive education plan that focuses primarily on life skills. Low scores in one area versus high in another may mean a learning disability, and the focus of the education plan is on skill development to enhance the learning process. High scores across the board may mean that the child is gifted to the point of needing instruction above and beyond what is being provided in the classroom. Children with social/emotional/behavioral issues may have average standard scores in IQ and achievement, but have At-Risk or Clinically Significant scores in the social/emotional/behavioral ratings. These students need assistance working through their emotional and behavioral issues so that they can be more available for learning in the classroom.

The IQ test becomes part of the the snap-shot that shows where the student is currently functioning, and assists the team in determining a course of action. Assessment results are not simply numbers to be reported, but rather information used to understand what can be done to best help the student. In some cases, intervention can actually increase ability level and allow the child to function appropriately in the regular education environment. In other cases, it teaches life skills that enable the student to function independently in the home or community.

Is it possible to change IQ scores?

Since an IQ test is just a picture of the person's ability at that particular moment in time, it is possible for IQ to change over time. Things that have an effect on the IQ of the individual include language exposure, memory strategy games, eye-hand coordination activities, and the teaching of life skills.

The danger, however, in making the assumption that IQ scores can change, is that the expectations of IQ tests change as the individual ages. More is expected on the test as a person gets older. The person's ability will always be compared to their chronological age in the determination of Standard Scores. Ability may increase, however, if it has not increased proportionately with the expectations of the test, it will not register in the standard scores. Thus, a person who is considered to have an intellectually disability will probably continue to do so for the remainder of their lives.

The place where IQ changes occur the most is in pre-school children. Those children who have had very low exposure to language and educationally based activities will score low on the IQ test initially, but as they receive intervention and their language and understanding skills improve, IQ scores will as well. Many special education units recognize this and use a different placement such as "Non-categorical Delay" to place young children who have two or more areas where they are low in the hope that with intervention, they can eventually exit out of the special education system.

Assessment is conducted every three years to determine continued disability status, those that improve significantly may no longer need services. In these cases, an assessment would indicate that scores have normalized, or there may be sufficient data from the student's regular education functioning to indicate that services are no longer needed. Some children show different patterns in their scores at the three-year evaluation, indicating that they can move from Non-categorical status to something different. Perhaps specific strengths and weaknesses indicate reading or mathematics learning disabilities, then intervention will focus on the teaching of skills to enable the child to be successful in that particular subject area. Students with Standard Scores that remain low in all areas are considered to have an intellectual disability, and the focus is on the teaching of life skills to enable independence in the home and community.

Sometimes, after reviewing the available data on the individual student, the IEP team feels that no further assessment is needed to determine continued disability. As long as there is sufficient information for an educational plan to be developed, assesment can be bypassed at that time. A summary of the data collected must be included in the file in place of the evaluation, with the signatures of the team members indicating that they agree with the findings.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Denise W Anderson


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    • denise.w.anderson profile imageAUTHOR

      Denise W Anderson 

      8 years ago from Bismarck, North Dakota

      The testing that is done in children entering kindergarten usually has to do with reading readiness, number recognition, and writing. Most schools will use curriculum based assessments, such as the DIBELS, to assess students at the beginning of the school year to determine where to place them in the curriculum, then at the end of the year to see how far they have progressed. Students considered at risk at the beginning of the school year will receive more intense instruction in small groups, in an effort to "catch them up" to the other students. These students may be progess monitored, or assessed weekly or monthly to track their progress using curriculum based assessments.

      Thanks for stopping and commenting!

    • Rfordin profile image


      8 years ago from Florida

      Hmmm I find this very interesting. I'm kinda of at a cross roads now with my oldest child (she's 5). She just started kindergarden and I'm curious to see what testing they do for student placement(s). Mainly because she has 2 years of VPK under her belt (not so much for disability reasons). Thanks for explaining this....



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