Today’s parents are more concerned than ever with their children’s success in life. Understandably, most want their children to excel--many want their children to be considered very “intelligent.” But what is intelligence, anyway? Because it is not a tangible object, intelligence often becomes difficult not only to define but also to even comprehend.
Some experts define intelligence as the ability to think, reason and solve problems. Leading psychologists in the field debate the issue, with some focusing on the contribution of environment, such as stimulation or deprivation, and some focusing on how intelligence is rooted in our genes or our brains. Others have developed entirely new theories that embody non-traditional views of intelligence, such as musical or kinesthetic (body) intelligence or intelligence in emotional factors and personal attitudes.
Most people are familiar with the term IQ--Intelligence Quotient. Unfortunately, there is a common misconception that knowing a child’s IQ tell us exactly “how smart” that child is and how far he or she will go in life. Wrong! The information obtained from an IQ test is limited and should be considered only one small fraction of the overall picture.
Let’s take a look at the origins of the IQ test. Early IQ tests were developed for purposes of the military. They were devised in order to weed out any individual who would have trouble as a regular soldier. Next, they were to weed out students who would need special education. Soon, however, IQ tests came to be known as a way of giving a number to indicate “underlying ability” or “level of smartest.” Thus to the question, “What is Intelligence?” the answer becomes “that which is measured by IQ tests.”
Theoretically, IQ tests try to assess a person’s ability to think and reason in comparison to the majority of people in the same age group. What is critical--and what is too often overlooked--is that any number of things can influence performance on the test, and thus affect the IQ score. For example, if the child is tired, ill or distracted, the score could be affected. Sometimes rapport between the examiner and child, or even the condition of the testing room, may have an impact. I like to tell parents that obtaining an IQ may be akin to obtaining a measure of blood pressure or adult body weight. Usually these things remain fairly stable over time, but it is possible they could be measured later and a different “score” obtained. Another way to look at the IQ score is in terms of taking a photograph. The picture may be a good likeness or it may not.
It is critical to understand that the overall test score shows us only a broad range of expected ability for a child. Psychologists use terms such as “Slow Learner,” Average” or “Superior” to define ranges. Generally, an IQ between 90-109 is considered Average, with the score 100 falling exactly, “mid-Average.” As the IQ deviates from this, the more extra attention a child may need, such as extra help and tutoring in the lower ranges or extra challenge and stimulation in the upper ranges.
At either end of the spectrum are children whose IQ scores are so far from Average that they may require special education. Generally speaking, the lowest 2 percent of the school population (IQ 70 or below) may benefit from a class for Mentally Handicapped, while the upper two percent (IQ 130 or above) may benefit from a Gifted curriculum. The IQ score can also help educators get an idea of where a child “should” be expected to achieve. If actual achievement, however, is significantly below this expectation, it is possible that the child may have some Specific Learning Disability (SLD) in reading (dyslexia) or math (dyscalculia).
Be aware that although one overall IQ score is reported, it is actually comprised of a student’s performance on numerous tasks--a combination then, of many different abilities. Indeed, one of the most popular IQ tests gives a breakdown of Verbal IQ (listening/language) and Nonverbal IQ (visual/perceptual/motor skills). Moreover, the pattern of scores can also be helpful by showing a child’s relative strengths and weaknesses. Just as children vary in physical characteristics, so too they may vary on tasks such as understanding and defining words, or speed and accuracy in paper- and-pencil manipulation.