Giftedness: To Test or Not to Test?
To test or not to test, that is the question. As a school psychologist, I am often asked my opinion on testing. Since starting this silly little blog, I receive oodles of messages about testing for giftedness. Deciding whether or not to test your child is a difficult one, and I know this firsthand because Schizz and I went back and forth about having Leo tested for many, many months. Ultimately, the decision to test or not to test is a personal one. Today, I will share with you how we came to our decision, in the hopes that it may help others who are on similar paths.
Why did we test, and what did we test for?
We tested for giftedness and to determine whether Leo was a twice-exceptional learner. We wanted to know how best to meet his unique needs. We tested in order to make decisions about his educational placement.
I’ve mentioned before that Leo is what I call a zero-sixty type of kid. Schizz and I have always known he was different, although this became more apparent over time. I assess children for a living and yet I found it very difficult to assess my own child because I was so “in it”- it is so difficult, as a parent, to step outside of your situation and view your child objectively. Even though Schizz and I knew in our gut that Leo was unlike his peers, we always had this nagging thought in the back of our minds, “Is it just us? Do we feel this way because he is our child? What if we are wrong?” No one wants to be perceived as that parent, the one who gushes about their children and how wondrously, fabulously, and terrifically talented they are in all areas. Because of that nagging little voice, Schizz and I said very little, and when we did utter the g-word, it was only to each other. “Do you think he is? What does it mean long-term?”
When Leo was in preschool, he was a prolific little writer and reading soon followed. His reading development did not follow a typical pattern. He woke up from quiet time one afternoon and read an entire book to me while I watched, mouth agape, wondering what on earth was going on. In a couple of weeks, he was reading fluently and in a month he was reading silently and voraciously. The zero-sixty reading development squelched that nagging voice once and for all. When your 4-year-old goes from not reading to devouring multiple chapter books daily in a matter of weeks and without adult assistance, there’s little question.
It was at this point that I started my reading. I devoured everything I could get my hands on about gifted learners and gifted education. I’ve mentioned before that I attended a top university for my school psych degree and yet my training on giftedness was abysmal. For those interested, this is what I wish I had learned. The more that I read, the more I wondered about the degree of Leo’s giftedness. Educational options become more challenging for those at the upper extreme and everything I was reading was making me wonder if he could be that gifted. I also wondered whether Leo was a twice-exceptional learner. I’ve mentioned before that he has a lot of sensory “stuff” going on and also that he never, ever, ever stops moving. I worried about Leo’s transition to public school, and I wondered whether his weaknesses would mask his strengths.
Leo was a happy preschooler but that ended when he entered kindergarten. In short time I saw a change in him. Every day he would climb in my car and ask if he had to go to school the following day. We also started getting reports about his behavior at school, nothing terrible but definitely an increasing number of nuisance behaviors. Perhaps most concerning, Leo reported that he hated the reading he was doing in school. When we mentioned this to the school, they responded that Leo might be reading Harry Potter but he certainly couldn’t be comprehending it. Kindergarten in our town is only half day. We sent Leo to kindergarten for the social aspect, we knew he was far above his peers academically. We sent him to buy time, while we sorted everything out and came up with a plan. I found the book Academic Advocacy for Gifted Children: A Parent’s Guide by Barbara Jackson Gilman to be extremely helpful during Leo’s kindergarten year:
When did we test?
We tested right after Leo turned six. As much as we were concerned about his attention and focus, we were more concerned about test ceilings and the fact that full-day public school first grade was looming.
Everyone has different opinions on when to have a child tested for giftedness but in my professional opinion the best time is between the ages of 6- and 8-years old. Before the age of six, most evaluators will use an instrument called the WPPSI. After age six, evaluators are able to use the WISC which is far more comprehensive than the WPPSI. Many will caution against testing at age six because young children have difficulty focusing for long periods of time. These are valid concerns, especially when you have a kiddo like Leo who could easily meet criteria for ADHD. Another valid concern, however, is that of test ceilings. These instruments were not developed to assess individuals at extreme ends of the normal curve. Wechsler himself even stated that his tests were designed to assess those who fall within the IQ range of 70-130. More recent WISCs, such as the WISC-IV and WISC-V, can eek out scores above 145 with extended norming, however, the bottom line is that this test was not designed to assess giftedness. There are other measures that can be used to assess cognitive functioning. It can be useful to use a combination of the SB-5 and the SBL-M, although some folks question the validity of using latter measure due to its age and the Flynn effect. And while one can argue that the combination of the SB-5 and SBL-M has merit when assessing kids who may be EG or PG, the fact of the matter is that most public schools, unfortunately, do not understand the SB. The Stanford-Binet is like another language to them and so it’s often easier, though not necessarily better, to use the WISC if you want the school to understand you. Certainly, you could use the SB and explain it to the school but if you want more understanding and conversation at the table, it has been my experience that the WISC can be easier. Not better, easier.
Of course, all test instruments have limitations. No test is perfect. No single test will capture the whole child. Cognitive testing looks at one piece of a child at one moment in time. It’s just a snapshot of your child at one moment in time. There are many other important pieces of the child that are left out, including but not limited to emotional intelligence, creativity, artistic and musical ability, leadership ability, athleticism, etc. And, let’s be honest here, folks. Testing is a very costly snapshot of your child at one moment in time. You need to weigh the pros and cons and decide what is best for your family’s unique situation. And remember, you never have to share the results that you receive. That, too, is your own decision.
Leo turned six in the spring of his kindergarten year and we elected to have him tested a few weeks after his birthday. Leo never, ever, ever stops moving or talking so, of course, I was stressed that his attention and focus would be a challenge for the evaluator, but I was also cognizant of ceilings.
How did we test?
We found an amazing psychologist through Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page. I knew I had to find a fantastic evaluator, an evaluator who understood both giftedness, twice exceptional learners, and the limitations of the various test measures. Thankfully, Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page has a list of evaluators who specialize in gifted learners and I was able to find a fantastic psychologist. I knew within moments of speaking with her on the telephone that she would be a good match.
The psychologist that we worked with performed a comprehensive assessment including parent interviews and rating scales, developmental history, school history, health history, behavioral ratings, social-emotional assessments, a survey on characteristics of giftedness, a rating scale for introversion/extraversion, assessment of overexcitabilities, review of work and art samples, student interview, and observation. We had to travel a bit for the actual testing and I worried about how he would react to testing. Would it be too much for him? There was no need for me to worry. Not only did the psychologist delight in Leo’s energy and provide him with multiple breaks, he enjoyed testing. Enjoyed is not a strong enough descriptor here, folks. I will never forget that first moment he emerged from the testing room with a huge smile on his face, bouncing all over the place and shouting, “This might be the best day of my LIIIIIIFE!” Sadly, I think that testing was the first time in his six years on this planet that he truly felt challenged. He was sad when testing was finished and wanted to know when he could work with the psychologist again. He still asks to go back, almost a year later.
The psychologist and I agreed to use the WISC because it is the language of the schools, with the understanding that we could do additional cognitive measures as needed. Well, during one of the many breaks, the psychologist told me to start researching the Davidson Young Scholars (DYS) program. She told me she didn’t even need to score the protocol to know that he would meet criteria. Just a few weeks after turning six, our son hit almost every ceiling on the test, and his achievement results were two to six years above his grade level. We could have performed additional testing to try to get a more valid IQ score but we declined. The number doesn’t matter to me, but the range does. As soon as I heard the psychologist mention DYS, I knew we would end up homeschooling as there is no gifted education in our state. Our gut instinct was spot-on, we had an outlier among outliers.
Once we learned of Leo’s testing results, our worlds changed. Having Leo tested gave us the courage to make decisions which felt extreme and yet entirely appropriate. These choices set our son free. The only regret we have is not pulling Leo from the public school earlier. The past year has been an amazing journey for our entire family. I’ve talked about how I think our schools test too much, however, there is great value in a comprehensive, one-on-one student assessment if there are specific questions that need to be answered. The results can be life changing, folks.
It’s easy for me to sit here and talk about tests and scores because I’m a school psychologist. If you would like to understand more, check out Parents’ Guide to IQ Testing and Gifted Education by David Palmer:
So that’s our testing story, and now I’d love to hear yours. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to testing. The choice is a very personal one. Did you decide to test and if so, why? Are you trying to decide whether or not to test? Did you opt not to test, and what factored into that choice? I love hearing from you all. Everyone has a unique path.
Now, it’s your turn. Tell me: Did you test for giftedness? Why or why not? Share here.
This post was part of the February 2015 Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop Testing: Why? When? How? For What? Click the image below to keep on hoppin’!
Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.
Cait co-hosts The Homeschool Sisters Podcast and is co-founder of Raising Poppies, a community for parents of gifted and twice-exceptional children. Cait is also founder of the Family Book Club at My Little Poppies, a fantastic community of book-loving parents and the Gameschool Community at My Little Poppies, a vibrant community of gameschoolers.
Cait is a contributing writer for Simple Homeschool and GeekMom. Her work has also appeared on The Huffington Post, The Mighty, and Scary Mommy. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter, Instagram