What Challenges do the New IQ Tests Pose for Identifying the Gifted?

Testing companies periodically release new versions of individual, comprehensive intelligence tests.  Rarely used for typical students, such tests are helpful for special needs students to discern strengths and weaknesses and guide program planning.  How will the newest tests fare with gifted students?   
 
Seasoned examiners of gifted children know that giftedness can best be identified through assessments of reasoning ability: verbal, visual-spatial and mathematical.  Assessments with high g-loadings (general intelligence) prove most useful.  These measures can readily find children likely to grasp concepts quickly in school, with minimal drill and repetition; accommodations of higher instructional level and faster pace need to be made.  
 
Yet, testing companies, eager to redefine intelligence, are producing new tests with increasing emphasis on processing skills.  Measuring processing skills, such as Working Memory or Processing Speed, rarely captures the strengths of gifted students.  Increasing the emphasis on processing skills in Composite, Index or Full Scale IQ scores averages strengths gifted children usually have with skills they may not.  For example, Working Memory measures are designed to determine how well an individual can hold material in short-term memory, manipulate it in some way, and then reproduce it.  To make such measurement easy on an IQ test, test publishers often use non-meaningful memory tasks like repeating strings of digits and letters and reordering them in a designated way.  This allows test authors to shorten or lengthen the items to cover all levels of ability.  Yet, examiners note inconsistent responses from even the most highly gifted children on such tasks.  Such children are more likely to engage with a meaningful memory task, such as mental math.  Likewise, Processing Speed measures can’t measure internal mental processing speed as might be done in a lab, so they assess visual-motor speed or visual discrimination speed on clerical tasks.  The children who reason best are not the fastest processors on paper-and-pencil tasks.  The measurement of processing skills in the gifted is most helpful to document weaknesses, as subtle disabilities tend to depress these scores.
 
When the fourth edition of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC-IV) was released, the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC) created a task force to determine how to interpret results for the gifted. The task force gathered data on 334 gifted children on the WISC-IV. The group’s members, highly experienced testers of the gifted, were concerned that Working Memory and Processing Speed doubled in weight in the Full Scale IQ score as compared to the WISC-III. Processing skills gained importance while abstract reasoning was restricted to a smaller role.  How did gifted children score?  Mean scores for the study were as follows:
 

Verbal Comprehension

133.17

Perceptual Reasoning

127.84

Working Memory

121.58

Processing Speed

112.02

 
As we begin 2016, we are entering yet another period of new tests.  The WISC-V, released in October 2014 and now in general use, boasts increased adherence to C-H-C theory, a popular theory of intelligence.  This new test imposes increased timing and visual reasoning tasks, minimizing verbal reasoning to make testing more appropriate for bilingual children.  Yet, most children tested for giftedness—even many bilingual children—not only score highest in verbal, but are most likely to be identified as possibly gifted by their verbal abilities.  Additionally, visual processing is the most common weakness seen in gifted children at the GDC and can undermine performance on visual tests. There is no longer a meaningful memory test, but an extra non-meaningful one.  Examiners of gifted children are scrambling once again to find reasonable ways to use this new test.  However, ultimately, the test used to identify the gifted child must at least be capable of finding the child who will go bonkers in a regular classroom without such accommodations, and they’re not found by non-meaningful memory and fast speed!
 
At GDC we are working with the publisher to collect data to extend the norms on the WISC-V. We shared the need for more verbal measures, and test authors responded by developing a new comprehensive verbal index. We are promoting the use of this index and other strategies to optimize the identification of the gifted.