Recently I received a call from a parent who requested that I conduct an IQ assessment with her 7-year-old daughter. My response was as follows:

First and foremost, I do not prescribe labeling or attaching an IQ score to any particular child, let alone a seven year old, for the simple reason that the limiting effects of labeling often outweigh the productive results. In other words, IQ tests, more often than not, can stigmatize the child’s intellectual potential. Furthermore, the IQ score disregards the factor of the child’s emotional state associated with a test-taking situation, regardless of how skillful the tester or how “unbiased” the environment. Moreover, attaching a number to a child’s name can change the mindset of parents and educators about a child’s learning potential. For example, Rosenthal and Jacobson, in their 1966 study on the effects of teacher expectancies, found results that place an enormous emphasis on the role of a teacher. Their study describes that within each of eighteen classrooms, an average of 20% of the children were reported to classroom teachers as showing unusual potential for intellectual gains. Eight months later these “unusual” children (who had actually been selected at random) showed significantly greater gains in IQ than did the remaining children in the group defined as “simply intelligent.”

The following is a specific example of the lack of validity of IQ tests. Larry P. was a young African American child who was diagnosed as having educable mental retardation (EMR), and as a result, he received educational services in a self-contained EMR classroom. The sole criterion for the eligibility into the EMR program was IQ test results. Larry P. vs. Riles was a class action case that questioned the validity of placing young black children into special education classes soly on the basis of an IQ test. The case argued that the tests were culturally discriminatory against black children who were placed in EMR classrooms. From 1968 until the trial in 1977 black children were overly represented in EMR classrooms, particularly since in1968-1969 black children made up about 9% of the school population but 27% were reported in EMR classrooms. The court held that the IQ tests were culturally biased again black children and banned the CA school system from using IQ tests to place black children in special education classes. Today the courts require a more extensive approach to identifying all children in special education classes.

IQ tests are often perceived as a challenge to a child’s intelligence. Regardless of the tester’s ability, the emotional make-up of the child can never be perfectly determined. Brain scientists know that when the child feels safe and/or does not feel threatened in a testing situation, the child’s brain potential (usually) responds more favorably. However, when the child feels threatened, which can occur in an intelligence-testing situation, the child’s brain responds in a fight or flight response, reducing brain potential. The negative effects of IQ testing far outweigh the pluses. I will let you decide.

*Dr. David Sortino is a psychologist and currently Director of Educational Strategies, a private consulting company catering to teachers, parents, and students. Dr. Sortino can be reached at davidsortino@comcast.net. For additional articles go to davidsortino.com