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Let's Be Clear About What An IQ Score Says About Your Child
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  • One of my favorite graduate school professors told us about a parent who wanted her child to undergo an IQ test. This parent knew in her heart that her child was a "genius" and wanted the test done to confirm it. 

    My professor explained why she was bothered by this request. "If we let the child take the IQ test, and it does show that she scores far above the normal curve, now what? Even worse, what do we do if she takes the test, and we find out she's 'average' all along?"

    We all know that IQ stands for intelligence quotient, and it is a test of your mental abilities. But does this number really say how intelligent our children are? It depends on what intelligence means for you.

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    An English test checks how well our kids have mastered grammar rules and spelling. It gives their teacher an idea of the extent of their vocabulary and knowledge of punctuation marks. If the kids score high, they are labeled as highly proficient in the English language. It may show that they have the "building blocks" to become a persuasive, impressive communicator. But to do well in such a test does not necessarily make the kids a persuasive writer or an impressive speaker. A high IQ score will not really predict what a person can accomplish in the real world. 

    Don't get me wrong. IQ tests are not useless. There are cases where these tests are needed to fully understand an individual's cognitive functioning. These tests also help identify the strengths and weaknesses of struggling students and the areas where they need support. But IQ is just one way of characterizing intelligence, and since the dawn of these tests, educators and psychologists have broadened their view of what it means to be intelligent.

    There are some who view intelligence as a system of interacting abilities, rather than a set of specified abilities. One example is Howard Gardner's theory of multiple intelligence. It asserts that people show their intelligence in many ways: some show it through exceptional musical ability, others in bodily-kinesthetic ways. Some have interpersonal (social) intelligence or intrapersonal (self) intelligence. Some have extraordinary spatial ability, or the ability to visualize and mentally manipulate 2- or 3- dimensional figures. Of course, Gardner also includes linguistic and logical-mathematical intelligence in his theory. These are the kinds of intelligence that are typically captured by IQ tests. But, in a nutshell, his whole point was that there is no single way of being intelligent.

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    Imagine the consequences of being labeled low average or just average as a result of an IQ score. Imagine how inexperienced teachers might be too quick to give up on children whom they've been told were low average or just average. Even if a child's score falls into the superior or gifted classification, such a label comes with its own concerns. Adults may expect too much from a child whose IQ score is high, and some children may not have the emotional fortitude to cope with those expectations. As Standford University psychology professor Carol Dweck points out, a child who feels he has innate superior mental ability may expect more with less effort and may experience more discouragement in the face of failure. 

    So next time you feel the need to have your child's IQ measured, ask yourself why. While there are many legitimate situations where that information is needed, there are just as many situations where it's not. It might be an unnecessary label that you and your child's teachers will place on your child, with corresponding consequences to his or her esteem.

    When it comes to IQ, there are three things you need to think or worry about: 

    1. IQ tests are different from achievement tests. 
    IQ tests are intended to measure potential while achievement tests are intended to measure your child's current level of knowledge or skill. One thing schools look at is whether there's a big discrepancy between the two because this can tell you a lot about your child's academic performance. For instance, if his achievement tests are very low, but his IQ scores are high, it means he is performing below his potential, and there are several factors that can explain it (for example, he gets bored easily in school so he doesn't assert himself). 

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    2. Help your child understand the goal of an IQ test. 
    If your child has had to undergo an IQ test at school, you might want to check whether that information was communicated directly to your child, and how it was communicated. Ideally, it would have been done by a registered psychometrician or guidance counselor who is trained to interpret what the IQ sub-tests mean, and what the scores imply about your child's intellectual functioning. More importantly, you may want to check how your child interpreted the information given to him. Like I said, you don't want him walking around with a misconceived label in his head that he is "slower than others" or "way smarter than others."

    3. Talk to your child what IQ should mean for him. 
    Whether or not IQ testing was done in his school, you might want to talk to your child about what IQ is, in case he encounters someone who indiscriminately uses the terms "high IQ" and "low IQ."  Remind your child that IQ merely describes how his brain works, but there are more important qualities -- effort and perseverance, good study habits, and not giving up at the first sign of failure. These contribute way more to academic success than IQ does.

    Mom to a 17-year-old son and 7-year-old daughter, Angela Abaya-Garcia earned her master’s degree in Psychology from the Ateneo de Manila University. She is currently pursuing a PhD in Educational Psychology at De La Salle University (Manila), where she also teaches undergraduate and graduate courses on child development, research methods, learning and teaching.

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