Backing Kids into a Corner with IQ Tests

For years, educators have grappled with the importance of the IQ test. Does the test help identify and encourage potential in kids, or does it assign a label they’ll never be able to shake? If the story of Scott Barry Kaufman is indicative of everyone’s experience, it’s looking much more like the latter.

Image courtesy of Jim Young/Reuters

Kaufman, author of the recent book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined. The Truth About Talent, Practice, Creativity, and the Many Paths to Greatness, relates his personal story of going through school after being labeled with a low IQ. After taking the test and scoring in the “seriously learning disabled” range in the third grade, Kaufman was demoralized and started to give in to self-doubt. For years, he tried to convince his special education teachers that he didn’t belong in their classes, but they put their faith in his two-digit IQ label instead.

Kaufman finally persuaded a high school teacher to give him a chance outside of the special needs classroom, and he eventually went on to get his Ph.D. from Yale. Unfortunately, not all kids escape these flawed designations. It can be extremely difficult to get rid of a label once you have it, right or wrong. It’s a road that goes both ways, since kids who are deemed “gifted” with a high IQ often feel the pressure to succeed and live up to high expectations – a task that’s often as difficult as Kaufman’s.

While the teachers in Kaufman’s case failed to take into account how intelligence can change over time, or the different ways kids can be taught according to their needs, the root problem was still the original score. Much like a self-fulfilling prophecy, once enough people believe you can or cannot do something, it’s very hard to undo those beliefs. “Gifted” kids are still given opportunities that “learning disabled” kids aren’t, and while labels often work as a starting point, they should never be permanent or all-encompassing.

What are your thoughts about IQ tests and labels? Does your school make kids take an IQ test? Let us know in the comments section.

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3 Responses to “Backing Kids into a Corner with IQ Tests”

  1. Betsy LivingstonAugust 21, 2013 at 2:38 pm #

    That’s right. Whether we were “working” on language, memory, math, knowledge, thinking, visual-spatial or fine-motor skills, I made it super fun for him. We played games, sang songs, read stories, painted pictures, laughed and giggled our way through these very important lessons. This turned out to be a great lesson for me – if you want to help your child to really, truly learn; make it like play! Years later, when I started businesses helping families get their children into the best private schools and gifted and talented programs, I taught thousands of parents how to get their own kids ready for testing. The secret ingredient has always been to make test readiness fun and playful for the child.

  2. Nellie J. PruittAugust 10, 2013 at 7:00 am #

    Maybe it’s time to try a new system of labeling. What if we started putting our faith and bets behind our students’ effort and potential rather than a two- or three-digit number determined by a single instance of testing? What if we praised our students’ efforts to learn and grow and improve rather than praised them for showing up at school or on the soccer field, label affixed and prominently displayed? What if we watched those kids carefully, and taught them that they are not the measure of their IQ, but of their efforts to do their very best with what they have? What if?

  3. Silver PriceJuly 30, 2013 at 3:03 pm #

    What if we praised our students’ efforts to learn and grow and improve rather than praised them for showing up at school or on the soccer field, label affixed and prominently displayed? What if we watched those kids carefully, and taught them that they are not the measure of their IQ, but of their efforts to do their very best with what they have?