Standardized IQ tests predict academic performance quite well, but is a high IQ test score all there is to giftedness? Recently, the response, in strong chorus, has been "no." First, know that any given score is a product of many possible sub-scores. A child could, for example, receive an IQ score of 100 (the average) by doing very well on verbal subtests, poorly on mathematical subtests, average on visual motor tests, etc. — or through an entirely different mix. So no two scores of 100 are likely to represent the same general ability. All we can say is that children who score 100 are likely to perform as average students in school, doing better or worse in some subject areas than in others.
What is more, scoring high on a standardized IQ test may not be the sine qua non of giftedness. And it's clearly not the best prediction of which child is "most likely to succeed."
Several highly respected psychologists, after extensive research in the area of assessing and defining giftedness, talent, and creativity, have offered alternatives to the traditional IQ test as a measurement of intelligence. Howard Gardner of Harvard, for example, has put forth a theory of multiple intelligences, few of which are easily assessed: verbal-linguistic, logical/mathematical, musical/rhythmic, bodily-kinesthetic, visual-spatial, interpersonal, intrapersonal, naturalist, and existentialist.
Robert Sternberg, a dean at Tufts University and a prolific author, has suggested another model for assessing intelligence. He created the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test. It includes multiple-choice questions that measure three aspects of intelligence — analytic, practical, and creative — and their interrelationship. His theory states that intelligent behavior results from a balance among these three abilities. He defines intelligence as one's skill in achieving whatever it is "you want to attain in your life within your socio-cultural context by capitalizing on your strengths and compensating for or correcting your weaknesses."
Not Necessarily Nerdy
This discussion would not be complete without addressing some common misconceptions about gifted children. They are not all alike. Their individual differences in personality, capacity to make and keep friends, physical attractiveness, and athletic skills vary as widely as those traits would among any group of children chosen at random. Of course, if a given child has spent little time on the playing fields and lots of time solving equations, reading, or performing scientific experiments, she is not likely to be as skilled in sports as a daily athlete might be. But contrary to some notions, gifted children are not more likely to be "nerdy." In fact, in some studies they have been described as more likely to be multi-talented, popular, attractive, and even athletic than children with average IQs.
Parents and teachers have always found certain children's undistinguished standardized test scores surprising and inconsistent with those children's apparent brightness. So if your child seems remarkable to you despite less-than-distinguished test scores, your sense of her gifts might be quite accurate (and not simply the product of your parental pride). Nevertheless, it would not be wise to dispute a cut-off score for participation in a gifted program. If your child is not a standardized test wonk, placing her in a group where that definition of giftedness prevails is probably not a good idea.
On the other hand, following the lead of your child's interests could be very worthwhile. Being alert to individual differences, special talents, and passions is the first step toward enriching his education, enhancing his self-confidence, and improving the likelihood of his succeeding not only in school, but in life.