What does it mean to be "gifted"? Is this news all good? How are gifted kids different? What can you expect of your gifted child? How will this label affect your family? In this series, we'll aim to answer these thorny questions.
In the Beginning
"Giftedness" got its start over 100 years ago with the creation of the first intelligence test. The author, Alfred Binet, had been asked to create a mechanism for identifying children who were below average in abilities needed for school success. Schools in France were becoming overcrowded. The Binet test was designed to sort out those students who had at least average academic potential.
What we now know as "IQ testing" began with the very clear mission of predicting which children would do well in school and which would not. It is essential to keep in mind the fact that most, if not all, IQ tests that have been developed in the last century bear a strong resemblance to the original, particularly in their ability to predict school performance. Specific content and form may vary, but they measure very similar skills and knowledge required for academic success.
IQ tests are not the measure of all things. IQ tests are not designed to be predictors of overall life success, social skills, creativity, moral character, the capacity to empathize and understand others, the ability and inclination to care, and to love. And until quite recently, there was little effort to make these tests culture-free. If they are administered in a non-native or second language, or to a child whose cultural exposure to the test's assumptions is limited, few accurate conclusions can be drawn from their scores.
Still, these tests are the most respected of all psychological measures. With some confidence, we can say that if a child repeats the test, she is likely to score within 15 points of her original score. But it is impossible to say reliably: "This is your IQ for life!" There is no such thing.
The Numbers Crunch
If your school reports that your child is gifted, it is most likely referring to the score he achieved on an IQ test administered on a given day. The presumed meaning of a range of IQ scores on the Binet is:
- Below 50: Mentally retarded
- Between 60 and 79: Borderline retarded
- Between 80 and 89: Low average
- Between 90 and 109: Average
- Between 110 and 119: High average
- Between 120 and 139: Superior
- 140 and above: Very superior
- In many programs for the gifted, entrance requires a score of 140, but there are exceptions to allow admission to lower-scoring children. To be labeled as such, your gifted child probably scored over 130 (more likely over 140, partly depending on the ceiling of the particular test — some paper and pencil test scales do not go up that high) on a test with good reliability and validity. This, in turn, means he is likely to do very well in academic settings.