Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Alert to Gifted Advocates: We Need to Change This Meme!

I just saw it retweeted:

If you’re 130 IQ you're as different from the mean as if you were 70 IQ on the other side. #NAGC ”

Once again, I pointed out that IQ scores are not measures of amount of ability (or need). They are only a relative ranking of scores, corresponding to percentiles. A 30 point interval on one part of the IQ scale may mean a much greater difference in abilities than a 30 point interval on another part of the scale.

This meme is everywhere in the gifted universe:

The child of 160 IQ (top 0.01%) is as different from the child of 130 IQ (top 2%) as that child is from the child of average ability.”

~Leta Hollingworth, Children Above 180 IQ (1942) [1]

There is the numerical answer: a child of IQ 160 is as different from a moderately gifted child of 130, as that child is from an average child of 100. “ [2]

Now move in the opposite direction from 100. An IQ score up to one standard deviation above 100 is considered normal, or average. Move up one standard deviation is mildly gifted. That means that a child with a score of 130 is as different from a child with an IQ of 100 as is the child with an IQ of 70, a score which definitely qualifies a child for special services. Move up one more standard deviation and we move into the range of moderately gifted (130-144). The same range on the other side of 100 is the mildly retarded range.” [3]

Let’s pretend that you take an average child with an IQ of 100. Take this child and put them into a classroom where everyone else’s IQ is 70 and below. In other words you are taking an average child and putting him or her into a school environment where all the classmates are mentally retarded. Not only are these classmates mentally retarded but the curriculum is also geared for the mentally retarded children. “ [4]

What's the difference? Gifted children tend to think differently and learn more quickly than their peers. Compare a gifted child (IQ = 130) to an average child (IQ=100) you will see the difference: the gifted child learns quicker, thinks deeper, and draws conclusions more easily. Compare that gifted child (IQ=130) to the highly gifted child (IQ=160). Again, you will see the difference, in many of the same ways. Now compare the highly gifted child to the normal child, and you face a chasm that by the end of elementary school may place these two children as much as 5 years apart in mental age.

There's another way to look at it. The difference between the exceptionally gifted and the average child is the same as the difference between the average child and the mentally handicapped child of IQ 40. That's a big difference!” [5]

Why does this matter?

  • As advocates we should strive to be accurate. Our credibility is at stake!

  • As advocates we should strive to educate—not spread misinformation just because it is a handy analogy to make a point.

  • Think about how our advocacy is perceived by others: When we make a comparison that implies average people are mentally impaired compared to gifted people, we alienate most of our listeners.

I understand that the goal is to build awareness of the very real needs of gifted children. So instead let's use the real meaning of IQ scores: a high (or low) score is unusual. Unusual kids are likely to need unusual accommodations.

Please, make a small change, gifted advocates! Be accurate, educate, and build awareness without alienating others. Let's start using a new meme:

Unusual kids

are likely to need

unusual accommodations.







  1. TY could you add a share widget? I enjoyed this ... and now don't need to write it ;)

  2. Through IQ testing we determine labels. Labels enable classification of needs within our system.

    The quote you're taking contention with comes from Jim Webb, founder of SENG.

    From my learned conclusion, his statement is not inaccurate, misleading, or lacking credibility. It is concise and enables objectivity when considering the needs of unusual kids who need usual accommodations.

    The only drawback for the gifted community is that some children who are gifted don't reflect that on IQ tests.

  3. Correct. IQ scores have never, ever been measurements on a foot ruler. Both Binet and Terman, developers of the earliest IQ tests, specifically rejected this analogy for describing IQ test scores.

    In a rare example of accuracy on Wikipedia, one section of an article on levels of measurement in psychology

    actually gets this right, and cites researchers on IQ tests who reject the view reflected in the common quotation in gifted education literature.

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