Magazine article Science News

IQ Yo-Yo: Test Changes Alter Retardation Diagnoses

Magazine article Science News

IQ Yo-Yo: Test Changes Alter Retardation Diagnoses

Article excerpt

Since average scores on particular IQ tests rise a few points every 3 or 4 years, those tests become obsolete after a couple of decades. In order to reset the average score to 100, harder IQ tests are devised every 15 to 20 years.

Trickier tests have no practical impact on people who score within the normal IQ range of 90 to 110. But so-called renormed IQ tests create a yo-yo effect in the number of mental retardation placements in U.S. schools, a new study finds.

Rates of mental retardation among children appear to bottom out near the end of a particular test's run, followed by a sharp rebound with the introduction of a tougher test, say Tomoe Kanaya, a graduate student at Cornell University, and her colleagues. Scores on the new test then increase over time, pulling many children from just below to just above the store of 70, which stands as the rough cutoff for mental retardation. That trend continues until the next test revision comes along.

As already demonstrated for children with IQ scores in the normal range, kids scoring near 70 lose an average of nearly 6 points when administered a renormed test, Kanaya's team reports in the October American Psychologist.

Mild forms of mental retardation often prove difficult to diagnose. Psychologists look not only for an IQ of slightly less than 70 but also for impaired social and practical skills.

"Our findings show the importance of focusing on children's [real-life] functioning when assessing mental retardation," says psychologist Matthew H. Scullin of West Virginia University in Morgantown. For several years after the introduction of a revised IQ test, he adds, "two children in the same classroom with the same cognitive ability could be diagnosed differently, simply because different tests were used for each child. …

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