Privately admistered comprehensive IQ tests like the most recent editions of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale (WISC IV) or the Stanford Binet (SB V) are considered more reliable and valid, and offer parents and teachers more information, than the group IQ tests often given in the schools.
However, few kids are ever offered an individually administered IQ test. Why? It's expensive, time consuming, and not necessary for most kids.
That's because schools often do a good job of meeting the educational needs of most learners through the range of services they offer and through differentiation of instruction within the classroom or the school setting. And many school districts can adequately identify many gifted learners who may benefit from special school programming by using group IQ tests (like the OLSAT or the Naglieri) and other screening methods such as record review and teacher input.
Parents of bright and gifted learners often consider seeking a privately administered individual IQ test only when it appears that their child is out of sync with the typical learner, and the school system has not yet adequately identified or addressed the child's learning needs.
These children may appear bored or frustrated by the general education curriculum. Their academic skills may be well beyond their years and their overwhelming curiosity and passion for learning can make it difficult for a general education teacher to provide them with learning opportunities they require. These students may have social differences too - appearing not to "connect" with other children, or preferring the company of adults or older kids to those of the same age.
Private testing results can help parents in educational planning, help determine whether a child may benefit from some form of acceleration, offer insight into a child's behavior and learning characteristics, and help determine eligibility for a special school program. Most, but not all, school districts will consider private testing as part of the selection process for enrollment in gifted programming (e.g.: GATE programs).
Private testing may also be used to help a child gain access to outside gifted programming, including online programs and summer camps, that may provide some of the enrichment and acceleration a bright of gifted child may not be getting during the school day. Examples of nationally recognized outside programs that offer distance learning or summer programming for gifted learners include the Stanford Education Program for Gifted Youth, the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the Summer Institute for the Gifted, and the Davidson Institute for Talent Development.
How Early to Test?
Deciding when to test is really a matter of when the information is needed. There are IQ tests that go down to age two or earlier; however, testing for giftedness is usually not warranted at this age.
There is no need to differentiate early experiences for kids based on an IQ score. All preschool age kids, including those that are later identified as intellectually gifted, benefit from enriched environmental and social /emotional stimulation in the preschool years. During the preschool years, the child's own emerging interests and abilites should guide parents as to the type of supplementary early stimulation to provide. (One book that offers a good overview of brain maturation and and how parents can encourage optimal development during these early years is Magic Trees of the Mind by Marian Diamond. )
Also, early testing may not be reliable. IQ scores obtained before age 4 or so can be highly unstable. These scores become relatively stable after age 4 1/2 and continue to stabilize as children get older.
Private IQ testing is most often beneficial when kids are school age - or nearing school age. Most of the children I test in my private practice are in the 4 1/2 to 12 year old range, with a good percentage being below age 6.
Many parents of precocious preschoolers and kindergarteners who are considering school options seek private testing to get an objective view of their child's learning needs in order to make more informed decisions. Some use the information to determine when to enroll their child in kindergarten, or to help determine the need for early enrollment in first grade, or for special school programming which may include single subject accleration. Others seek private testing to help determine if their child qualifies for enrollment in a private school program (some require testing) or an outside enrichment program where their kids can explore their interests alongside same age mental mates. Many parents also find that sharing objective test inormation with the schools helps facilitate support from the school regarding creative programming.
Other parents seek private testing later in the school years when considering outside enrichment options - or if their child isn't being challenged or engaged by the school curriculum and they believe their child has been overlooked by the school's gifted education screening process. Many districts use a group IQ test to screen for gifted programs, and these tests can under identify gifted child. The administration of an individually administered comprehensive IQ test offers a more valid and reliable picture of a child's learning needs.
Still other parents seek early testing when their child is displaying behavioral issues, emotional signs, or social behaviors that are common to giftedness but could be misinterpreted by overzealous or misinformed professionals as ADHD, an emotional problem, or even a form of autism. While gifted kids can certainly have these conditions, the more information parents and others have, the better the chance to avoid potentially misleading or even harmful diagnoses.
Again, if and when to test is largely a matter of what the information will be used for, and when it is needed. Most kids never require an individually administered IQ test. But for some, this information can be extremely useful in educational plannng, and in helping parents and teachers find a better fit for a bright or gifted child who is out of sync with his age or grade mates.