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Intelligence Tests Used in Assessment for Learning Disabilities

Parents' Guide to Understanding the IQ Test Scores

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Though LD assessments vary among school districts and examiners, a comprehensive evaluation should include an instrument to measure intelligence. The most commonly used intelligence test for determining a handicapping condition of Specific Learning Disability are the Wechsler series of Intelligence Scales for Children. The Wechsler Scales measure a sample of abilities to arrive at a level of global intellectual functioning. This guide will help parents understand what is being measured by the IQ scores and subtests on the WISC-III and IV and the child's pattern of intellectual strengths and weaknesses.

Before we investigate the Wechsler subtests however, it's important to keep in mind that a diagnosis of Specific Learning Disability will not be made based on the variations or "scatter" among the subtests. The SLD is measured by comparing the child's achievement test scores with the intelligence level measured by the IQ scores. The purpose of understanding subtest scores is to gain clues to your child's pattern of strengths and weaknesses.

Also, the younger the child's age, the more variability in subtest scores is considered within the normal range. Though children with apparent learning problems should be assessed around age 5 or 6, my experience is that the vast differences in normal intellectual development at this age make accurate intelligence assessment difficult. The child who is tested at an early age should be retested in the middle elementary years to identify a more stable pattern. IQ scores do change over time, even to adulthood.

A major criticism of the discrepancy analysis method (achievement>intelligence) currently used to determine SLD is the difficulty of applying it in the early elementary years. Recent research on LD intervention emphasizes the importance of intensive teaching of LD children early, but many children who do have a learning disability are not legally identified until they have experienced several years of failure in achievement on school tasks such as reading, mathematics, and writing.

Even when your child's learning difficulties do not reach the severity of a Specific Learning Disability, you can use the Wechsler scores to find clues about your child's strengths and weaknesses. By understanding the IQ scores and subtests on the Wechsler, you will have a clearer understanding of your child's abilities on a variety of intellectual tasks. This understanding will help you plan learning activities that build upon your child's intellectual strengths to compensate for learning problems, and help her develop confidence and competence as a learner.

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