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New Study Cautions Against Overreliance on Multiple I.Q. Tests

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Washington--Black children with learning disabilities or serious emotional disturbances run a high risk of being improperly classified in special-education programs, according to Vernon G. Gettone, dean of the school of education at South Carolina State College.

The misclassification occurs when judgments are based solely on the results of standardized tests, said Mr. Gettone, because of ambiguities in the characteristics of some handicapping conditions and because of the inability of school psychologists to interpret important factors other than the test results.

'Efficient' Means

In a paper presented during the American Psychological Association's meeting here last week, Mr. Gettone noted that standardized tests are an "efficient" means of accurately classifying educable mentally retarded (emr) black students, but not of identifying emotionally disturbed or learning-disabled students.

Mr. Gettone and Sal Inglese, an assistant professor of behavioral science at South Carolina State College, selected 461 black students who had been previously tested and classified by their school psychologists. Each of the students--from three rural school districts in South Carolina--was retested using 10 different combinations of "discriminators"--statistical measures designed to help analyze test results.

'Ambiguous' Results

According to Mr. Gettone, the test combinations produced "ambiguous'' results and he concluded that not all standardized tests are applicable to all handicapping conditions.

For the group of students classified as emr, the accuracy of the tests ranged from 86 percent to 94 percent.

But the tests correctly classified only 50 percent to 67 percent of the students previously identified with learning disabilities.

And, the researchers found, the standardized tests were least accurate in classifying emotionally disturbed students. Only from 36 percent to 51 percent of the emotionally disturbed black students were correctly identified.

Mr. Gettone said none of the test combi-nations proved satisfactory because each one produced results that would have improperly classified students who then would have been inappropriately placed.

Improper classification and subsequent placement of minorities, particularly black children, have been recognized as problems since the Education Department's office for civil rights began collecting national statistics 12 years ago. (See Education Week, Aug. 25, 1982.)

Of the various assessment processes used to determine classification and placement, the standardized tests have been the most controversial because of charges that such tests are racially biased and that they cause disproportionate numbers of minority students to be placed in special-education classes. They remain, nevertheless, the most influential tools in the classification process.

New Test Unlikely

According to Mr. Gettone, it is unlikely that a new standardized test will be developed within the next five years that addresses the specific needs of black children. In the meantime, he said, the problem could be at least partially solved if more black school psychologists were employed to evaluate black children.

In addition, all school psychologists need to be better trained to consider factors other than the results of standardized tests in assessing black children, especially those in the rural South, Mr. Gettone said.

"The assumption is that by evaluating children with tests that have standardized norms based on a large number of children, one can separate children into homogeneous categories or groups," Mr. Gettone notes in his research paper. "The children so categorized are presumed to share essential characteristics that are relevant to their education.''

'Widely Variant Behavior'

But "placements based on single or group test scores without analyses of scores serves the function of placing children with widely variant behavior characteristics into the same classroom," the researcher explained.

Black children, he pointed out, "bring a certain amount of experience [not evident in test results] that needs to be considered" when interpreting standardized test results.

School psychologists need to recognize that a child's "overall pattern of development and adaptive behavior are equally significant as his standardized test scores," Mr. Gettone concluded.

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