Psychologist and Evaluator
San Francisco, CA
Phone: (415) 577 - 4750

The Unspoken Importance of IQ

IQ stands for Intelligence Quotient, a term which describes the score obtained from several standardized tests designed to assess human intelligence, based upon large statistical studies.  In fact, the most common IQ test, the Wechsler scale, bases Full Scale IQ on four statistically derived factors: Verbal Comprehension, Perceptual-Reasoning, Working Memory, and Processing Speed.  While the identification of IQ is controversial in our politically-correct society, knowing a student’s IQ is essential in understanding the cognitive profile and functioning of a student. In lay terms, these domains of intelligence break down in to: language and verbal skills coupled with abstract reasoning, visual puzzle-solving abilities, memory, and speed of processing.  This intuitively makes sense, given that we think of people as smart when they: have a big vocabulary, know lots of esoteric facts on a broad range of topics, can solve abstract visual puzzles, remember and mentally manipulate information well, and process information quickly.

            The full range for IQ is from 50 to 160; below 70 connotes severely mentally impaired and above 130 is genius.  I chuckle when people mention that they have taken an on-line test and scored a 165, given that the scale does not even go that high. In assessing over 1200 students, the highest IQ I have ever seen is a 145, which is extremely rare –by definition. In fact, IQ’s over 130 occur in only 1 in 100 students.  The average IQ ranges from 90 to 110, with 80-90 being low average, and 110-120 high average.  Possessing an average IQ is perfectly acceptable in nearly all primary school settings, since acquiring basic academic skills does not require substantial intelligence.  However, when moving up to high school the impact of IQ becomes more discriminatory. Hard working students with average IQ’s will start to find that they cannot easily master certain types of information, which often creates frustration and confusion.  New and/or abstract concepts, such as Geometry, Chemistry, Physics, and Honors-level math, are the typical courses which begin to confound average thinkers.  Unfortunately there has been a myth that straight-A students ought to be able to study and score in the 95thpercentile in all subjects, and on standardized tests –eg, ACT, SAT.  The truth is that standardized tests correlate more substantially with IQ than effort and studying.  I often need to educate parents about this misconception.  Specifically, parents maybe dismayed when their A student scores in the range of 35% to 70% on the Iowa Basic Skills test or the SAT.  The lay public does not understand that this IS the average range. Assuming a child has an average IQ, this is the normal range, even if he/she has been earning A’s in school due to effort and diligence. 

            Possessing higher IQ is a benefit, as is, for example, being very good-looking, or coming from a wealthy family.  However, it is only ONE of many potential predictors of success. Bright people are just as plagued as others by all manner of problems, including learning disabilities or depression.  When talking with families about the delicate and loaded concept of IQ, I always emphasize this fact. I also emphasize that there are at least three primary factors which predict general success:  

1) social skills (which are not measured on IQ tests)

2) effort persistence, work habits, and determination

3) IQ, or raw thinking ability 

 I have found that students with learning disabilities and Average IQ’s tend to be very hard-working and thorough –their condition has required them to be.  They often have strong social skills and tenacity.  To be sure, there are many wonderful and famous people who have average IQ’s, and many who have solved all manner of problems which have plagued society. So, take it all in stride, and understand the data. 

Is Listening to a Book the Same Thing as Reading It?

This piece by Daniel T. Willingham is a worthwhile read:

What is dyslexia really?

Dyslexia is a fundamental deficit in the ability to read efficiently.  I cannot emphasize the word efficiently enough, because some people think that dyslexia means a student basically cannot read.  I have evaluated over 500 people with dyslexia and of those only one was essentially not able to read (even though he had a very high IQ).  First, let’s clarify our terms: dyslexia is a term coming out of the educational therapy world to signify a reading deficit.  Concurrently, psychologists use the term Reading Disorder to denote dyslexia; these two conditions are usually synonymous, but not always. (more…)

California Bar Exam has highest cut-score in the nation

Case Law for High Stakes Standardized Testing

Justice Department Intervenes in Lawsuit Against Law School Admission Council on Behalf of Test Takers with Disabilities Nationwide

“A federal judge issued an order today allowing the Justice Department to intervene in a disability discrimination lawsuit against the Law School Admission Council (LSAC)………”

Defining My Dyslexia

A truly excellent article from the NY Times I’d like to share…

Defining My Dyslexia
Perhaps I’ve succeeded not despite, but because of, my disability.

Why U.S. Girls Underperform In Math, But Swedish Girls Don’t

An excellent article I thought I’d pass along…

Working Memory Exercises: Effective or Bunk?

When I provide feedback to clients that their working memory ability is weak they often ask what can be done about this. They want to know if there are ways to improve their working memory. Unfortunately, to date, there is no clear way to do this. Several companies have created and marketed computer-based programs which purportedly increase working memory ability through the use of daily exercises. Recently a team of researchers has taken an in-depth look at whether these programs are truly effective. As reported in the October 2012 edition of CHADD’s magazine: Attention, there is no clear benefit from these programs. Quoting from this article, “….several working memory ‘training programs’ have been developed and marketed. Unfortunately these programs don’t work very well (if at all). At this year’s American Psychological Association conference, Rapport and Kofler presented a meta-analytic review of twenty-three studies that found overall small or no benefits of these training programs for reducing inattention, hyperactivity, or impulsive behavior for children with ADHD. One reason for this disappointing conclusion is that most of these programs target the wrong parts of working memory: They’re training the short-term memory part, rather than the ‘working’ part of working memory.

Legal Updates on Accommodations


Working with students who have diligently and conscientiously pursued advanced education, despite a learning or physical disability, impels one to provide support and accommodations when justified.  For students who have succeeded in college and graduate school, only to fail licensing and high-stakes exams as a result of denied accommodations, is not only disheartening but unjust.  To this end, there is ‘good news’ in the area of testing accommodations, for those who are documented to be in need.

This has come as a result of a Department of Justice Title III Regulation, in combination with an update to the Americans with Disabilities Act, which recently went into effect in March 2011.  The primary changes are thus:

1) The terms ‘learning, reading, concentrating, and thinking,’ have been added as domains of major life activities. Therefore clients who have dyslexia and AD/HD are more specifically covered under these major life activity domains.

2) Testing boards are asked to ‘give considerable weight’ to documentation of past accommodations or auxiliary aids. While the statute specifically states the ‘documentation’ of past accommodations, it does not specify the form in which this documentation may be provided.  Many students report long histories of both formal and informal accommodations which are not technically documented in their academic record.  However, letters from teachers, professors, tutors, and parents, who have witnessed these accommodations firsthand, may serve as another form of documentation.   This will likely add substantially to the weight of their request for accommodations.

3) The new regulations add protections for those who experience impairment in ‘major bodily functions,’ including digestive, bowel, respiratory, and neurological challenges.  Over these years of providing Psychoeducational Evaluations I have been surprised and impressed by the number of students who struggle with concomitant physical maladies which add to their burden, particularly under standard testing conditions.  It seems fair and humane that this clause was added as well.

The key in all of this is to ensure that Psychoeducational Evaluations are extremely thorough, particularly in the narrative description of the disabilities.  No ‘assumptions’ can be left unspoken while numerous ‘rule outs’ must be overtly addressed.  There is a highly specified skill set required for evaluators who take on the burden, trust, and responsibility of aiding able students in successfully passing licensing exams, as a result of earning necessary accommodations.

Parent Talk Interview

To hear Dr. Waterworth speak about learning and attention issues in detail please click on the link below.

ParentTalk Interview / KWMR Radio

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