As per state regulations and best practices in education, public school systems have the tasks of accurately identifying and appropriately serving highly capable students.  For decades, individually administered intelligence tests and academic tests have been effectively utilized to identify highly capable students.  Individually administered intelligence tests, such as the Wechsler Scales and the Stanford-Binet, have undergone rigorous development and standardization, and are regularly updated to provide accurate norms.  The most recent versions of the Wechsler Scales have also undergone significant changes to reduce culture bias.  Similarly, individually administered academic tests, such as the Woodcock-Johnson Tests of Achievement, Kaufman Test of Educational Achievement, and Wechsler Individual Achievement Test, all provide rich, detailed information about a student's academic skills and up-to-date norms, based on rigorous development and standardization.

Unfortunately, individually administered tests are time consuming and labor intensive, and therefore, are inefficient and far too expensive for the type of massive screenings that large school districts, such as the Seattle Public Schools, must undertake.  The Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) and the Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) are generally adequate alternatives for screening large groups of students, but as is the case with all tests, they are not perfect and do not always provide accurate results.  As tests such as the CogAT and the ITBS are administered in group settings, it is often difficult to know why a student might not have scored at a level that accurately represents their abilities.  For example, a student might have been distracted, might not have understood the instructions, might have been ill, etc.  The Smarter Balanced Assessment was designed to help schools ensure students are progressing toward the Common Core Curriculum, and although it is a helpful tool for educators and families, it does not have a track record of being used for identifying highly capable students.  Given these weaknesses of group tests, allowing students to use individually administered intelligence and academic tests to appeal the results of the CogAT, the Smarter Balanced Assessment, and the ITBS is critical in the accurate identification of highly capable students.

As of November, 2017, the Seattle Public Schools’ Advanced Learning webpage is providing conflicting and confusing information about appeals test cut-off scores.  In one section, it states scores need to be above the 99th percentile, in another section it states the scores need to be at or above the 99th percentile, and in another section there is a statement suggesting the scores need to be three standard deviations above the mean (99.9th percentile).  There is no empirical evidence, scholarly literature, or data in the tests’ technical manuals to support the Seattle Public Schools’ new requirement that private appeals IQ or academic test scores be at or the 99th percentile in order to be equivalent to district-administered test requirements (98th percentile for IQ, 95th percentile for academics).  The suggestion that this is justified because the students have an advantage by receiving individually administered tests is simply incorrect and reveals poor understanding of test standardization and normative procedures.  In addition, the district has added a statement that even if a student does meet the new, higher cut-off scores, they are still not guaranteed a successful appeal.  This statement, combined with their conflicting and confusing changes in test score cut-offs is alarming and unacceptable, as it suggests they are not basing appeals decisions on objective data and they do not have a transparent appeals process. 

It is clear the Seattle Public Schools needs to find ways to increase access of underrepresented student groups to highly capable programs.  There are numerous ways of doing this and it is important that the district looks to research and maintains flexibility in trying new methods.  Many students have talents and characteristics that go beyond IQ scores and academic test scores, and the district should be encouraged to find ways to identify these strengths.  In addition, there are numerous ways to meet the varying needs of highly capable students that go beyond the status quo.  As the Spectrum program has slowly been integrated with the general education programs, in some schools with great success, it seems likely the pressure on the Highly Capable Cohort (HCC) program has increased.  The district should continue working with the community to provide multiple options for a variety of students.  That being said, it is critical that highly capable students be properly identified, using the highest quality, research-based, reliable instruments available, and to date, this means allowing individual testing with the most recent versions of the Wechsler Intelligence Scales, Stanford-Binet, WJ Tests of Achievement, WIAT, and KTEA.


The following are some myths and facts about individually administered tests and their use in appealing school district screening measures:


Myth #1: It's easier to score high on an individually administered test than on a group test. 


Fact:  This is false.  The individually administered tests are standardized and normed on a bell curve in the same way that group tests are.  Scoring at the 98th percentile on a group test is equivalent to scoring at the 98th percentile on an individually administered test.  The testing procedure - group vs. individual - is taken into account in the standardization and norming process.  Some specific students might score higher on a group test, some might score higher on an individually administered test.  This is due to variations of individuals and external factors that can occur in either setting.  Individually administered tests are highly accurate and objective.  A student cannot "fake" their way through an individually administered test.  In fact, given the ubiquitous practice materials available for the CogAT, it is becoming more likely that an individual could practice and score higher on the CogAT than on a Wechsler Scale or Stanford-Binet.  If a psychologist determines a student has practiced or has been prepared for the Wechsler or Stanford-Binet, it is documented in the report, and the results are invalidated.


Myth #2:  Wealthy students use individually administered tests to "buy" their way into highly capable programs.


Fact: This is false.  If the intelligence or academic tests are administered by a licensed psychologist (which is a requirement by the Seattle Public Schools), then one can assume the results are an accurate representation of the student's performance.  Fabricating test results or providing any kind of fraudulent test results is a serious case of professional misconduct.  Any evidence of this type of misconduct should be reported to the State of Washington Department of Health, Psychology Licensing Board.


Myth #3: Only wealthy students can afford individually administered tests.


Fact: Private testing can be expensive.  However, the school district provides the same tests at no cost to students who qualify for free and reduced lunch.  In addition, many local psychologists provide pro bono or sliding scale tests to lower income students every year.


Myth #4:  All students who undergo private testing will qualify for a highly capable program.


Fact:  This is false.  Many students who undergo private testing do qualify because the group of students who go through with the procedure have received strong encouragement from teachers to appeal, and/or were close to the cut-off to begin with, thus the group of students who undergo private testing is more likely than the general population to score fairly high.  However, many more students DO NOT qualify as the bar for eligibility is already very high.  This might be difficult for the school district to quantify or recognize because parents generally do not submit individual test results if the scores do not meet the cut-off.