What is this New WISC-V?

ellenAdmissions season is here, and calls are streaming into The Kingsbury Center inquiring about the WISC-V, the new test for children age six and up who are applying to independent schools. Along with the usual questions about scheduling, there is one question some parents ask directly and others tip-toe around: What is this new ‘WISC-V’? Are there things I should know about this latest edition? Do I need to do something different to prepare my child?

To define the term: the WISC-V is the fifth edition of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children, the most commonly used cognitive test in the country. For most people, a new version of a test is not a big deal, not on the level of, say, the release of the latest iPhone or Air Jordans. You might give the updated WISC-V assessment tools the same consideration as you would, say, the tools your dentist uses.

For those of us in the testing world, the release of WISC-V is exciting. For one thing, we get to administer some new items. I’ve been giving some of the same items for more than three decades! It can be challenging to say something the same way each time, and yet sound fresh and enthusiastic over the span of 30 years. However, that’s my challenge and not yours.

For parents who are applying for their child’s admission to independent schools, the idea of a new version of the IQ test can be stressful. “What now?” you may moan, already up to here with tot extra-curriculums and enrichment activities. The good news is you can relax. This isn’t the SAT; there is no need to settle your child down at a vocabulary enhancing website, or to work on math facts.

Here’s what you might like to know.

What’s New: An Emphasis on Fluid Reasoning

This new version of the WISC gives problem-solving skills their own section, or “Index,” called Fluid Reasoning. Fluid Reasoning requires an individual to use logic and a flexible problem-solving style to determine an answer to unfamiliar material. Previous learning is explicitly excluded from the best fluid reasoning tasks, so that children with less enriched backgrounds, and those with difficulty recalling facts, are not at a disadvantage.

The emphasis on fluid reasoning has been trending in the assessment field for more than a decade. When the WISC’s competitor (and the original IQ test), the Standford-Binet, was updated in 2003, it included five scales, one of which was Fluid Reasoning. A decade later, the WISC-V was released with five Index scores, one of which was, yup, Fluid Reasoning. And this reflects a cultural reality: facts are readily available with a few keystrokes. Reasoning is a higher order skill which is prized.

Fotolia Testing PhotoThis change also reflects a change seen throughout the nation’s schools. State-wide tests like the Standards of Learning and the PAARC go beyond examining students’ acquisition of facts and skills (how to read a paragraph, how to solve a math problem) and look at students’ abilities to apply information and skills to solve a new problem.

At Kingsbury, many of our students struggle with the small building blocks of learning: decoding words, remembering symbols and following sequences. That’s what a learning disability is: a marked difficulty with acquiring and working with the building blocks of learning – reading, writing and math. These same students may soar on tests of fluid reasoning, which let them use observation and analysis to determine the relationship between objects or designs. Similarly, children who haven’t been exposed to as broad a range of facts and experience may have fluid reasoning skills developed through observation and problem-solving during their daily lives.

Other Improvements

The WISC has come a long way since the old days, when African-American children were disproportionately identified as intellectually disabled, because of how the test was developed, and because the test assumed a certain homogenous background for all children. It has also progressed past the embarrassing ‘correction’ of including a question to ‘even the balance.’ For instance, children were asked who Louis Armstrong was, on the assumption that this would give black children a chance to be more knowledgeable than their white peers. While it is probably impossible to make a test that is entirely ‘culture free’, this latest version of the Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children presents a child with a wide range of challenges, minimizes the differences between children from different environments and presents the scores in five useful indexes as well as the Full Scale IQ.

What’s Gone: No Information Subtest

The old “Information” subtest is no longer required. Information is easily acquired, and reflects exposure more than intellectual potential. Besides, those questions are the most readily leaked and spread around networks of anxious parents. Too many testers have had the experience of administering a WISC to a perky youngster who volunteers an answer… before the question has even been asked!

What’s the Same?

What else does the WISC-V measure? Verbal skills, of course, like WISC-Vvocabulary and expressing how two things are similar. Visual spatial skills (how parts fit together to make a whole), working memory (recalling strings of numbers or letters, in particular order), and processing speed (efficient scanning of visual material, pencil speed) are all expected parts of a complete cognitive test. Finally, the WISC-V is still administered individually, still does not use an electronic device, and is still just one of many indicators of a cognitive and academic potential.

Should I Help my Child Prepare?

In next week’s blog, I’ll share suggestions for how you might want to help prepare your child for the WISC-V.

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