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Expert Q&A

Can the school explain a student’s underachievement by pointing to a low score on a IQ Subtest?

My son received the Weschler IQ test at age six. His average score was 91, but there was a wide range in his subtest scores from 80 to 118. Since then, he has been diagnosed with severe expressive and receptive speech problems, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD and bipolar disorder. He should be in second grade but was retained. He still can not read.

At the IEP meetings, they tell me that he is doing as well as we can expect with his “low IQ score.” I find this attitude offensive, especially because they are averaging in subtest scores in areas where he has a known disability. Are they allowed to include subtest scores in the average IQ score when they know that he has a disability in that area? How do I get them to drop the “that’s all we can expect from him” attitude?


Dear Heather,

Your questions addresses whether schools may selectively use subcomponents of an IQ score in order to determine that the child’s performance is acceptable in light of their tested IQ in that area. Unfortunately, there are a wide variety of ways to interpret (and manipulate) IQ test scores. You may wish to consult with a private clinical psychologist for the purpose of obtaining their assistance and understanding the best practice with respect to the use of cluster and full scale scores, vs. the subtest scores.

In addition, the IDEA specifically indicates that schools should not rely on any one test when making a determination about a disability. Further, the IDEA 2004 amendments expressly indicated that in evaluating a child and developing an IEP for that child, the school should address the child’s academic, developmental, and functional needs. This language would suggest that the matching of low performance with a low subtest score may not be an appropriate basis for excluding services.

In addition, once a child is determined eligible for special education, the IDEA provides that the school should address all areas of need related to the child’s disability.

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