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Non Match between School Grades and Cognitive Ability

By Inderbir Kaur Sandhu, Ph.D

Q: My son is in seventh grade and consistently scores above average on the ITBS yet makes below average school grades. This year ITBS GE ratings 10-13, STAR reading 12.9 and 91 percent in verbal of the cognitive ability test. He does not meet the qualifications for gifted courses but is clearly not challenged. It is hard for me to motivate him to do the "little things" like completing homework assignments yet he easily gets the highest grade on tests and has read more than ten chapters ahead of the class. The low grades are beginning to effect his esteem and are prohibiting him from sports. What do I and the school need to do/read/understand so that his grades start matching his ability? 

A: The Iowa Tests of Basic Skills (ITBS) offer educators a diagnostic look at how their students are progressing in key academic areas, and offer diagnostic data that can be used to create intervention groups and to drive curricular decisions. This is an achievement battery, not an intelligence test. It is a collection of tests in several subject areas, all of which have been standardized with the same group of students at each grade level. This makes it possible to use the scores to determine skill areas of relative strengths and weaknesses for individual students or class groups, at the same time to estimate year-to-year growth.

Your son's case is really tricky as he is in between a regular and a gifted program. There is also limited information given to understand the reason for him to perform below average in school. Somehow, I feel that he may benefit more from a program for the gifted. However, the school is probably being quite strict about the intake of students into program. Perhaps, the best thing for you to do is to approach the school, and discuss this problem. Your have a proven reason to believe that something is not right when your son is doing above average in the ITBS, yet below average with the school grades. There may not be a suitable program in the school tailor made for your son but perhaps, in subjects that he has shown above average grades, he could be allowed to be included in the gifted program.

Another alternative to be “heard” is to test him on an IQ test – one that is accepted by the school. I feel that he may prove himself here. You may also want to get someone to help him with the school subject at home. Sometimes, tutors are able to motivate children in ways that teachers are not able to due to the numbers in class. He may then look at the subjects differently and may develop interest. Pushing him to keep doing something he is not interested in is not going to help. He needs to find the lessons meaningful in order to enjoy learning. School subjects can be very dry and especially if teachers are not very good in instilling interest in students, it would just be a downward trend for some students.

So, firstly speak to someone in authority at school and make yourself heard – nothing else, teachers may start to pay some attention, which can probably get your son a little more interested! Then try the other methods I suggested. Here's wishing you all the best.


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