Millions of young kids’ fates are decided by IQ tests administered by private schools and gifted programs. Yet those early IQ tests are also far from perfect at predicting which kids will actually excel on achievement tests down the road—whether it’s 3rd grade, 8th grade, or the SAT. In fact, they’re so far from perfect it’s laughable. The correlation is only 0.40.
According to the authors of Nurture Shock, pretty much all of our methods for predicting academic excellence in children are pretty poor. They point out that, for example, the correlation between body symmetry–i.e. are both your ears the same size–correlates with academic achievement at 0.39.
Primary schools work really hard to separate the Harvard wheat from the Penn State chaff with a series of 'predictive' tests:
Schools ask kids to hop on one foot and perform other tasks. These aren't a test of the children's motor skills, but a test of the child's willingness to follow instructions. Kids are asked to list the months of the year; it's a back-door assessment of kids' ability to complete a task without their minds wandering in the middle. Other activities that are considered telling include seeing how kids handle criticism when drawing a circle, and if they can resist playing with a cool, distracting toy that’s nearby when they’ve got an academic task in front of them, such as penning the alphabet.
The problem with these tests is that kids change. Their brains develop in unpredictable ways, and the kid who says 'fuck that marshmallow, I'ma write these letters!' at age 3 is just as likely to be a pants-sagging crip at 13 as anyone else.
On the whole, IQ tests confirmed the strength of correlations that had been seen in other research: Combining math and reading together, early IQ had at best a 0.40 correlation with achievement in 3rd and 5th grade.
Attention ratings didn’t beat that—not even close. They only showed a 0.20 correlation with later achievement. And the real surprise was how poorly the behavior ratings predicted school success—that correlation topped out at 0.08.
[..] What this means is that many kids who turned out to be very good students were still fidgety and misbehaving at age 5, while many of the kids who were well-behaved at age 5 didn’t turn into such good students.
This is really interesting stuff, and demonstrates how experts and administrators are just as susceptible to fads and insta-nalysis as the rest of us.
The worrying thing about this kind of article, and the book on which its based, though, is that we laypeople read them and make the mistake of thinking that they apply to us.
There's a culture of advice built around parenting in America. Don't forget to test your kid's IQ! No wait, test his 'emotional intelligence'! No, his motor skills! Read out loud! Play tapes of foreign languages! Breastfeed til he's nine!
The problem is, information on these broader methodological trends isn't really meant for individual parents. It's meant for administrators and policymakers, people that have to think of large socioeconomic groups and make programs that are likely to provide the greatest benefit for the highest percentage at the lowest cost.
For individuals, however, you're much better off ignoring all this shit and focusing on the needs of your particular child. If your kid is really good at concentrating at age 3, then find a program that helps her use that to excel. If she's not, find a program that works better for her. As she changes, make sure her circumstances respond to her needs.
Parenting and health are probably the two most over-advised areas of American life. Hundreds of magazines and books are devoted to taking broad sociological data and turning it into advice and stock-photo'd listicles. While this might be good for identifying solutions to our individual problems, we shouldn't make the mistake of thinking that all of this information applies to us.
A study showing, for example, that 76 percent of students who played soccer at recess were better at concentrating all afternoon doesn't mean that you should be sending your kids to school with cleats on. Maybe he likes another sport, or he really values his social time with his classmates at lunch. You should be basing your solutions first on your actual children, then the broader sociological data.
I'm not saying we should ignore all information related to our children and our health, I'm just saying we should focus on the fundamentals and ignore the daily stock-ticker of sometimes contradictory particulars. Our children's intellectual and physical development should be supported. We should eat less and exercise more.
Beyond those principles, we don't need to keep changing our tack every six months. Do what works for you, and leave the pie charts and lab coats to the administrators.