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What is the WISC Test?

Updated: Mar 29, 2023

An Overview

The Special Education Needs (SEN) team at Bennett works with hundreds of SEN students every year. The WISC test (particularly prevalent in the US) is one piece to understanding what a student’s strengths and weaknesses are.

Erin Brady recently sat down with Stacey Kinnamon, one of Bennett’s SEN consultants, to discuss the WISC and how the results can benefit some students and their parents.

Families are often confused or even reluctant to have a young child tested. They worry about labels, tracking, and having their child misunderstood by a new school or an admissions office.

Our consultants understand that, behind all the numbers generated by testing, there is a unique child. Testing can be a really positive tool that can help the student, the family, and a new school understand why some aspects of school are a struggle for them and why others come easily.

Q: Stacey, would you please explain what the WISC is?

The Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children (WISC) is an intelligence test for children from ages 6 to 16.

The WISC-V takes 45 to 65 minutes to administer, and it is done in a 1:1 setting. It generates a Full-Scale IQ that represents a child's general intellectual ability. It also provides five primary index scores: Verbal Comprehension Index, Visual Spatial Index, Fluid Reasoning Index, Working Memory Index, and Processing Speed Index.

Individuals 16 and over are tested with the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scales (WAIS), and children ages 2 to 6 years and 7 months are tested with the Wechsler Preschool and Primary Scale of Intelligence (WPPSI) (there is some overlap between the WISC-V and the WPPSI).

Can you briefly explain what those 5 index scores are measuring?

Sure! That’s a great question. It’s also worth noting that looking at the index scores individually is often more telling than looking at the full-scale IQ.

Verbal Comprehension

This section measures a student’s ability to process, access, and apply word or verbal knowledge. Questions on this part of the test assess word knowledge acquisition, how well a student stores and recalls information, a student’s ability to reason or solve verbal problems, and how well they can communicate information/knowledge.

Visual Spatial

This section assesses a student’s ability to identify patterns and visual spatial relationships or identify similarities in images.

Fluid Reasoning

This section measures a student’s ability to identify relationships among visual objects. Questions on this section of the test require the completion of a matrix or series, typically a visual pattern.

Working Memory

This section measures a student’s ability to register, maintain, recall, and manipulate both visual and auditory information during a short period of time. Individuals with poor working memory may require more repetition when learning new material.

Processing Speed

This section measures how quickly a student processes new information. Testers are given specific tasks to complete in set amounts of time. Individuals with slower processing speeds typically require more time to complete schoolwork and other daily tasks.

Visual Spatial and Fluid reasoning sound very similar. Can you explain the difference?

While both subtests include visual stimuli, fluid reasoning subtests can be solved using logic, and visual spatial subtests require primarily visual spatial processing.

Who administers this testing?

Administration and scoring of the WISC-V requires specific training, and usually psychologists administer this testing (either privately or through a school district).

Would other testing be administered at the same time as the WISC?

Typically, other testing would be administered alongside the WISC-V, and this might include tests that explore certain areas of weaknesses or strengths uncovered by the WISC, academic testing, attentional testing, social-emotional measures, etc.

From a parent’s perspective, what might be the benefit of having a child tested?

There are several benefits. First, a parent might want to have a child tested to determine if they meet gifted criteria to qualify for a special program or school. Also, a parent might choose to have a child tested to better understand their learning profile. For example, a child with a relative slow processing speed might require extra time accommodations.

From a school’s perspective, what might be the benefit of having a child tested?

The benefits, from a school’s perspective, start in the admission or enrollment process. Testing can help a school determine if a child can be successful in their program. Will a student need extra academic support or will she thrive in an honors or gifted level setting?

All good teachers create a differentiated classroom. Knowing each student’s learning profile as outlined in the WISC can really help a teacher differentiate the instruction. For example, a student with strong verbal comprehension skills might thrive in a discussion-based curriculum, especially if that child has some weaknesses with graphomotor skills or organizing their writing. A child with attention challenges might need movement breaks or preferential seating to be successful.

Is there a downside to the testing?

As an education consultant, I don’t see a real downside to the testing. It can be very helpful for a student to begin to understand the way their brain works and why they may need some extra time or help with note-taking, for example. High-quality evaluations will recommend classroom accommodations, testing accommodations, and even certain types of educational settings. As I said, the WISC can provide a classroom teacher with insight into how a child might learn best.

Sometimes parents are concerned that educational testing will result in the attachment of labels and that children will be burdened by diagnoses. As a parent myself, I can certainly understand this concern, which is why we urge caution when parents are selecting evaluators to make sure that the written evaluation captures both the areas of challenge as well as the areas of strength. The evaluator should be skilled enough to capture the uniqueness of each child.

Thank you, Stacey. You're welcome, Erin, my pleasure.

A conversation between Erin Brady, Global Team Lead and Co-Director of Private Client Services and Stacey Kinnamon.

Stacey Kinnamon is a Special Needs Education Consultant. She obtained her law degree from New York University and worked as an attorney for nine years before she and her family relocated to London. After six years, Stacey and her family returned to New York where she obtained a dual Master’s degree in general and special education from Bank Street Graduate School of Education. Stacey has worked as a teacher and as a volunteer in New York City public schools, a private reading tutor, and has a son with learning challenges. She volunteers with the Promise Project, a non-profit, which provides educational evaluations to underprivileged children.

Bennett International Education Consultancy works directly with hundreds of families each year across the globe. We support families by helping them make informed decisions about the best-fit schools for their children; with our guidance, they secure placement in preschools, private day schools, public/state schools, boarding schools, colleges & universities, including schools with particular programs, such as special needs support.




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