It's become a very popular piece to write: Some schools test kids before kindergarten for placement in gifted programs. IQ tests are problematic! 4-year-olds are hard to test! Therefore, giftedness is a myth!
The latest publication to jump on this bandwagon (which others, including Malcolm Gladwell and Po Bronson have also joined or hinted at) is New York magazine, whose cover story this week is called The Junior Meritocracy.
Jennifer Senior's article makes the usual points. First, IQ is not inherently stable. It can move by 10 points or so over time, and is likely to regress toward the mean. This means that a strict cut-off (aka 130 points) can be problematic. Also, tests can sometimes be coached, and very young children are hard to test. They'd rather play, they need to go potty, they want their mothers, and so forth.
I had a few thoughts. First, this is a very New York specific piece. Most districts do not, in fact, test kids for giftedness at age 4. Third grade is a far more usual time, because in education lore, the schools will have straightened out in any advantages or disadvantages that kids came in with by then. This seems strange to me (kids spend more time at home than at school), but that is the thinking.
Second, New York is strange in that there are very few chances to get in "the system" once your kid has started school. Private high schools want you to have gone to private elementary schools, and Hunter's schools go K-12. Most districts do not have nearly enough choices in schooling for any of this to matter.
But anyway, some more important observations: So IQ can move. That may matter if we're talking about dropping from 135 to 125, but the chances that a kid who has been tested multiple times at 150+ will drop down to, say, 110, are quite low. As one quoted expert, Samuel J. Meisels, put it in the piece, "Giftedness is a real thing, no question." That completely contradicts the cover line ("The Myth of the Gifted Child") and suggests that the problem is not that too few kids are being labeled gifted, it's that too many are, with a dividing line too close to the mean. Tell the parent of a 3-year-old who taught herself to read just because she finds books so fascinating that kids are all the same, intellectually, and may even out over time, and she'll probably laugh in your face.
If IQ moves, then test multiple times. Test for entrance to gifted programs every year or two -- and have kids test out too. I agree that there's no point in having only one extremely high stakes test. But that doesn't mean giftedness is a myth. If a kid has a growth spurt at age 15, he's more likely to make the basketball team in high school than if he has a growth spurt at age 18, or just stays pretty short. That may not be entirely fair, since playing a sport can teach great lessons for life and maybe help with college admissions. But we don't go apoplectic as a society about how unfair this is or, more ridiculously, try to claim that tall people don't exist.
My last point: why are these articles always illustrated with child models wearing nerdy looking glasses? When the New York Times magazine ran a cover story several years ago about the rise of the "gifted child industry" they did the same thing.