On the other hand, if your son scores well on a math test when he is five or six, he is likely to get good grades in fifth grade. Equally important, if he scores better than most of the children in his kindergarten class, he is likely to get better grades than his classmates in fifth grade. The research is very clear on this, and it should come as no surprise. A child who is bright and comfortably applies himself to a math test as a five-year-old is not only going to be just as bright when he is eleven years old, but he is, in all likelihood, still going to be interested in doing well on tests, able and eager to focus on the task at hand and follow instructions. The Peabody Picture Vocabulary test, used to assess the verbal skills of preschoolers, is a very good indicator of a child's grades in elementary school. There is no mysterious trail leading from a good evaluation in kindergarten to high grades in middle school. The same abilities and motivation that led to the good kindergarten performance also explain the good algebra grade. But do those good scores in preschool and high grades in elementary school tell us anything about a child's intelligence?
The answer is a bit complicated. Early math and verbal scores predict later academic success, and academic success is correlated with IQ. But that doesn't necessarily mean that the five-year-old with the good math score is going to be smarter than the fiveyear- old who doesn't get as high a math score. For instance, some children do well in school because they are highly attuned to the expectations of adults—they are dutiful, eager to please, and able to focus on achieving the things expected of them in school.
Take, for instance, a young biologist named Elise. She graduated magna cum laude from an Ivy League university and received her PhD in sociology from a top graduate program. She was awarded tenure at one of the best colleges in the country when she was only thirty-two years old because she was successful as a teacher and did high-quality research that got published in the better journals in her field. However, she insists that this is much less because of her intellectual powers than her determination to do everything she needed to succeed. When she was a child, her parents made it clear that they expected good grades. Her mother insisted on looking over every assignment before it was handed in and made her fix mistakes. She had no interest in challenging the assignments or trying something outside the requirements. She was aggravated when other students distracted the teacher from the planned lecture. She hated vague assignments. But she was diligent and highly attuned to figuring out what each teacher wanted from her. She was a perfectionist and had great attention for detail. Good wasn't good enough for her. She felt compelled to do whatever it took to get the highest grade. She behaved well in class. She was a teacher's dream. At each stage of her career, she replicated that approach.