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Friday, March 31, 2017

With the advent of intelligence tests, scientists began to think that human ability could be measured accurately, The tests were used in schools to determine placement, as well as by the military. Achievement and aptitude tests were created to help quantify learning and steer people to their “calling.” In time, these same tests became a fertile ground for placing minority and low-income students in slower classes or even special education. The cultural nature of the tests was criticized and with good reason. I took the Chitling IQ Test in college, which is based on knowledge of items in black culture. I did not score well. A sample of it is here: . For those who don’t know, a chitterling is a pork intestine, used for meals in many minority homes. 

As children began to be pigeonholed by their scores, it began to dawn on schools that maybe they should test children in their home language. Hearing impaired children were tested by psychologists who specialized in hearing impairment. Non-verbal tests began to appear for language-impaired students. Other criticisms, as listed on Psychology Today’s article, were

        IQ tests have received much criticism over the years, some warranted and some just plain silly. Criticisms have ranged from the claim that IQ tests are unfair to those who are disadvantaged, to the claim that the test items have changed little over the years, to the charge that IQ tests minimize the importance of creativity, practical intelligence, character, virtue, and morality, to the claim that all IQ test makers and theorists believe that intelligence is an immutable property of the brain. (1)

I remember my son, knowing the answer to one question on the Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test because we lived on a farm and he had ridden on a tractor or combine. Combine was one of his first words. Children who grow up on language-poor or stimulation-poor environments will not have as much experience learning vocabulary as those whose homes are “wealthy” with healthy stimulation, including music, reading materials, and stimulating toys.

One person who has made a tremendous impression on me and my life is Linda Kreger Silverman. At the World Council for Gifted and Talented Children in 2013, she pointed out that before there were IQ tests, we didn’t know that women could be gifted. Her recommendations for the use of testing can be found on my web site, 

Intelligence tests have undergone significant change since they were first instituted, but they can still be misused. Psychologists must establish rapport with the person they are testing, which can definitely be hard in the public school setting. Text anxiety or environmental factors can hurt a child’s score. Modern tests rely much less on one global standard score, but many parents have no idea what a series of scores means, even when explained by the tester. Such qualities as perseverance and creativity are not usually measured, although there are tests for creativity. Howard Gardner distinguished these types of intelligence; linguistic, logical-mathematical, musical, bodily-kinesthetic, spatial, interpersonal, existential naturalist, and intrapersonal.  Daniel Goleman  wrote about Emotional IQ. Kazimierz Dabrowski analyzed “overexciteabilities” in psychomotor, sensual, emotional, intellectual, and imaginational spheres.

Similarly, cognitive psychologist Robert Sternberg, PhD, has developed a triarchic ("three component") theory of intelligence that includes analytical, creative and practical intelligence.(2)

The best use standardize IQ tests occurs when they are not considered a single score that is unchanging. Although test makers spend a lot of time making sure the scores don’t swing widely, it is entirely possible that hard-working creative students can be successful regardless of most impairments. Keeping a healthy skepticism and an open mind will insure that anyone can go further than any score can indicate.

(1) Kaufman, Scott Barry, Intelligent Testing The evolving landscape of IQ testing,Posted Oct 25, 2009,, accessed 3/29/17.

(2) American Psychological Association, June 17, 2004,, accessed 3/31/17.

Friday, March 10, 2017

Introduction to Intelligence Test History

Google defines intelligence as “the ability to acquire and apply knowledge and skills,” and lists the “synonyms: intellectual capacity, mental capacity, intellect, mind, brain(s), IQ, brainpower, judgment, reasoning, understanding, comprehension.” Most of us have an idea of what intelligence is without necessarily being able to put it into words. I have chosen this topic because of my work in special education and gifted education. Watching my students learn in as many ways as there are students, I have found intelligence to be incredibly complex and the brain to be unbelievably malleable.

The assessment of intelligence began in 1904, with a test developed by Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon. They were asked to develop a measure that would separate mentally handicapped students from lazy students. (1) Four years later, a psychologist named Herbert Goddard visited Europe and learned about the new tests that had been developed to help students who were struggling in school. Within six years, the Binet-Simon test was used in schools, by doctors, in immigration and in the courts. His interest in the hereditary nature of intelligence led him into the dark “science” of eugenics as a member of the Ohio Committee on the Sterilization of the Feeble Minded. (2)

The scores produced by IQ tests are a quotient of the mental age divided by the chronological age of the individual being tested times a hundred. Hence a child functioning at the six-year level who is age five would have an IQ of 120. My understanding of the first IQ tests used in the United States was for the purposes of the draft.  According to Etienne Benson (3), “since the administration of the original Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT)—adapted in 1926 from an intelligence test developed for the U.S. Army during World War I—it has spawned a variety of aptitude and achievement tests that shape the educational choices of millions of students each year.” The SAT test is often used in fifth or sixth grade to identify gifted students, who may score as well as a junior in high school.

During my history as a special ed teacher, intelligence tests came into use for providing services to students who did not learn well in the regular classroom. The initial assessment helped teachers to determine the best channel for reaching the student and to teach compensatory skills for the problem areas. At first, it was a blessing to be able to show that students could actually have a learning disability, that is, an area of difficulty in a specific task or skill. Unfortunately, these tests quickly became a way to pigeonhole students into a class with others who had learning difficulties, without necessarily providing appropriate instruction. Fortunately, the parents of disabled students work tirelessly to insist on the free and appropriate education their children need. The eighties saw an articulation of new assessment and methods that were beneficial to the students. This insistence on providing the best possible instruction for each child led to data collection in the nineties and the need to show progress on the goals determined for the year. Most schools no longer use just one test or one score. Next time I’ll take a look at the different kinds of tests that are available and why they are helpful.
  1. History of IQ Test, accessed on 3/10/17.
  2. Dr. Ludy T. Benjamin Jr., The birth of American intelligence testing,, accessed on 3/10/17.
  3. Benson, Etienne, Intelligent intelligence testing,, accessed on 3/10/17.

Friday, February 10, 2017


I found the most interesting article on prodigies this month, thanks to the Brain Cafe on Facebook. Here's the link:
 The Link Between Complicated Pregnancies and Child Prodigies.
In these days of fake news, I think Nautilus stands as one source of information we can count on. In this article, the author is well-qualified to describe research about savants. Savants are people who have an incredible talent or skill beyond what is normally expected. This article give three examples: a child who begins playing cello at three and has composed five symphonies by age five, a man who sculpts wild animals out of clay or wax, and a man who sees in fractals (1). Each of these individuals shows an ability beyond that of the average person in a very specialized skill. Scientists have now linked that ability to a different formation of the left side of the brain.
Research has found that such exceptional talent is  tied to three things: memory, recognition of patterns and sequences, and attention to detail. (2)
Theorists believe that the left side of the brain is disrupted, causing compensatory skills to develop. These skills allow the individual to access areas of the brain that lead to faster processing, without executive functioning (3). Thus, even accidents which damage the brain can lead to surprising results. In addition, since the left side of the brain forms later in pregnancy, it is more prone to damage in difficult pregnancies. Prenatal problems occur at a much higher rate in prodigies and individuals with autism. Incidents that shock the mother and cause distress in the fetus may change the development. Yet these individuals can show a fine sensitivity to others.

Having worked with exceptional learners during my career, I am still surprised. One of my students, aged 5, loved to draw trains. He would draw the cars and put the numbers and writing on them. His parents later told me they were actual trains he had seen. Another preschool student who seemed to be lost in sensory-stimulating activities suddenly reached over and pulled a single strand of blonde hair from my shoulder. In high school, my students with autism learned to read by memorizing words. Another learned to alter the program on his iPad to say, "I love Scooby-Doo." I sincerely hope we are on the cusp of a new stage of learning about the brain, so that all children will be happy, self-supporting and able to achieve their dreams.

(1) a curve or geometric figure, each part of which has the same statistical character as the whole. Fractals are useful in modeling structures (such as eroded coastlines or snowflakes) in which similar patterns recur at progressively smaller scales, and in describing partly random or chaotic phenomena such as crystal growth, fluid turbulence, and galaxy formation. Googe definition.
(2) Jawer, Michael, Nautilis, Jan. 11, 2017, Issue 44, Luck
(3)Living With Geniuses,

Friday, December 16, 2016

How Far We Have Strayed

In 1989, I moved to the suburbs to be near my parents. I worked as a substitute teacher with poverty level wages (yes, hard to believe) and at one point I was offered a job as a teaching assistant. When I said I could not support my family on the $8/hour salary I was offered, the principal asked how much I would need. I calculated the least I could get by with and it came to $15/hour. This was in 1989! Needless to say, the school district realized they could hire two people instead of me, so they did. I was fortunate to get a full-time sub position in January of that year and full-time employment the following fall. In the years between 2000 and 2006, poverty increased dramatically in the suburbs. (1) Like me, many of the poor had jobs, but lived paycheck to paycheck.

As a special education teacher during the 1990s, my students changed from mostly white, middle class families to diverse cultures (at one point I had seven different languages spoken in the homes of 20 students) with a much higher percentage of families in poverty. My last few years, over half of my students qualified for school breakfast and lunches. Often both parents would be working one or two jobs. Students came from homes where they might have shared a room with a grandparent or aunt, wore inexpensive clothing, and may not have had access to books, paper and pencils, let alone computers. 

How did we get so far off course in helping the poor? It helps to understand where we come from. The 1960s saw the first serious look at poverty in our country, with the rise of the Civil Rights Movement and the counterculture anti-establishment values. It was the idealsim of Head Start and Sesame Street, the War on Poverty and the first demarcation of poverty. (2) Here is how the poverty threshold was computed:

The poverty thresholds were originally developed in 1963-1964 by Mollie Orshansky of the Social Security Administration.  She published an analysis of the poverty population using these thresholds in a January 1965 Social Security Bulletin article.  Orshansky based her poverty thresholds on the economy food plan — the cheapest of four food plans developed by the Department of Agriculture.  The actual combinations of foods in the food plans, devised by Agriculture Department dietitians using complex procedures, constituted nutritionally adequate diets; the Agriculture Department described the economy food plan as being "designed for temporary or emergency use when funds are low."  (Orshansky also developed a second set of poverty thresholds based on the Agriculture Department's somewhat less stringent low-cost food plan, but relatively little use was ever made of these higher thresholds.)

Orshansky knew from the Department of Agriculture's 1955 Household Food Consumption Survey (the latest available such survey at the time) that families of three or more persons spent about one third of their after-tax money income on food in 1955.  Accordingly, she calculated poverty thresholds for families of three or more persons by taking the dollar costs of the economy food plan for families of those sizes and multiplying the costs by a factor of three — the "multiplier."  In effect, she took a hypothetical average family spending one third of its income on food, and assumed that it had to cut back on its expenditures sharply.  She assumed that expenditures for food and non-food would be cut back at the same rate.  When the food expenditures of the hypothetical family reached the cost of the economy food plan, she assumed that the amount the family would then be spending on non-food items would also be minimal but adequate.  (Her procedure did not assume specific dollar amounts for any budget category besides food.)  She derived poverty thresholds for two-person families by multiplying the dollar cost of the food plan for that family size by a somewhat higher multiplier (3.7) also derived from the 1955 survey.  She derived poverty thresholds for one-person units directly from the thresholds for two-person units, without using a multiplier.  The base year for the original thresholds was calendar year 1963.

Orshansky differentiated her thresholds not only by family size but also by farm/nonfarm status, by the sex of the family head, by the number of family members who were children, and (for one- and two-person units only) by aged/non-aged status.  The result was a detailed matrix of 124 poverty thresholds, although the figures generally cited were weighted average thresholds for each family size.

In her January 1965 article, Orshansky presented the poverty thresholds as a measure of income inadequacy, not of income adequacy — "if it is not possible to state unequivocally 'how much is enough,' it should be possible to assert with confidence how much, on an average, is too little."

While the poverty thresholds had been calculated on the basis of after-tax money income, they were applied to income data — the Census Bureau's Current Population Survey — that used a before-tax definition of money income; this was done because when the thresholds were being developed, the Current Population Survey was the only good source of nationally representative income data.  Orshansky was aware of the inconsistency involved, but there was no other alternative; she reasoned that the result would yield "a conservative underestimate" of poverty. (3)

Although government analysts expressed concern over updating these standards in 1965, action was delayed until 1981. A measure that decreased the number of homes below poverty was passed. Not until 1995 were recommendations made to revise the standards again. NRC's Committee on National Statistics’s Panel on Poverty and Family Assistance presented their findings in a report. (4) The results of this study?

Our major conclusion is that the current measure needs to be revised: it no longer provides an accurate picture of the differences in the extent of economic poverty among population groups or geographic areas of the country, nor an accurate picture of trends over time. The current measure has remained virtually unchanged over the past 30 years. Yet during that time, there have been marked changes in the nation's economy and society and in public policies that have affected families' economic well-being, which are not reflected in the measure. Improved data, methods, and research knowledge make it possible to improve the current poverty measure. (5)

The recommendations follow in the report (please access the link below for more information on it). 

In a book review by Richard L. Kaplan (6), he summarizes Wealth and Democracy: A Political History of the American Rich, written in 2002. One of the book’s great themes is “that concentration of economic power inevitably corrupts the political process. (7)” A fascinating glimpse into the role the laws have played into the accumulation of wealth by the upper class, while the middle and lower classes suffer. Sending two family members to work in order to maintain middle class status, former securities like pensions and health insurance are becoming a thing of the past. “Concentrated wealth is able to distort democratic processes for private enrichment…(8)"

Sadly, the trend that was noticed in the early 2000s has only increased. Our newest elected official is in the one percent and his appointees are as well. One can only hope for a revolution.

1 Krone, Emily, Poverty in the Suburbs, Daily Herald, April 16, 2008

2 Fischer, Jocelyn and Hayes, Jeffrey, Ph.D., A Clearer View of Poverty: How the Supplemental Poverty Measure Changes Our Perceptions of Who Is Living in Poverty. An Examination of Poverty by Gender, Race/Ethnicity, Age, and Marital Status.,

3 ibid, accessed at

Measuring Poverty: A New Approach, Washington, D.C., National Academy Press, 1995

5 Summary and Recommendations.

6 Kaplan, Richard L., Economic Inequality and the Role of Law. Michigan Law Review, Vol. 101, No. 6, May 2003. Available at SSRN: accessed 12/12/16.

7  ibid,  p.1987

 ibid, p. 1992.