Search This Blog

Friday, March 31, 2017

Intelligence Tests Controversy

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.