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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, https://www.123test.com/history-of-IQ-test/ accessed on 3/10/17.
  2. Dr. Ludy T. Benjamin Jr., The birth of American intelligence testing, http://www.apa.org/monitor/2009/01/assessment.aspx, accessed on 3/10/17.
  3. Benson, Etienne, Intelligent intelligence testing, http://www.apa.org/monitor/feb03/intelligent.aspx, accessed on 3/10/17.