Measuring Intelligence

Uh, oh…IQ tests!

The subject of how smart someone is has been around for thousands of years, but it was not until Alfred Binet and Theodore Simon in the early 1900’s began developing a written test that “intelligence” came to be the subject of measurement. Binet was asked by the French government to devise some kind of test that would determine which children might need special attention. The Binet-Simon Scale was the product of their work.

But immediately, Binet said that intelligence could not be boiled down to a single number and was subject to a number of IQ testfactors. Even then there were cautionary calls against using a test to determine how smart someone is.

From then on, the field of measuring intelligence, however, revolved around a tighter and tighter sphere until the Stanford-Binet and Wechsler tests came to be the standards for intelligence tests. The Wechsler tests (one for adults and two for children) did recognize different areas of intelligence, the four major ones being the Verbal Comprehension Index, Perceptual Reasoning Index, Working Memory Index, and Processing Speed Index. The Wechsler also has a Full Scale IQ score (the combination of the above four areas) and the General Ability Index that is based on six subtest scores.

Still, these tests have their detractors as well as proponents. Howard Gardner has presented perhaps the most complete Howard Gardnersystem in a critique of standard intelligence theory published in 1983, Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelligences. As quoted in the Wikipedia article:

According to Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, humans have several different ways of processing information and these ways are relatively independent of one another. The theory is a critique of the standard intelligence theory, which emphasizes the correlation among abilities. Since 1999, Gardner has identified eight intelligences: linguistic, logic-mathematical, musical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalistic. Gardner is informally considering two additional intelligences, existential and pedagogical.

Another critic of standard intelligence tests is Robert Sternberg. His Triarchic Theory of Intelligence is similar to Robert SternbergGardner’s in that he believes intelligence is broader than a single, general ability, but differs from Gardner, suggesting that some of Gardner’s intelligences are better viewed as individual talents. In an article published by the American Psychological Association, Sternberg’s experiment known as the Rainbow Project, was described in this way:

This research project, carried out on 15 college campuses throughout the nation, was designed to supplement the SAT by adding measures of creativity and practical intelligence. Results show that the expanded SAT predicts actual success in college more accurately than traditional SAT scores. Initial results also suggest that the ethnic differences historically observed on the math and verbal portions of the SAT are greatly reduced for tests of creativity or practical intelligence.

It should be noted that the phrase “predicts actual success in college” is probably the concept that most parents and students worry about. Perhaps too many of us equate IQ test scores with achievement test scores in their ability to determine how well someone will do in college…or even if college is a realistic goal for those with a lower IQ. That’s where Gardner and Sternberg have issues with standard IQ tests. Does IQ relate to potential?

Well then, how is a parent, or a teacher, supposed to deal with a child’s “intelligence” if the experts in the field do not agree on a definition?

While it is unlikely that IQ tests will be phased out as part of the American educational system, the good news is that almost all schools, teachers, guidance counselors, and those involved in educating our children recognize the limitations of IQ testing, and even the limitations of achievement testing as now conducted. But since it is so easy, and natural, for us all to pigeon-hole people, things, and ideas, parents and students must remain intimately involved with their educational process so as not to be labeled and placed in a convenient category for life.

Readers of this blog who would like to learn more are invited to explore the works cited at the end of this article. You can be assured that we at New England Tutors are constantly updating our own understanding of the concepts discussed here. If you have something you would like to add to the discussion, please leave your comments. We are always interested in what you have to say.

For further reading:

Gardner, H. (1983). Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Books.

Gardner, H. (1993). Multiple Intelligences: The Theory in Practice. NY: Basic Books

Neisser, U. (1998). Introduction: Rising test scores and what they mean. In U. Neisser (Ed.) The rising curve; Long-term gains in IQ and related measures. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.

Sternberg, R. J., Wagner, R. K., Williams, W. M., Horvath, J. A., et al. (1995). Testing common sense.American Psychologist, Vol. 50, pp. 912-927.

(and from an article by Kendra Cherry used to research ideas in this blog: http://psychology.about.com/od/psychologicaltesting/a/int-history.htm.

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