In the 1981 bestseller The Mismeasure of Man, biologist Stephen Jay Gould was highly critical of “unscientific” intelligence tests that are often used to find that oppressed groups are inferior and deserve their status. Continuing the whirlwind of debate, in 1994, The Bell Curve, by Richard Herrnstein and Charles Murray, stated that there are substantial individual and group differences in intelligence that are not subject to easy environmental control because they are inherited, genetic differences. Herrnstein and Murray set out to prove that American society was becoming increasingly meritocratic, as wealth and other positive social outcomes were being distributed more according to people’s intelligence and less according to their social backgrounds.
In 1995, the American Psychological Association published a report on the status of intelligence research, in part to address the controversy surrounding The Bell Curve. Findings included that IQ scores do have predictive validity for individual difference in school achievement, as well as for adult occupational status. Furthermore, individual (but specifically not population) differences in intelligence are substantially influenced by genetics. The report also stated that the large differences existing between the IQ scores of Blacks and Whites could not be attributed to biases in test construction and suggested explanations based on social status and cultural differences, although it acknowledged no empirical evidence to support this idea. There was also not much direct evidence to support a genetic component to racial differences in scores.
Intelligence testing has been accused of unfairly stratifying or tracking students and adults according to race, gender, class, and culture by not tapping into creativity and practical know-how. As a result of this criticism, new tests and revised editions of long-standing tests have modified and updated the content, format, and the interpretation of data to reflect a diverse school-age demographic that includes different cultural and linguistic backgrounds, and to reflect new notions of intelligence based on modern theories of brain function. Yale psychologist Robert Sternberg has developed a triarchy of intelligence containing analytic, practical, and creative components. Harvard’s Howard Gardner believes that intelligence includes traditional components such as problem solving. However, he denies the notion of g. Instead, he argues for eight distinct intelligences (linguistic, musical, logical/mathematical, spatial, bodily/kinesthetic, intrapersonal, interpersonal, and naturalist).
Although Gardner and Sternberg provide a fresh and interesting lens on intelligence, their ideas have not translated easily into practical ways of measuring them in classrooms. However, Sternberg and collaborators are working with the College Board, which administers the SAT, to devise a test to supplement the traditional test for college hopefuls. Scores from the Sternberg Triarchic Abilities Test are expected to better predict college success and increase equity among ethnic groups in the admissions process.
Despite these changes, psychologists tend to agree that a single score on any one measure of intelligence is unrealistic when determining appropriate placement and services for schoolchildren. The trend among school psychologists is to collect data on children’s abilities, as well as weaknesses, using a variety of assessment instruments, in addition to gathering anecdotal information from the school and home settings, and using all of the data to devise a plan for early intervention, taking into account the whole child, not just a score on a test.
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- Stanovich, K. E. (2005). The future of a mistake: Will discrepancy measurement continue to make the learning disabilities field a pseudoscience? Learning Disability Quarterly, 28, 103–106.
- Woodcock, R. W. (2002). New looks in the assessment of cognitive ability. Peabody Journal of Education, 77, 6–22.
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