i1The History of Intelligence Testing

In 1904, French psychologist Alfred Binet created a test to measure the intellectual skills of schoolchildren.  The purpose of Binet’s intelligence test was to determine which children would need special assistance in their classes based on attention, memory, and problem-solving skills (Dearly, 91).  Binet assigned a “mental age” to each child’s score as a measure of intelligence based on the average abilities of children in that age group.  Binet’s original intelligence test formed the basis of modern IQ tests and achievement tests which have changed the face of education and employment.

In 1916 standardized testing based on Binet’s early model became commonly used for American education and acceptance into the military.  Today, the fifth edition of the Stanford-Binet intelligence test consists of five factors divided by two domains: fluid reasoning, knowledge, quantitative reasoning, visual-spatial processing, and working memory (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 428).  In 1955 American psychologist David Wechsler created an intelligence test for adults known as the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (WEIS).  Wechsler’s test reports a full-scale IQ covering verbal comprehension, perceptual reasoning, working memory, and processing speed (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 428-429).  Wechsler’s IQ scale replaced the Stanford-Binet scale so test-takers are now compared to those within their own age group instead of the average ability.

In education, intelligence testing is primarily used to identify gifted students and students with learning disabilities.  Most people associate intelligence with inherited capabilities and thus see these tests as proof of one’s career path.  However, these intelligence tests “measure developed abilities useful in learning and not innate capacity or undeveloped potential” because “test performance is influenced by such factors as inherited characteristics, experiential background, motivation, particular skills, attention, persistence, self-confidence, and emotional adjustment” (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 420).

In 2001, the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) supported a standards-based education reform requiring high standards and standardized testing.  NCLB required states to develop basic skills assessments in order to receive federal funding, but it did not set a national achievement standard.  The federal role in public education increased through annual testing, report cards, academic progress, and teacher qualifications.  Thus standardized tests became the norm, leading to some educational criticism that many teachers just “teach the test” so their academic achievement ratings increase.

The Measurement of Intelligence

The question does arise about whether intelligence can be accurately measured as valid and reliable; even Binet claimed intelligence was too broad a concept for quantification.  But some psychologists argue that IQ tests can measure intelligence because of the variety of test questions:  vocabulary, similarities, information, comprehension, picture completion, block design, picture arrangement, matrix reasoning, arithmetic, digit span, letter-number sequencing, digit-symbol coding, and symbol search (Deary, 6).  The common formula is IQ = 100 X (Mental Age/Chronological Age) (Fletcher & Hattie, 2).  Other arguments say that even if IQ numbers are not completely valid and reliable, they are still helpful because high scorers on average perform better than low scorers.  However, skepticism remains with one writer stating how psychologists and other intelligence experts “should stop trying to persuade the rest of us that they can test intelligence, because they can’t, and such claims are dangerous” (Murdoch, 233).

Controversies Surrounding Intelligence Testing 

The controversies surrounding intelligence testing include five areas: untested qualities, racial considerations, gender equality, generational differences, and self-fulfilling prophecies.  Critics argue that intelligence tests leave out important qualities like emotion, empathy, and interpersonal skills, and the tests also fail to assess “good thinking” skills such as judgment and decision making (Stanovich, i).  Since these “common sense” factors affect daily choices students make, these skills should be implemented into intelligence testing.

Intelligence testing also fails to adjust for racial and gender equality.  East Asians often score higher than Caucasians, while African-Americans show lower scores.  Women dominate verbal abilities but men excel in visual/spatial intelligence.  Equality is lacking because of differences in these different socio-economic backgrounds.

Generational differences also cannot be explained by IQ tests.  Psychologist James Flynn analyzed the generational differences from the 1950s to present, and he concluded that each generation’s scores have increased for unknown reasons (Dearly, 106).  Researchers have theorized reasons for “smarter children” but so far no provable hypotheses have appeared.

The final argument concerns how tests create self-fulfilling prophecies.  Once students are told their IQ level, “those who are expected to achieve more do achieve more, and those who are expected to achieve less do achieve less” thus self-fulfilling the IQ “prophecy” (Miller, Linn, & Gronlund, 17-18).  Teacher expectations are raised for students with high scores while those with lesser scores are often ignored.

My Position

I personally believe that standardized intelligence testing should not be used.  Binet created the original IQ test to discover students with learning disabilities so they could receive the extra help they needed, and I think this is the only way an IQ test should be used.  If teachers suspect a student has a learning disability, then they should recommend that the student take an IQ test.

However, the average student should not be required to take intelligence tests because this merely places him in a “category of smartness” which does not inspire him to achieve to his highest ability.  It also encourages pride in smart students and apathy in low-achieving students who believe they are doomed to fail.  Every student has God-given potential that should not be limited by a man-created educational label.  Therefore, I would like to see the complete removal of intelligence testing from the classroom.

– Hannah S. Bowers


Deary, I. J. (2001). Intelligence: a very short introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press.

Fletcher, R. B., & Hattie, J. (2011). Intelligence and intelligence testing. London, England: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Flynn, J. R. (2007). What is intelligence:  beyond the Flynn effect. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press.

Miller, M. D., Linn, R. L., & Gronlund, N. E. (2009). Measurement and assessment in teaching, (10th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Murdoch, S. (2007). IQ: a smart history of a failed idea. Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

Stanovich, K. E. (2009). What intelligence tests miss: the psychology of rational thought. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.