CAUTION: Intelligence Tests

Competitiveness drives a lot of what we do, and how we perform in education is no exception. Students compete with each other to earn the best grades, gain admission to the best colleges, and accept the best internships or jobs. This drive pushes people to want to quantify how smart they are. Intelligence tests, in theory, do just that. The idea that someone can take a test and earn a number that defines their intelligence can be intriguing. However, what most people fail to realize is the major flaws in intelligence testing. In “The IG test wars: Why screening for intelligence is so controversial”, Daphne Martschenko explains the flaws in intelligence testing.These flaws pertain to differences in testing methods, and disparities in genetics, socio-economic status, academic achievement, and race. After reading this article, I found a lot of similarities in the issues Marschenko points out and our class discussion on intelligence testing. 


Marschenko first talks about how intelligence testing and the popularity grew during the early 1900s. These tests were developed and marketed as “unbiased ways to measure a person’s cognitive ability,” (Marschenko, 2018). The first intelligence test was developed by Alfred Benet, after the French government asked him to identify students who face the most difficulties in school. The United States used intelligence tests for screening military and police personnel, and during the First World War, screening was used to determine whether or not soldiers were fit to enter the war. In schools, intelligence tests were used to decide which students would be placed in the gifted programs as well as students who would qualify for special education services. 


As they became more and more popular, the use of intelligence testing took a dark turn as they became a “powerful way to exclude and control marginalized communities using empirical and scientific language” (Marschenko, 2018). It even got to the point that the Supreme Court ruled the sterilization of individuals with developmental disabilities. This ruling was known as Buck v Bell. 

The history of intelligence tests and the groups that they did a major disservice to should be enough to consider alternative ways to quantify someone’s intelligence. In class, we talked about the ways in which intelligence tests fail to represent certain groups of people. The controversial issues with intelligence testing include improved scores with instruction, highlighting only one type of intelligence, and having a major cultural bias. In looking at trends among white versus African American individuals, there are similarities in genetics, however other factors create a gap that the intelligence tests do not acknowledge. These can be differences in socio-ecnonomc status and the stereotype threat, which is how test scores are reported to be lower depending on how instructions are presented. Marschemnko also explains this in her article, as intelligence tests are typically biased towards the people who developed them, which were mainly white. This difference in representation means that different cultural values are not represented in the testing. This puts culturally diverse communities at a disadvantage in terms of the testing. 


While intelligence tests are not being completely thrown out, they are being accompanied by other measures to make up for some of the flaws. For example, they are still used to identify gifted students and students that qualify for special education services, however, schools rely on teacher observation and family referrals to make these decisions as well. Overall, intelligence tests have been argued to be completely ineffective as well as beneficial when used with other methods. Any organization that utilizes these tests should be held accountable for understanding the implications. 


Article: The IQ test wars: Why screening for intelligence is still so controversial


3 thoughts on “CAUTION: Intelligence Tests

  1. ccallowa

    It is so interesting to read about how intelligence tests became a way to exclude groups/communities of people. The history behind intelligence tests is not a great one and I’m glad that they realized that and individuals have changed things that pertain to the tests, that allow them to be more inclusive. I am glad that they are now not as widely used but are still used to identify gifted individuals. I think measuring intelligence solely based on a test is not a good measure at all! And I believe that you really highlighted that in your post!

  2. jackkirschner

    I had no idea that the Supreme Court ruled in favor of sterilization. That quite interesting that a test could determine something like that, even though we know now that iq tests don’t work the way uneducated people think that they do. With cultural differences and education standards in different areas geographicly. Great post and way to bring attention to the issue!

  3. mlbrody

    Super interesting and related super well to the Intelligence unit of our class. I’ve always personally disliked IQ tests because they were a one-way test to measure intelligence, and I’ve met many people who weren’t exactly book smart, but had extensive life knowledge and to me that made them smart. It is surreal that many use these tests as another way to exclude certain people, it is completely wrong and I am glad you brought attention to it in your post!

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