|Magazine Home I Links I Contact Us|
|Home IQ Test: Where Does It Come From?|
IQ Test: Where Does It Come From?
Intelligence testing began in earnest in France, when in 1904 psychologist Alfred Binet was commissioned by the French government to find a method to differentiate between children who were intellectually normal and those who were inferior. The purpose was to put the latter into special schools. There they would receive more individual attention and the disruption they caused in the education of intellectually normal children could be avoided.
This led to the development of the Binet Scale, also known as the Simon-Binet Scale in recognition of Theophile Simon's assistance in its development. The test had children do tasks such as follow commands, copy patterns, name objects, and put things in order or arrange them properly. Binet gave the test to Paris schoolchildren and created a standard based on his data. For example, if 70 percent of 8-year-olds could pass a particular test, then success on the test represented the 8-year-old level of intelligence. Following Binet’s work, the phrase “intelligence quotient,” or “IQ,” entered the vocabulary. The IQ is the ratio of “mental age” to chronological age, with 100 being average. So, an 8 year old who passes the 10-year-old’s test would have an IQ of 10/8 x 100, or 125.
It constituted a revolutionary approach to the assessment of individual mental ability. However, Binet himself cautioned against misuse of the scale or misunderstanding of its implications. According to Binet, the scale was designed with a single purpose in mind; it was to serve as a guide for identifying students who could benefit from extra help in school. His assumption was that a lower IQ indicated the need for more teaching, not an inability to learn. It was not intended to be used as “a general device for ranking all pupils according to mental worth.” Binet also noted that “the scale, properly speaking, does not permit the measure of intelligence, because intellectual qualities are not superposable, and therefore cannot be measured as linear surfaces are measured.” Since, according to Binet, intelligence could not be described as a single score, the use of his Intelligence Quotient (IQ) as a definite statement on a child's intellectual capability would be a serious mistake. In addition, Binet feared that IQ measurement would be used to condemn a child to a permanent “condition” of stupidity, this negatively affecting his or her education and livelihood:
Some recent thinkers…[have affirmed] that an individual's intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity that cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism; we must try to demonstrate that it is founded on nothing.
Binet's scale had a profound impact on educational development in the United States — and elsewhere. However, the American educators and psychologists who championed and utilized the scale and its revisions failed to heed Binet's caveats concerning its limitations. Soon intelligence testing assumed an importance and respectability out of proportion to its actual value.
H. H. Goddard & Lewis M. Terman
H. H. Goddard, director of research at Vineland Training School in New Jersey, decided that the Binet test would be a wonderful way to screen students for his school. He translated Binet's work into English and advocated a more general application of the Simon-Binet Scale. He classified people as being normal, idiots, or imbeciles. Idiots could only develop to a mental age of three to seven years, while imbeciles could not progress to more than a three-year-old level. Goddard developed a new term, “morons,” to describe people who were somewhere between normal and idiots. Unlike Binet, Goddard considered intelligence a solitary, fixed and inborn entity that could be measured.
While Goddard extolled the value and uses of the single IQ score, Lewis M. Terman, who also believed that intelligence was hereditary and fixed, worked on revising the Simon-Binet Scale. His final product, published in 1916 as the Stanford Revision of the Binet-Simon Scale of Intelligence (also known as the Stanford-Binet), became the standard intelligence test in the United States for the next several decades. Convincing American educators of the need for universal intelligence testing, and the efficiency it could contribute to school programming, within a few years,
the Simon-Binet Scale, originally designed for identification of children requiring special instructional attention, was transformed into an integral, far-reaching component of the American educational structure. Through Goddard's and Terman's efforts the notion that intelligence tests were accurate, scientific, and valuable tools for bringing efficiency to the schools resulted in assigning the IQ score an almost exalted position as a primary, definitive, and permanent representation of the quality of an individual. Hence, intelligence testing became entrenched in the schools over the next several decades.
Few people realize that the tests being used today represent the end result of a historical process that has its origins in racial and cultural bigotry. Many of the founding fathers of the modern testing industry — including Goddard, Terman and Carl Brighan (the developer of the Scholastic Aptitude Test) — advocated eugenics. Eugenics is a movement concerned with the selective breeding of human beings. Selected human beings would be mated with each other in an attempt to obtain certain traits in their offspring, much the same way that animal breeders work with champion stock. The eventual goal of eugenics is to create a better human race. The Nazis took this idea to the extreme. All “inferior” humans, especially Jews, retarded children or adults, and any individual with genetic defects, were to be destroyed; and so many ill and retarded people, and many Jews, were killed during World War II.
The founding fathers of the testing industry saw testing as one way of achieving the eugenicist aims. Goddard's belief in the innateness and unalterability of intelligence levels, for example, was so firm that he argued for the reconstruction of society along the lines dictated by IQ scores:
If mental level plays anything like the role it seems to, and if in each human being it is the fixed quantity that many believe it is, then it is no useless speculation that tries to see what would happen if society were organized so as to recognize and make use of the doctrine of mental levels… It is quite possible to restate practically all of our social problems in terms of mental level… Testing intelligence is no longer an experiment or of doubted value. It is fast becoming an exact science… Greater efficiency, we are always working for. Can these new facts be used to increase our efficiency? No question! We only await the Human Engineer who will undertake the work.
As a result of his views on intelligence and society, Goddard lobbied for restrictive immigration laws. Upon his “discovery” that all immigrants except those from Northern Europe were of “surprisingly low intelligence;” such tight immigration laws were enacted in the 1920s. Testing caused him to conclude that, for example, 87 percent of Russian immigrants were morons. Of course it didn’t take into account that they were given a test in English, with questions based on American cultural assumptions, to people who could barely, if at all, speak English. Vast numbers of immigrants were deported in 1913 and 1914 because of this test.
According to Harvard professor Steven Jay Gould in his acclaimed book The Mismeasure of Man, these tests were also influential in legitimizing forced sterilization of allegedly “defective” individuals in some states.
By the 1920s mass use of the Stanford-Binet Scale and other tests had created a multimillion-dollar testing industry. By 1974, according to the Mental Measurements Yearbook, 2,467 tests measuring some form of intellectual ability were in print, 76 of which were identified as strict intelligence tests. In one year in the 1980s, teachers gave over 500 million standardized tests to children and adults across the United States. In 1989 the American Academy for the Advancement of Science listed the IQ test among the twenty most significant scientific discoveries of the century along with nuclear fission, DNA, the transistor and flight. Patricia Broadfoot's dictum that “assessment, far more than religion, has become the opiate of the people,” has come of age.
|Home A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z|