Problem With IQ Tests for Measuring Mental Age

Assessment tests are one of the core measurements for determining which services a child with learning challenges will receive in school. One common measurement is the Intelligence Quotient or “IQ.” However, there are major dangers in using an IQ score or any other test that claims to measure intelligence for assessing needs and mental age.

IQ Puts Multiple Aptitudes in a Single Basket

Does your child perform at the same level in all types of activities? Do you? All people perform better in some areas and worse in others. How can a single score describe these differences? It can’t.

Let me give you an example. Suppose a store manager filled one brown bag with 5 apples, 3 oranges, and 1 pear. He filled another with 3 lemons, 5 limes and 4 grapes. He stapled the bags shut and labeled the first “9 fruits” and labeled the second “12 fruits.” When you come into the store and see these two bags, which is better? Which will make a better apple pie? It is hard to say without opening the bags. The labels on the bags are useless. Yet we accept the IQ score imposed on people as having some sort of meaning.

Significant Abilities Are Not Captured by IQ Tests

Many famous brilliant people have performed poorly in academic areas, yet became great artists, musicians or scientists (like Einstein). The American Psychiatric Association admits that there are many different types of intelligence and many theories.

In fact, there is not even a generally accepted consensus of what the word “intelligence” means. We don’t even know what we are measuring! At best we can say that we are measuring how well someone takes tests.

IQ Test Development has a Problematic History

In 1904, Alfred Binet was asked by the French Ministry of Education to develop a test that would help them identify students who might have learning problems. Despite Binet’s objections, his test was labeled as a tool toward obtaining an Intelligence Quotient from individuals. Binet argued that intelligence is not a fixed quantity, but can change and increase. He also refrained from claiming that his test was a measurement of intelligence at all.

In 1910, H. H. Goddard, the director of the Vineland School for Feeble-Minded Girls and Boys in New Jersey, decided that the Binet test would be a wonderful way to screen students for his school. Goddard 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. He felt that there was a danger of morons having babies and polluting the gene pool. His solution have to have everyone be tested for IQ and those determined to be morons would be sterilized or isolated at his school.

Goddard’s adaptation of the Binet test to determine IQ was also enthusiastically used to screen foreign immigrants. The 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 giving 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.

Later, this test was “improved” at Stanford University to become the Stanford-Binet test that is still used today. Nearly all intelligence tests today are based on this one test, which was never proven to actually test intelligence or even define it.

IQ is a Poor Measure of Mental Age for Autistic Children

My own son, for example, has scored very low in some areas, but very high in others. Different types of tests have placed his “mental age” at dramatically different levels. What can a single IQ score tell you about that?

There are a number of types of intelligence that never get tested at all, such as body-kinesthetic, interpersonal skills, and artistic and musical aptitude. Instead, these IQ tests usually focus on the very narrow fields of logical-mathematical aptitude and language skills.

Another problem is the cultural bias inherent in tests. They assume a familiarity or agreement with certain norms. Where else would they come up with such bizarre questions as “Why do most people prefer automobiles over bicycles?”

The problems are not always cultural either. A recent assignment that my son had at school asked him to circle all nouns that fit the sentence “I found my ____.” His teacher called me at work to say that he would not circle all the nouns and got mad when told that some of the other words were nouns. I asked to see his assignment and discovered that he only circled the nouns that named objects that he himself has at home. I called up his teacher to explain that since my son has autism he has difficulty putting himself in someone else’s shoes. IQ tests (as well as most other assessment tests) can frequently run into these subtle problems.

Don’t Accept IQ Results as a Label for Your Child

My recommendation is to exercise vigilance and reject any test that attempts to measure your child’s IQ. Instead of earning a grade, you will be damning your child to a meaningless measurement for the rest of his or her life. Most tests have ceased to claim they will give you an IQ score.

I would urge you to also reject any test that claims to measure any type of intelligence and any that attempt to give you an overall composite score of any kind. Determining your child current level (not future potential) should be based on looking at each type of skill, aptitude or academic area separately. Only then can you ensure that educators see your whole child and not just a number.

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