Is IQ BS?Posted: May 16, 2005
One of my many IQ scores, by the way, was 103. That was in the 8th grade. It should have meant nothing. Instead it meant that the school wanted me to go to a “technical” high school to learn a “manual trade.” And that my parents had to hunt down a private school. Every one of those schools administered an Otis IQ test. Because I got all the answers right on the test, the Cartaret School (long since deceased) wanted me desperately. Because I choked terribly on the same test, another school (Mount Hermon) told my parents that I was borderline retarded and at the very least I needed to go back a grade. (In fact, I had a crush on a girl who was headed to Northfield, Mount Hermon’s sister school, and that was all I could think about during the test.) According to this table, my best SAT scores (nearly the worst in the now-deceased school that did take me, by the way), translate to an Otis IQ score of 119.
Meaningless, of course. But highly consequential, as it tends to turn out.
Which is why IQ sucks.
IQ application is fraught with danger. Doc Searls’s post does a pretty good job of illustrating this with examples. If you want the same message with a bent towards genetic testing, watch Gattaca.
I have always been a proponent of standardized testing, even with its many downsides. Perhaps this is because it worked out well for me, but unfortunately I can’t think of a better way that doesn’t involve massive amounts of spending.
I think the problem, as always, is with time management. The problem is the same when you go in for a job interview. How are you to assess the quality of a potential candidate for any sort of program, job, etc, in a brief period of time? Education has the same problem as employers do, which is that gauging someone involves the use of some predefined criteria as to which there will inevitably be some who score better than others, thus giving a basis on which to choose someone.
I always scored well on standardized tests. I was always in the top 1% on every standardized test I ever took, and my IQ tests were always between the mid-140s and the low 160s. When asked, I usually give 155 as my IQ, as that was the most recent test I took. Obviously, with those kind of scores, education was never a problem for me. I’ve not done so well, I think, in my interviews. Interviews make me nervous, but tests never did. Some people are exactly the opposite. This is unfair, but unfortunately so is the majority of life.
The difference between education and employee interviews is the case history. This is where I believe education, relying too much on testing and IQ application, fails. Again, this is a time management issue. It takes a much shorter time to make a determination on one number than to totally review a person’s record over time. While you’re being educated, you come across many people whose job it is to assess your competency. When I was selected for the Gifted and Talented program during elementary school, I was given a test, which I later was told I didn’t do so well at (it was an IQ test and, as with anything, I learned to do better on those tests), but I was admitted to the program based on my teacher’s strong recommendation. This is exactly the thing education needs to be doing. Teachers have years of wisdom and experience, and a file on a student should bear much more on their education path than testing. Any system that makes determinations based purely on a number of a set of numbers derived from a test to route a student is unconscionable.
However, teachers can also be wrong, and they carry with them their natural human biases. This is why testing is necessary. Every system needs checks and balances, and testing offers, as best as possible, the unbiased opinion that is needed to hopefully find promising students that aren’t showing it due to various other conditions in their lives (teacher isn’t good, bad home life, etc).
It is an unfortuante fact of life that testing decides so much of people’s opportunities. Throughout life, almost all major life changes in terms of education and career are decided by some form or other of a test. For education, using only the results of a test to decide a student’s fate is wrong. At any point at which such a decision would be made, they have volumes of data by which they can make a decision, but they seem to choose the easy path and decide purely based on a set of numbers that someone else administers for them, rather than take the time and effort to decide based on that student’s history. For employers, it’s much more excusable because of a lack of access to that employee’s history. This makes it unfair for people with excellent track records who may not do well in interviews, but the rules are setup to make it fair for people who want to start over and not have a bad history follow them around for their entire lives. Changes probably could and should be made, and maybe I’m an apologist, but I’ve not seen many systems that can catch all exceptions. No one number should decide anyone’s future, but assuming it’s only part of the decision, I think the benefits far outweigh the exceptions it creates and the hardships that people like Doc endure because of it.
Update: Bob V. responds to me. Apparantly I smell. 🙂