IQ in California Public Education and its Challenges

Throughout California, educators have been stumped by what appears to be a very simple question: Should intelligence tests be used in California? The answer is not as simple as it appears. IQ (Intelligence Quotient) testing has had limited legal ramifications in California, yet it has been used in many cases to justify the placement of a student in a special education program. Also, the concept and use of IQ tests have been met with questions about their validations and strength to actually assess what they are supposed to assess – “raw” intelligence. Calls of bias, lack of re-standardization and a limited scope of measuring intelligence have plagued the tests. Also, IQ scores of an individual are not set and can change later in that person’s life. Yet, with all the criticism that IQ tests have attracted, one fact appears to be evident – the scores of IQ tests have predicted the academic success of students. Also, the IQ scores do measure something about the student. They give the testers, administrators, teachers, or anyone interested in the scores a perspective of a child’s current knowledge and educational needs. While IQ tests are questionable on several fronts, they may not be as useless as they appear to be. With reservations, IQ tests can be an effective tool for the assessment of students in California.

Originally, IQ tests were meant to test innate intellectual abilities. IQ scores are quotients that are calculated by adding the mental age of the student to his/her chronological age and multiplying the sum by 100. Those who score above 120 are usually considered genius. Those who score between 90 and 100 are considered average, and those scoring below 80 are considered developmentally-delayed or mentally-retarded. However, critics – and there are many of them – have voiced that they do not do what they are supposed to do. For example, minority and economically-disadvantaged students tend to score lower than other students and, consequently, are often underrepresented in gifted and talented programs.

Furthermore, some critics charge that the current, widely-used, IQ tests are not guided by a plausible theory of how the brain actually operates and do not accurately measure more contemporary ideas of what “intelligence” actually is (Machek, 2003). Another argument put forward is that IQ tests often don’t reflect the norms of the population they assess. Some assessments used for IQ testing are restandardized every 25 years, which can affect the validity of the scores. An example of this finding comes from James R. Flynn, who compiled, studied and compared IQ scores of Asian-American students who were tested on an assessment last standardized two decades earlier. Flynn explains that the WISC, an intelligence test used widely in the United States, was not restandardized for 25 years between 1947 and 1972. This comparison of IQ scores to obsolete norms caused the number of children who were officially classified as mentally-retarded to drop from 8.8 million in 1947 to 2.6 million in 1972 (Flynn, 1985) (Graham, 2001).

Another argument against IQ testing in California is its legal ramifications. In 1971, an important legal case stopped IQ testing for African-Americans in California. Larry v. Riles resulted in the court ruling that schools could no longer use standardized – invalidated – IQ tests for the purpose of identifying and placing black children into segregated special education classes for children designated as educable mentally-retarded (Overton, 2008). This court ruling was the result of a trend that was appearing within special education classes and those designated as “mentally-retarded” – African-Americans were being over-represented. In another court ruling, Diana v. State Board of Education (1970), students needed to be given the IQ test in their native language.

Testing before this ruling was given in English for all students. Often, this resulted in the overrepresentation of Eastern Europeans and Chinese students in the early 20th Century and Hispanics in latter half of the century as being designated as below average or mentally-retarded. From these two standpoints, it appears that IQ testing has historically been misused. One researcher stated, “IQ tests do not measure intelligence but rather correlate with a weak causal link to intelligence.” (Gladwell, 2007) And yet, this weak causal link to intelligence has condemned students from various races and linguistic groups to an inferior designation in society. The two court rulings cast IQ testing as an unfair instrument for judging students, and that it needs reform. (As another case, Lora v. New York City Board of Education (1984), indicates, the ruling states that the school system is required to use objective and improved referrals and assessment methods as well as multidisciplinary evaluations to reach a diagnosis of a student.)

These are just some of the arguments against IQ testing. However, there is another side to this. Although, there hasn’t been any validation that IQ tests actually predict intelligence, they do predict a student’s success in school (Overton, 2008, pp. 367). Also, they do show academic weakness, processing disorders and disabilities that may affect a student’s ability to learn (some of the assessments will directly gauge these components). Another factor to consider is that IQ test scores, on the whole, have been increasing with every new generation. Known as the Flynn Effect, IQ tests scores for different populations have risen over the past 60 years. James R. Flynn discovered that IQ scores increased from one generation to the next for all of the countries for which data existed (Graham 2001). Reason for this change has not been validated; however, it may result from policies affecting socio-economic issues, better access to education, or better test-taking skills. What it may reveal, too, is that certain educational practices may be improving in certain areas (although, comparisons of scores on a worldwide stage may invalidate this argument).

Possibly the best argument for IQ tests is that they shouldn’t be used primarily as a tool to measure innate intelligence. Instead, they should be used as a device to help students find their academic strength and weakness. According to Reschly and Grimes (1995), there should be guidelines for appropriate use. They are:

1. A context that emphasizes prevention and early intervention, rather than eligibility for services in special education.

2. They should be used when the results are directly relevant to well-defined referral questions and other information does not address those questions.

3. Mandatory use for all referrals, numerous evaluations or reevaluations is not consistent with best practices.

4. They must never be used alone. Other assessments must be used and be individualized to a child’s characteristics and to the original referral problems (i.e. student was referred for having trouble with reading).

5. The assessment procedures match the student’s characteristics.

* Score reporting and interpretation must reflect known limitation of the tests, including technical adequacy, inherent error of measurement and general categories of performance.

* Decision and interpretation on the classification of a student must reflect the overall strengths and weaknesses in intellectual performance and performance on other relevant facts such as behavior, age, family structure and beliefs and cultural background.

* There should be an implementation of assertive procedures to protect students from misconceptions and misuses (Overton, 2008, pp. 367-368).

IQ tests are not great indicator of someone’s intelligence. They have been wrought with numerous problems and been misused in the past. However, the misinterpretation shouldn’t be a reason for not allowing these tests. They need to be restandardized to reflect the norms of the generation of students being assessed. Also, items such as native language, socio-economic background and learning disabilities should be taken into account when giving an IQ test. And finally, an IQ test’s purpose needs to be reevaluated. Intelligence in its own right is not something one can measure with one test (then again, by law – IDEA and NCLB – one test should never be used as a factor to decide a student’s educational fate). The scores, themselves, don’t remain the same through a person’s life. They merely show what a student knows at that time. They can reveal, however, what they need to know and where their weakness may exist. With reservations, an IQ test is a powerful tool. Yet, a tool can easily be wielded in the wrong hands and cause damage, if one’s not aware of the power it holds.

Work Cited

1. Overton, Terry (2008). Measure of Intelligence and Adaptive Behaviors Assessing Learners with Special Needs: An Applied Approach 6th Edition. Pp. 365, 367-368.

2. Graham, Charles (2001), The Flynn Effect. Human Intelligence. Fall 2002.

3. Machek, Greg (2003) The Role of Standardized Intelligence Measures in Testing for Giftedness: Human Intelligence Spring 2004. test. shtml

4. Gladwell, Malcom (2007) None of the Above. The New Yorker Dec. 17. 2007.