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IQ Testing

What’s your Intelligence Quotient (IQ)? Has knowing—or not knowing—this number made any difference in your life?

Likely you have taken several IQ tests during your lifetime. Perhaps you have not made any particular decisions based on your IQ, but maybe others have. For example, maybe your IQ was measured while you were in elementary school and the resulting number was used to decide whether you were eligible to be in a Talented and Gifted program or a Special Education program.

The study and measurement of intelligence has a long history (Cherry, 3/3/2016). Quoting from Kendra Cherry’s article:

Interest in intelligence dates back thousands of years, but it wasn't until psychologist Alfred Binet was commissioned to identify students who needed educational assistance that the first IQ test was born.

During the early 1900s, the French government asked psychologist Alfred Binet to help decide which students were mostly likely to experience difficulty in schools.

The government had passed laws requiring that all French children attend school, so it was important to find a way to identify children who would need specialized assistance.

Faced with this task, Binet and his colleague Theodore Simon began developing a number of questions that focused on things that had not been taught in school such as attention, memory and problem-solving skills. Using these questions, Binet determined which ones served as the best predictors of school success. [Bold added for emphasis.]

Binet had doubts about the IQ test that he and Simon developed. Quoting again from Cherry’s article:

Binet himself did not believe that his psychometric instruments could be used to measure a single, permanent and inborn level of intelligence. Binet stressed the limitations of the test, suggesting that intelligence is far too broad a concept to quantify with a single number. Instead, he insisted that intelligence is influenced by a number of factors, changes over time and can only be compared among children with similar backgrounds.

What Is Intelligence?

Intelligence is a complex concept (IQ, n.d.). There is no clear agreement as to what constitutes intelligence or how to measure it. Here is my definition based on reading the work of many different authors. Intelligence is a combination of the ability to:

  1. Learn. This includes all kinds of informal and formal learning via any combination of experience, education, and training.
  2. Pose and recognize problems. This includes recognizing problem situations and transforming them into more clearly defined problems.
  3. Solve problems. This includes solving problems, accomplishing tasks, and fashioning products.

Robert Sternberg

Robert Sternberg has been an influential researcher and writer in the field of intelligence for many years. Recently he wrote an article, Alternative Measures of Intelligence: Five Reasons Why IQ Tests Have No Value in K-12 Schooling … and Never Did (Sternberg, April, 2016).

In brief summary, Sternberg regards a human brain as being very complex. He believes it to be ridiculous to think that a single three-digit number could be an accurate representation of a person’s cognitive abilities.

Here are Sternberg’s five reasons that IQ measures were used with K-12 students in the past. Sternberg’s article argues that these reasons are not valid and he presents alternatives measures that are better:

1.  To identify a student’s native ability—what the student is capable of independent of upbringing as well as social and cultural opportunities.

      Comment: Sternberg notes, “This was a noble goal and remains one. Unfortunately, research has proven it to be an impossible goal to reach with current technology.”

2.   To predict school achievement.

      Comment: Sternberg recommends that IQ tests used to predict school achievement could and should be replaced by use of a student’s previous school achievements. Look for underlying reasons for poor achievement, such as motivation and home/community environment.

3.   To identify students with learning disabilities.

      Comment: In various areas such as reading and arithmetic, students with a learning disability (such as dyslexia or dyscalculia) perform poorly in those aspects of schooling, but the reasons have nothing to do with their IQs. The recommendation is to look for specific performance problems and test for them.

4.  To identify students for gifted and talented programs.

      Comment: Sternberg notes, “IQ and achievement tests all measure about the same thing. For example, the SAT and ACT are alleged to be achievement tests, but they correlate about as highly with IQ tests as with each other. You don’t need an IQ test to identify students for gifted programming.”

5.   To draw comparisons of your students with students in other districts.

      Comment: Sternberg recommends, “However you make comparisons across districts, don’t use IQ tests. They won’t tell you what you want to know. Achievement tests are more appropriate for this purpose.”

Final Remarks

Early on in his career, Sternberg identified three major components of intelligence and discussed them in his book, Beyond IQ: A Triarchic Theory of Intelligence (Sternberg, 1985).

  1. Practical intelligence (street smarts) —the ability to do well in informal and formal educational settings; adapting to and shaping one's environment.
  2. Experiential intelligence (school smarts; book smarts)—the ability to deal with novel situations; the ability to effectively automate ways of dealing with novel situations so they are easily handled in the future; the ability to think in novel ways.
  3. Componential intelligence—the ability to process information effectively. Includes metacognitive, executive, performance, and knowledge-acquisition components that help to steer cognitive processes.

He has long been concerned that many students achieve school smarts (book smarts) through their schooling, but are not good at translating this into practical uses (street smarts) outside of the school setting.

What You Can Do

The issue of school smarts versus street smarts is quite poignant in today’s world. Remember the concept of “Yankee ingenuity”? As you interact with students and/or your children, continually probe for their progress (or lack thereof) in making “practical, daily life” uses of what they are being taught in school. Here is a simple question to ask a school-age student, “What did you learn in school today that has some practical use in your life outside of school?”

References and Resources

Cherry, K. (3/2/2016). History of intelligence testing. Retrieved 4/21/2016 from

IQ (n.d.). Intelligence Quotient. Wikipedia. Retrieved 4/22/2016 from

Moursund, D. (January, 2016). Learning problem-solving by using games: A guide for educators and parents. IAE-pedia. Retrieved 4/22/2016 from

Moursund, D. (2015). Brain science for educators and parents. Eugene, OR: Information Age Education. Web: PDF: Microsoft Word:

Sternberg, R.J. (April, 2016). Alternative measures of intelligence. School Administration. Retrieved 4/20/2016 from

Sternberg, R.J. (1985). Beyond IQ: A triarchic theory of intelligence. Cambridge: Cambridge University.

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Saturday, 17 April 2021

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