Those Damn IQ Tests

January 31, 2018


From time to time, I re-read some of my favorite books. I always find that on the second go-round, I catch a few things I didn’t catch the first time around. This weekend, I started to read Mindset by Carol Dweck again, and on pages four and five, I read something that blew me away. 


Alfred Binet, the inventor of the first standardized IQ test, did not invent the test to measure a person’s fixed intellect. 


Get this: He invented it to “identify children who were not profiting from the Paris public schools, so that new educational programs could be designed to get them back on track. Without denying individual differences in children’s intellect, he believed that education and practice could bring about fundamental changes in intelligence.” 


Here is a quote of his from one of his books, Modern Ideas About Children: 


“A few modern philosophers … assert that an individual’s intelligence is a fixed quantity, a quantity which cannot be increased. We must protest and react against this brutal pessimism … With practice, training, and above all, method, we manage to increase our attention, our memory, our judgment and literally to become more intelligent than we were before.”


So those damn tests that parents use to determine whether their children are gifted or not, those tests that inform a child’s self-worth and that we carry into adulthood … were never intended to measure intelligence. 


They are supposed to measure whether a program is working or failing. They are a measure of the quality of instruction, not of the quality of the child’s intellect. 


I find this heartbreaking. It’s heartbreaking both for the children and adults who have carried with them the notion that they aren’t smart, that they have low IQs, and that they therefore will never amount to much. It is heartbreaking for the parents who believe that these tests define their children. 


It’s also heartbreaking for the people who test well, who have so-called “high IQs,” and who therefore do not learn that with effort comes growth, who think that life will be easier for them because they are “smart,” and who therefore never learn the skills to overcome failure, thrive,and expand their bandwidth. 


Parents, kids, everyone: Testing has its purposes. It can tell us whether our children are learning what we want them to learn. But test scores are like the weather: They measures a point in time, and nothing else. They tell us nothing about a person’s future, his or her ability, and his or her worth. 


Do you believe in your ability to learn? Do you participate in life? Do you cultivate self-worth? Are you emotionally intelligent? 


These are far, far better predictors of what the future holds for you that a misappropriated, narrow-minded IQ test. 


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