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Why IQ Tests May not Measure Intelligence

The American psychologist Arthur Jensen (1973) defines intelligence as ‘abstract reasoning ability’ – the ability to discover the rules, patterns and logical principles underlying objects and events and the ability to apply these discoveries to solve problems.

Intelligence is measured by intelligence tests such as IQ (Intelligence Quotient) tests which are designed to measure abstract reasoning ability. As such they try avoid questions which ask about factual knowledge – such as ‘what is the capital of the USA?’ but instead ask questions such as – ‘what is the next number in the following sequence – 1,8,27, 64, __’

Despite their widespread use, there is a large body of evidence which suggest that IQ tests are not a valid measure of intelligence, because abstract reasoning is only one facet of the full range of mental abilities.

Culture and Intelligence

The Canadian psychologist Otto Klineberg (1971) gave an IQ test to Yakima Native American children living in Washington State, USA. The test involved timing how long it took the children to place different shaped wooden blocks in the appropriate shaped holes in a wooden frame. The children achieved only low scores, but Klineberg argued that this was because their culture, unlike Western culture, did not place a high value on speed.

yakima.jpg

This suggests that it is inappropriate to compare the intelligence of people from different cultures, as any speed-based test favours some cultures over others.

Other researchers have pointed out that cultural variations between classes within a society mean that IQ tests are biased towards the middle classes, because such tests are largely constructed by and standardised on this group. If we accept the fact that there are cultural differences between social classes, and that the working classes have lower levels of deferred gratification and higher levels of fatalism, as well as a ore negative experience of education generally, then it is likely that they will do less well in IQ tests compared to middle class children.

Further reasons why IQ tests may not measure intelligence 

Klineberg argues that at least the following factors influence how well an individual does in an IQ test:

  • The previous experience and education of the person tested
  • His degree of familiarity with the subject matter of the test
  • His motivation or desire to achieve a good score, in the appropriate time frame.
  • His rapport with the tester
  • his knowledge of the language in which the test is conducted
  • his physical health and well-being.

 

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Are Chinese Teaching Methods Best? (Experiments in Education)

According to recent studies, China is home to one of the best education systems in the world, while Britain is trailing a long way behind. In some studies Chinese students are three years ahead of British students in reading and writing ability.

China is well known for its ‘tough education’ methods, but can these methods be used to improve the performance of British students? In a recent BBC documentary: ‘Are our kids tough enough? Chinese school’ a field experiment was conducted to find out.

five Chinese teachers took over the education of a class of fifty Year 9 pupils at Bohunt School in Liphook and taught them (in one class of 50!) using Chinese teaching methods for a month, and then tested in English, Maths, Science and Mandarin, and the results compared to other students who remained receiving a more typical British Education.

 

The main features of the Chinese School consisted of:

  • The school day being 12 hours long with a 7 a.m. start consisting of a flag raising ceremony and outdoor exercises.
  • In the classroom, most lessons were essentially lectures. Teachers stood at the front writing the theory on the board, while the students (were supposed to) take notes and learn.
  • PE was a compulsory – and students were timed, tested and ranked against each other.

Results

The ultimate test of the experiment was to see if Chinese teaching methods improved educational performance – which they did (or at least appeared to have – see below). Students who attended the Chinese School for four weeks scored about 10% points (on average) higher in Mandarin, Maths and Science and they also did better in English, but with a smaller margin.

The experiment also revealed that there was something of a culture clash – those students were not particularly self-disciplined or well-behaved did not respond well to a Chinese style of teaching which is less student-centered and not as inclined to encourage individualism.

Limitations of the field experiment

I say that the Chinese-School kids achieved better test scores – what we’re not told is how much they improved, or what their ability was compared to the control group. I’m assuming all this was controlled for.

The Hawthorne Effect might apply – the improved results might be a result of the students knowing their involved in an experiment (and knowing they’re on TV) or the better results might simply exposing the kids to something different, rather than it being about those exact Chinese methods (a change is as good as a rest!)

It’s also not clear how representative this school is – Bohunt seems to be a brilliant school, enlightened (which is reflected in getting involved in this whole experiment in the first place). Would you get the same findings somewhere else?

Ethics: Some (wrong) individuals might try and argue that some of the children experienced harm to their self-esteem by being ranked in PE (other (right) individuals might argue this is just life, tough, get over it kiddo).

Related Posts:

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Field Experiments in Sociology

Unstructured Interviews in the Context of Education