Research And Reports

June 02, 1982 5 min read
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The in-between years of adolescence are troublesome for students, but they can also be difficult for the school administrators and teachers who are charged with educating them. A new guide from the Center for Early Adolescence at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill may offer help to parents and educators who are concerned about middle-grade schooling.

The guide, “Middle Grades Assessment Program,” is based on recent research findings on adolescent development and effective schools.

Designed for use by both professionals and lay citizens, the guide includes an observation checklist, interview forms, and training and assessment procedures.

“Schools and groups that complete the program can achieve greater consensus about the purpose and goals of their middle and junior-high schools,” said Gayle Dorman, author of the program and director of training at the center, “as well as greater involvement in education decision making.”

For more information, write to the Center for Early Adolescence, Suite 223, Carr Mill Mall 474A, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, N.C. 27514.

The latest chapter in the continuing debate over sex differences in mathematical ability comes from the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine.

In an article in the Journal’s May 20 issue, Dr. Daniel B. Hier and Dr. William F. Crowley Jr., suggest that male sex hormones “exert a permanent organizing influence on the brain.” An accompanying editorial calls the proposition “of interest” but wanting for “empirical proof.”

The authors examined 19 men who, due to defective hormone secretion, did not undergo normal pubescence. In addition, they studied 19 healthy men and five whose hormone secretion became low in later years. Men who secreted very low levels of androgens during puberty “had markedly impaired spatial ability” compared to the others.

Androgens are secreted in the testes of males and by the adrenal cortex of both genders.

“There are several reasons to suspect that the gonadal steriods may influence certain cognitive skills,” the researchers write. “First of all, there are striking sex differences in the prevalence of a variety of developmental language disorders, including dyslexia, delayed speech acquisition, stuttering, and infantile autism; secondly, sex differences can be demonstrated for a variety of cognitive skills, with women faring better on verbal measures and men performing better on spatial and mathematical measures; thirdly, these sex differences do not emerge until after puberty; fourthly, there may be subtle sex differences in the interhemispheric organizations of verbal and spatial abilities within the brain; and finally, there appear to be sex differences in the pattern of cognitive deficits that occur after cerebral injury.’'

They conclude that normal “androgenization” is essential to the full development of spatial ability. Further, they find, “Some minimal level of androgens must be present before or at the time of puberty for spatial ability to develop fully and that re-placement of androgens after puberty cannot compensate for an earlier deficiency in these hormones.”

But in a rebuttal in the same edition of the journal, Jerome Kagan, a psychologist at Harvard University, faults the pair for using standardized tests “as indexes of spatial ability” even though it is not clear that they represent an accurate index. Scores, he points out, depend in part on the test-taker’s speed.

The authors, Mr. Kagan contends, do not sufficiently define “spatial ability” for the purpose of their study. Further, he points out that sex differences in spatial reasoning are not universal. Mr. Kagan notes that when the same tests were given to adults living in isolated areas, there were no gender differences in performance.

“There is reason to believe that women in Western society are uncertain of their ability to deal with spatial problems,” Mr. Kagan writes. “The public, as well as most scientists, hold as part of local folk theory that males are better than females on tests requiring spatial reasoning.

“Perhaps,” he continues, “Eskimos on Baffin Island do not share the belief that females are not supposed to perform well on spatial-ability tests.”

After rising steadily since the beginning of the 20th century, the average I.Q. among Japanese youths is now 11 points higher than those of their American and European counterparts, giving Japanese the highest average I.Q. of any nation in the world, according to a Brit-ish psychologist’s analysis of international I.Q.-test scores.

Published in the May 20 issue of Nature, the British science journal, the study reported that more than three-fourths of the Japanese younger generation--people born between 1946 and 1969--have I.Q.'s higher than those of the average American or European.

Richard Lynn, a psychologist at the New University of Ulster who conducted the analysis, points out that with such a high average I.Q, a greater-than-usual percentage of the population must have extraordinarily high I.Q.'s; 10 percent of the Japanese younger generation should have I.Q’s of more than 130.

Mr. Lynn does not speculate on the reasons for this dramatic increase nor on why the increase in I.Q. among the Japanese should be proportionately greater than increases that occurred in other industrialized nations.

However, in a “news and views” article in the same issue of the journal, Alun M. Anderson, an editor at Nature, speculates that postwar urbanization and migration resulted in more intermarriage between groups that had previously been isolated. This increase in “outbreeding” has been shown to have a positive effect on I.Q., according to Mr. Anderson. In addition, improved nutrition and education may have been factors.

The question that remains open, Mr. Anderson notes, is whether the difference in I.Q. scores means that the Japanese are truly more “intelligent,” or merely better at I.Q. tests. “Given the massive cultural differences between the West and Japan and the difficulties of devising any test that does not favor one culture or another, there would seem to be endless opportunity for speculation,” he notes.

A version of this article appeared in the June 02, 1982 edition of Education Week as Research And Reports


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