Assessment Opinion

Sneaking In IQ Testing for 5-Year-Olds

By Deborah Meier — January 17, 2008 3 min read

Dear Diane,

Like the distinguished panel of assessment experts whom Commissioner Mills called in to examine it wrote—the old CPESS model was a promising beginning. We had much work to be done if others were to follow suit. Instead others were discouraged and finally prohibited from doing so. If we had a commitment toward such approaches, we’d solve its kinks. Then instead of being a rare, fragile flower it could have been transplanted widely. What’s amazing is that within half a dozen years more than 40 schools, just in NY State, jumped on board without any support and against the grain. That more than half have not given up is testimony to its hardiness.

I wish Ed Week would make it easier for folks to read the comments we get to our letters. Some blogs do. Because as I suggested to one respondent last week, age-grading and course-passing as ways to organize “credit” toward graduation limits our options. It offers unacceptable trade-offs. What was nice about CPE and Mission Hill (K-6 and K-8 schools) was that we could place kids in groupings that made sense for their learning and did not have to decide artificially whether they had to repeat a grade or not. Ditto for passing courses. Like other Coalition schools, what we had to decide, child by child, was what was best for maximizing learning. Period.

You ask, how did our schooling fall “so effortlessly into the control of Know Nothings…”? Weep, and then, as we once said, “organize”.

New York City is now preparing to test all 5-year-olds (and encouraging day care, Head Start and nursery schools to do the same) on the Otis-Lennon IQ Test. Next it will be 6- and 7-year-olds. Decades of work to eliminate standardized testing of the young will be reversed. Just as we managed to eliminate standardized testing as part of Head Start (thanks to Sam Meisels and the Erikson Institute), NYC is implementing something even worse. IQ tests. As though we haven’t, as Emily Gasoi notes in her excellent commentary (posted after last week’s letter), a long history to draw on re. IQ testing.

Like NCLB it’s being sneaked in (without any public input) under the guise of Equity! Can you imagine the gall of calling IQ tests a means toward equity???? Yes—it’s supposed to make it easier and fairer for all children to get into “gifted and talented” programs.

Mozart was surely talented, in fact a genius, but whether his particular genius would have been detected in the Otis-Lennon IQ test no one can know. Howard Gardner has been writing for decades about the wide diversity of “gifts” and “talents”. But, above all, we know that race and class have an enormous impact on who seems “smart” at age 5. We also know a lot about what it means to “track” kids by test scores—into various different ability-grouped classes. When I came to NYC in 1967 that was the norm. Even in schools that had substantial diversity, classrooms were neatly divided by race and class. So are “talented and gifted” classes. And they will be after we make it easier for poor kids and black and Latino kids to take IQ tests. Finding the kids who score in the top 5 percent means eliminating most non-white and poor children. That’s basic to the design of most standardized tests, but above all of IQ tests. If the slogan “all kids can learn” meant anything it was in defying the odds that the tests claim to be able to predict.

Not only will this new round of testing create more mostly white classes, but it will misinform all parents and teachers about the intelligence and learning assets of their own children. It will make it easier, once IQ scores are available, to once again openly argue that “after all, you can’t expect” x or y to achieve high levels of intellectual work. They are “after all” intellectually deficient. Don’t blame the messenger for the message, we were once told. We’ve been there before; we will be there again. It’s the fall-back assumption of those at the top, that their superiority is “natural” and that those beneath them just don’t have “it”—the smarts. If we do this when we know better, it will literally be criminal—a deliberate sabotaging of our most vulnerable children.

How can we begin to talk again, you ask, about schools that truly educate? Where can folks who agree with us on this part of the argument weigh in, Diane? The absence of any form of public voice, or for that matter professional input, in places like NYC makes it hard. But people in truly totalitarian regimes have organized for change, so I know there are ways for us to reverse this one, too. The reforms that reared their promising heads 20 years ago shall not vanish from this land!


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