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Don't be afraid of intelligence tests

By Dan Cassino
Arizona Daily Wildcat
March 25, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Dan Cassino

Americans don't like standardized tests.

Standardized tests smack of elitism, discrimination, and all sorts of ideas our society spent the sixties trying to do away with. The sad truth, however, is that they work.

A test such as the SAT predicts school performance very well. The exact numbers and statistical correlation are meaningless to most people, but the truth remains. Despite anecdotal evidence to the contrary, students with high SAT scores have been shown to do well in college. Students with low SAT scores do poorly.

The SAT and similar tests are good predictors of performance because they are approximations of intelligence tests. The recent NCAA debacle, as well as the wider debate over the use of testing in schools are just continuations of a debate that has been going on in the United States since 1917, when IQ was born.

Our society has rejected the notion behind IQ, the idea that a person's intelligence is quantifiable. Instead, we are told that intelligence comes in many forms, like linguistic, musical, bodily-kinesthetic and interpersonal. We are told that measuring intelligence is a matter of personal taste, rather than one of any scientific merit. We are told that no test can really measure someone's mental capacity.

We are being lied to.

An intelligence test like the Stanford-Binet accurately measures how intelligent someone is. We can prove that it is an effective measuring device by looking at how scores on intelligence tests correlate with other measurable concepts, such as income, educational level, high school dropout rates, poverty rates and success in a job.

Despite the liberal philosophy we have been indoctrinated with, there is a strong positive correlation between high scores on an intelligence test and all of these factors. People who score high on intelligence tests make more money, get more education, are less likely to live in poverty - whatever their parent's socioeconomic status - and are far more successful in their jobs.

In recent years, research giving these findings has been universally quashed. This is because much of this research suggests things that are even less palatable to the powers that be. Statistical analysis has shown that intelligence does not come from the environment, but seems to be directly heritable. To what extent it is heritable, however, is a topic still debated. Bouchard has put the number as high as 80%, but even conservative estimates place heritability at or above 40%, a correlation unheard of in the social sciences. That is to say that genetic twins, separated at birth, have similar IQs, regardless of their surroundings. Imagine the consequences if these findings were accepted. Social programs would have to be scrapped. The strange American ideal of universal high school education would have to be reexamined. The dictum "All men are created equal," would have to be accepted as the founding fathers meant it, rather than as we have chosen to interpret it.

But wait. This cannot be so. We have all heard stories of people who have overcome all factors to be successful. There are plenty of people who do very well in life that did poorly in school. Mike Tyson alone serves as a contradiction of the correlation between intelligence tests and income. Bill Gates is apparently very intelligent, but was not successful in school.

These people stand out because they are the remarkable. They are the points above and below the curve. They do not contradict the idea of intelligence as a real concept, but simply show that other factors play a role. That hard work, dedication, and being able to take a punch play a role as well.

We have remained in fear of intelligence testing since its ramifications became clear. In 1971, the Supreme Court banned intelligence tests as a qualification for employment. Evidence that this decision was half-hearted comes from the exclusion of the military from this ruling. Apparently, the reasoning is that the intelligence of a secretary, or the new VP of marketing, doesn't matter, but no one wants a nitwit to have his fingers on the button.

By burying our heads in the sand on this issue, we have done a great disservice to society. If this sort of research were accepted and funded, perhaps we could find out exactly what other factors play a role in determining success. If we identified these, we could create a better, more dynamic society for everyone. We could save all the money incompetent workers cost the economy every year. We could help each student go to the school best suited for him. We could impact the lives of everyone American man, woman and child in a positive manner.

Or maybe you're afraid to.