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Evaluation of ideal definitions and the basis of intelligence testing Research Paper

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Updated: May 5th, 2019

The foundation of intelligence testing

The definition of intelligence is elusive. However, scholars relate intelligence to logical reasoning and adaptation to prevailing situations. Still, there is a challenge over objective testing of intelligence. In order to understand intelligence testing and its basis, we have to look at its origin and theories.

Binet and Simon developed the Binet-Simon test to aid in assigning French students to appropriate classes. Educators had not developed any method to identify learners’ difficulties, such as retardation, behavioral problems, or lack of prior education. These researchers identified that learners did not have the same course of intellectual growth, and learners’ mental capabilities developed at varied rates.

Binet and Simon referred it to mental age (an average level of age when learners can perform intelligence test) but not the chronological age of an individual. They used mental age to assign appropriate tests to learners based on individual’s capabilities. This was the first approach to psychometric testing. Binet cautioned on over reliance on the test and the dynamic nature of intelligence and errors associated with tests.

Lewis Terman developed Stanford-Binet test from Binet test. Terman coined “the term Intelligence Quotient (IQ)” (Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). This test related to American children and culture. IQ relied on dividing the “mental age by chronological age and multiplying the quotient by 100 to give the IQ of an individual” (Baltes and Staudinger, 2000). Terman adapted IQ tests to reflect individuals’ test scores with the average scores of learners’ peers.

David Wechsler developed Wechsler-Bellevue test and scale of intelligence as a reaction to Stanford-Binet test. He introduced several specialized IQ tests for different groups. He developed scales for both verbal and non-verbal tests consisting 14 tests. He tested “verbal, performance and combined IQ scores of the tests” (Baltes and Staudinger, 2000).

This approach had advantages based on its performance scale and various tests for different age groups. The performance scale was independent of skills like reading, language and writing. Thus, it could test illiteracy, verbally challenged learners and non-communicative aspects.

Theories of Intelligence Testing

Charles Spearman developed “the general intelligence known as g” (Sternberg, R. J. and Hedlund, J., 2002). He believed that there was “a single and dominant factor of intelligence” (Sternberg, R. J. and Hedlund, J., 2002). He derived this conclusion from observing positive correlations or associations among grades of various learners in unrelated subjects.

Spearman believed that there was “an interaction between g and a specific factor of mental task, S (a person’s ability that was responsible for an individual’s skills in certain mental tasks)” (Sternberg, R. J. and Hedlund, J., 2002).

For instance, Spearman believed that people who possessed vocabulary skills had a better memory and could also show better skills in mathematics. However, this approach was not reliable. Instead, it attempted to provide explanations why tests scores of the same learner had relations in different subjects (Sternberg, R. J. and Hedlund, J., 2002).

Howard Gardner introduced multiple intelligence theory as an attempt to explain intelligence testing. In his approach, Gardner introduced testing in multiple abilities, such as linguistic, musical, logical/mathematical, visual, bodily, interpersonal, and intrapersonal. Gardner argued that other approaches to test IQ were not conclusive.

In addition, Gardner also noted that such IQ tests could not predict or show outcomes and success in life or school. Gardner argued that individuals had different levels of intelligence. This explained why people had unique cognitive skills. Gardner’s argument provides a basis of intelligence as both cultural and biological.

Robert Sternberg also introduced Triarchic theory. According to him, intelligence has three elements, namely analytical, creative and practical. Analytical intelligence enables people to provide logical solutions to problems through breaking them down. The fundamental process of this approach is analysis. People with high-levels of analytical intelligence rely on their acquired knowledge in solving problems.

However, such individuals may lack creative abilities in terms of new knowledge or ideas. Sternberg’s creative intelligence entails synthetic thinking. Individuals with creative intelligence use knowledge and understanding for being able to formulate new knowledge in an intuitive manner.

Sternberg notes that people with the highest IQ are not the best in this method of thinking. According to Sternberg, individuals who possess high-levels of creative intelligence do not have sufficiently developed universal IQ tests for rating skills of creativity and problem solving. Practical intelligence involves the use of common senses. Individuals must use both their creative and analytical intelligence on daily encounters for problem solving (Baltes and Staudinger, 2000).

This implies that individuals with practical intelligence can succeed in most settings. They can apply both skills to achieve best outcomes. In addition, Sternberg notes that people can achieve excellence above these forms of three intelligences. Thus, some individuals may integrate all three forms of intelligences and demonstrate high standards of intelligence (Sternberg and Clinkenbeard, 1995).

Challenges to definitions of intelligence by Gardner, Spearman, and Sternberg

In reference to multiple intelligences, education systems promote acquisitions of linguistics and mathematical skills. According to Gardner, this is unfair method of IQ testing. For instance, learners who have high-levels of intelligence in other areas may end up in special classes due to the lack of mathematical and linguistics skills. To Gardner and his supporters, educators should find relevant ways of assessing learners’ strengths and weaknesses accurately.

Learners do not learn in similar manners. Thus, uniform assessments are difficult. In this sense, educators should not create uniformity in assessing learners. Lazear argued that knowledge of how learners master skills enabled teachers to provide a reliable assessment (Lazear, 1992). Thus, it is useful for making informed decisions in learning processes.

This approach does not require learners to follow traditional test approaches that have predetermined answer such as multiple choices, essay, but it advocates for giving learners opportunities to respond in their ways through applications of multiple intelligences. However, this process is cumbersome as developing every possible profile of intelligence to match various abilities of learners is time-consuming.

Other critics also note that Gardner’s approach does not have empirical evidence to support it (Waterhouse, 2006; Klein, 1998). In addition, cognitive neuroscience studies did not support Gardner’s theory (Waterhouse, 2006). Other scholars related it to the g factor of Spearman (Visser, Ashton and Vernon, 2006).

Spearman’s idea of general intelligence gained prominent in the 20th century. However, its critics, such as Thorndike and Thurstone, argued that it was inappropriate to test an individual’s IQ using a single construct. However, people still viewed intelligence as a united concept (Deary, 2012).

Sternberg based his theory on meta-components that were responsible for planning and execution of solutions and feedback related to performance and gaining knowledge. Thus, meta-component processes were responsible for individual differences. According to Sternberg, intelligence is a product of high-level components for problem solving but not a low-level component of gathering information that supports problem solving.

Critics like Brody and Gottfredson argue that Sternberg’s theory is a statement on manifestation of intelligence than an explanation of intelligence. Further, these scholars have shown “recent reviews of the theoretical and empirical support for the theory do not support the notion that creative or practical intelligences are as important as analytical intelligence (i.e. an approximation of general intelligence) in predicting life success” (Gottfredson, 2003; Brody, 2003).

Evaluation of ideal definitions and the basis of intelligence testing

Theorists have grouped theories of intelligence into multiple intelligences and psychometric. Psychometric group involves theories of Wechsler, Spearman and proponents. On the other hand, multiple intelligences account for theories of Gardner, Sternberg and others.

The theory of general intelligence shows correlations on individuals’ abilities. Researchers have shown that problems that have high-levels of difficulty rely significantly on the g factor (Gottfredson, 1998). For instance, Raven’s Advanced Progressive Matrices relied on the g factor in developing its test. This suggests that there is a link between g and cognitive skills.

A number of scholars have also expanded the g factor by providing additional types of g, such as fluid (Gf), and crystallized (Gc). These classifications covered nonverbal and cultural-free aspects along with the skills and ideas individuals collect through acculturation.

General intelligence gained popularity due to empirical evidence from different tests scores that demonstrated correlations of cognitive tests among diverse individuals. The g factor has remained prominent in most psychometric test batteries, diverse individuals and analytic approaches to problem solving.

Scholars note that all forms of cognitive tests, both simple and complex, despite their informational aspects, have elements of general intelligence. We can not view g factor in terms of test materials, their contents or psychological aspects. This is because the g factor is in the brain.

The g factor in both simple and complex tests shows correlations of the tests with other non-psychometric elements. Brain cognitive systems have modular arrangements. However, the g factor shows consistent and positive correlations with every cognitive skill which also reflects differences among people (Jensen, 2000).

Proponents of multiple intelligence approaches argue that intelligence has a number of factors. These proponents believe that components of intelligence are multiple and interact with one another.

They work as combinations in order to solve problems. Gardner believes that the brain has different segments responsible for various skills (Gardner, 1998). He argues that damage to a specific area in the brain only affects a specific skill associated with that particular area. This is why Gardner concludes that there are multiple intelligences.

Most of the critics have argued that multiple intelligences lack supporting empirical evidence. This has made the approach unpopular among educators and researchers. Critics, who attribute multiple intelligences to the g factor, do so because of the Gc and Gf in assessments.

Gardner had argued that assessments of intelligences that focused only on mathematical and linguistics skills were unfair. This has been the trend in traditional standards and schools have encouraged such approaches. From this point, we can note that Gardner’s approach to IQ testing goes beyond mathematical and linguistics abilities and includes other areas of intelligence.

Gardner demonstrates uniqueness of different learners and that every learner has specific strengths and weaknesses. This observation may make proponents of multiple intelligences approaches argue that psychometric approaches are restrictive and apply to disadvantaged groups.

Jensen argues that the g factor also shows differences among people in processing information (Jensen, 1998). He observes that IQ scores may also reflect correlations among tests. Jensen acknowledges differences among tests and needed skills, but points out such correlations do not exist in the factor analysis.

Instead, they reflect the presence of the g factor in learners’ cognitive processes. Thus, Jensen may relate g factor to information processing skills among learners. He also relates the g factor to biological aspects in terms of brain contents and information processing. Researchers that have interests in brain studies have established associations between the brain’s gray matter and high IQ in certain parts of the brain, using Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale (Haier et al, 2004).

Gardner also associates the brain with intelligence, especially in logical-mathematical and interpersonal skills. Haier and colleagues’ study seems to support the approach that differences in weaknesses and strengths among individuals of same IQ occur due to “variation in mental skills that influence information processing instead of interactions among various intelligences” (Haier et al, 2004).

Failures in models of intelligence tests have created issues that seek to establish relevancy of IQ testing. Critics of these models believe that such tests do not have bases because these models do not offer any kind of intervention that may help individuals classified as disabled (Benson, 2003). They also argue that the best approach is to observe an individual’s behavior both at school and home in order to gauge an individual’s ability rather than abstract IQ tests. This is the only way to get appropriate tests for learners.

In conclusion, we must acknowledge that a conclusive definition of intelligence does not exist. In fact, scholars in this field concur that the debate is ongoing through several theories that have emerged over the years. However, when we look at multiple intelligences and psychometric tests, we agree that they differ in manners each theory tries to explain intelligence testing.

However, both sets of theoretical approaches aid in understanding the concept of intelligence and testing. We must also understand the importance of emerging studies in fields of neuroscience and cognitive development. These studies also help people to comprehend intelligence. For instance, we can note the importance of such studies in understanding the g factor, individual differences and the process of problem solving.

On the other hand, multiple intelligence theories tend to demonstrate that intelligences also depend on other factors, such as experiences. In addition, these theories also show that individuals may express their intelligence in forms of behavioral aspects. The theory of multiple intelligences will gain power with emerging empirical evidence to support it. However, the future of this theory lies on evidence from other fields of study, such as neuroscience and genetic, but not on psychometric testing.

The trends of research in the field should prove Gardner’s idea that intelligence has many elements. This theory should also appeal to educators who see learners as unique individuals who have diverse talents and capabilities, weaknesses and strengths. Thus, the theory can support the idea behind learner-centered learning.

The definition of intelligence depends on several factors such as allocation of resources in the education sector. Thus, some of these IQ testing instruments may be biased depending on their origins and purposes. Most governments have advocated individual differences and most of their policies may support such approaches. We should see whether diverse or standard approaches to education IQ testing will yield positive results.


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