Friday, January 18, 2019

American obsession with IQ - v3

I'll conclude this series on IQ with three pages' worth from Scott Barry Kaufman.  Remember he was "classified" at school via IQ test.  His IQ score predicted he was unlikely to finish high school.  This following is about four years after he was so classified.

Continue below the fold.


I open up my brown lunch bag and take out a meatloaf sandwich.  Again? Really?  I poke it just to make sure it's not still alive.  "Hey man, wanna work on the BBS later today?" my best friend Mark asks as he sits down at the table.  

"Yeah, for sure," I respond.  "We've got to work on advertising.  We need more overseas users."

A few years ago, my parents bought me a brand new 80486 personal computer--my portal into a whole new world I could escape to whenever I came home.  It wasn't long before I discovered bulletin-board systems (BBS).  Anyone with a modem could dial into another person's BBS and download the latest games and applications.   I was instantly hooked and decided to start my own.  Overnight I transformed myself from a 13-year-old kid in special education to "The Wizard", System Operator.

In only the past year my BBS has become immensely popular in Pennsylvania.  This week, Wolfenstein 3-D is being downloaded like hotcakes.   Mark is my co-sysop (sysop is short for system operator), helping to maintain the BBS, dealing with user complaints, and making sure the site is updated with the latest software.   Mark is also in special education.   That's where we met.  We instantly bonded over our shared interest in computers and the fact that we both feel powerless in school.   Our lives are completely consumed by the BBS; it's the only thing that makes us feel in control and good about ourselves.

I attempt to take a bite out of my sandwich when I hear laughing.   I look up to see a group of kids walk past me.  My heart skips a beat.  There they are: the gifted students.  Whenever  I see them playing with their TI-81 calculators, I can hardly take it.  I am dying to show them the applications I recently programmed on my own TI-81.  Plus, I know some of them are users on my BBS.  I desperately want to be friends with them.  Heck, I would be happy just to be associated with them.   To enter their world.

They sit down at the table across from us, just as Mark gets up.  "I'm gonna go get some more potatoes.  I'll be back," he says.  "Sure," I nod, even though I'm not listening to what he's saying.   All I know is that the perfect opportunity to introduce myself to them has finally arrived.   After all, they do know me.  They just don't realize it.

I get up and walk over, plopping my sandwich down on their table.   It explodes in a small eruption of meat.   "Hey guys! Mind if I join ya'll?" I say confidently.   A tall, lanky member of the group named Matt smiles.  "Sure.  What's your name?"  "My name is Scaaa...," I start, then stop.  I think for a moment and decide to go for it.  "I mean, I am ...the Wizard," I say with a grin.

Suddenly the whole table is looking at me.  "You're ... the Wizard?" another kid named Matt asks.   As I come to find out, there are three Matts at the table.  Must be a gifted name.   I reach into my bag and pull out my calculator.   I turn it on and plop it on top of what is left of my sandwich.   The group huddles around me and looks at the screen.   They look astonished as a configuration of dots, which takes the form of the logo of my BBS, appears on the screen.  "AWESOME!" the Matts say in unison.

Just then Mark returns with an overloaded plate of potatoes.   He almost drops his plat when he sees me sitting with the gifted kids.   He pauses and looks at us incredibly confused.  "Mark!" I yell and wave him over.  "Come join me and my new friends!"


Who is worthy of the label "gifted"?  For most of the twentieth century, only those scoring high on an IQ test were eligible for that nice-sounding label.  And let's be honest: the label does sound nice.  What would you rather get for the holidays, a gift or a learning disability?  Given the choice, most of you would probably rather receive the gifted label!

Lewis Terman, the founder of gifted education in the United States, had very clear ideas about which children were gifted.   It was Terman, after all, who decided to link high IQ scores on his test with "genius" in his classification for the Stanford-Binet (see Chapter 3).  Terman once explicitly remarked that from high-IQ children "and no where else, our geniuses in every line are recruited".


The problems {with IQ testing} aren't merely hypothetical.  As of this writing [2013],  New York City administrators have made the stakes as high as you can possibly get.  As far as I'm concerned, their current procedure for identifying giftedness serves as a blueprint for test abuse, and their method is.  Let's look at the New York City procedure:

  1. Thousands of 4-year-old children who appear gifted have the pleasure of taking a 30-minute test that determines the fate of the rest of their schooling (and lives).  Only children who match the teacher's preconceived notion of what a gifted child looks like will get nominated and have the opportunity to prove their worth.  Of course, parents can also nominate their own child, but parents aren't nearly as aware of the child's inclinations in school as the teacher.
  2. The primary test that is used to identify giftedness is the Naglieri Nonverbal Ability Test (NNAT-2).  This test has been advertised as "culture neutral", but there is no such thing as a culture-neutral test of cognitive ability.   Carol Carman and Debra Taylor found that even after taking into account ethnic differences, children from low-SES {socio-economic status} families were half as likely as other children to be identified as gifted on the first edition of the NNAT.
  3. Though the NNAT-2 is advertised as a measure of "nonverbal ability", it actually measures only a subset of nonverbal ability: figural nonverbal reasoning.  Figural reasoning tests use arbitrary shapes such as triangles, circles, squares and stars to measure nonverbal fluid reasoning.  There are varied ways of measuring nonverbal fluid reasoning, however, including the use of artwork depicting objects other than spatial forms such as apples, soccer balls, shoes, hammers and fire engine trucks.  Therefore, no only does the NNAT-2 represent a subset of the total domain of fluid reasoning, but it also represents a subset of nonverbal fluid reasoning.  In other words, it tests only a subset of the skills that contribute to school success, let alone real-world success.
  4. The NNAT-2 is often measured in a group setting.   Combine the high-stakes stress of the testing situation, the confusing nature of nonverbal test directions (despite being advertised as "simplified"), and the lack of a trained clinician who can form a personal connection with the child and you have a recipe for disaster (particularly for children from a different culture).  There's simply no opportunity for intelligent testing (see Chapter 2).
  5. There are very few practice items on the test, so children who have prior experience with the structure of the test and the strategies that are important for performance are at a distinct advantage.   Children who can afford prior practice materials will be at an advantage.   Therefore, those who are already at a disadvantage in their opportunity to learn in school (such as lower-SES children) are even further disadvantaged in their opportunity to improve their test performance that could serve as a gateway to improved learning outcomes.  Catch-22.  To give you an idea, at Bright Kids NYC you can receive eight, 45-minute individual test prep sessions for $1000; at NYC Gifted, you get 12-week sessions for $1,399.
  6. Even if a student does qualify for gifted identification, she still may not be able to get into one of the five coveted gifted-and-talented schools in the city because she didn't win the lottery.
  7. Have I mentioned yet that cognitive ability fluctuates most dramatically in youth, due to genuine brain maturation and enriching experiences (see Chapter 10)?
  8. Did I mention these are 4-year-olds?
"The economist Raj Chetty and colleagues looked at the life trajectories of nearly 12,000 children who were part of a large-scale education program in the 1980s based in Tennessee called Project Star.  Although they found that the effect of good teaching, as measured by test scores, almost completely disappeared by junior high, a different story emerged when they checked in on the study participants as adults (age 30).

Those adults who did better in preschool were more likely to go to college and to attend a higher ranked college, were less likely to be single parents, and were more likely to save for retirement than those with similar backgrounds who did not do as well in preschool.   Some people would say that these outcomes are more important than test scores.  Teaching quality turne dout to be a particularly important factor in preschool performance: students who had more-experienced teachers had high earnings as adults.   Factors such as class size and the socioeconomic status of peers had an effect on preschool performance, but neither of these factors explained differences in preschool performance as much as good teaching.   One of the authors of the study, Emmanuel Saez, estimated that a terrific kindergarten teacher is worth about $320,000 a year, if you considered the additional monetary value a full class of students with a good preschool teacher can expect to earn throughout their careers.   This figure doesn't even take into account social gains, such as better health and less crime".

Scott Barry Kaufman does find value in IQ tests, intelligently administered, as a diagnostic tool, to help find the right interventions for children with problems, gifted or not.   But that is not e.g., what "The Bell Curve" by Murray and Herrnstein was all about, was it?  It is not what the people who talk about "average national IQ" are all about, is it?  None of that BS that "their motives are ignoble but their science is sound", please!