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Sneaking In IQ Testing for 5-Year-Olds


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!




I couldn't agree more with you regarding the IQ tests for 5 year olds. It is absurd.

Erin Johnson

In today's economy, how is any public school system in this country able to rationalize the luxury of a gifted and talented program to its taxpayers? Does NYC have that kind of money?

The only place IQ tests should have in our public schools today is to determine whether a student has a learning disability. The school tests the youngster's IQ and matches it up against their classroom performance to determine if there might be some degree of discrepancy. If one exists, the school develops an IEP for the youngster and hopefully gets that child whatever help they need.

The only testing I found useful for primary age youngsters was the Gates-McGinnity. With relative reliability it is able to determine whether kids in first or second grade have gaps/deficiencies in reading. If it is determined that a problem exists, the school can then get the remediation necessary at an early enough age to get the student back to grade level before too much time transpires.

Tracking/ability grouping (de facto segregation) is a blatant form of discrimination. After all, how many poor, black, or Latino youngsters are likely to wind up in the high group? Tracking is also sanctioned/condoned by many less ambitious (that's code for lazy) teachers. Come on! As a teacher, what is going to make your day easier, one preparation per class, per day, or several?

IQ tests for four and five years to determine eligibility for gifted and talented programs, coupled with tracking, both fly in the face of any resemblance to equity. In fact, these practices are the antithesis of equity. Beyond that - they're a joke.

Deborah - Everything you say is right on, of course, and I couldn't agree more. But I'm still unclear as to what the inequities of student testing and the promise of the CPE model have for school grading. Is Diane right that acountability by testing is good for students but that grading per se is inappropriate for teachers and schools? What is the link between the two?

As we centralize and federalize, we do lose our voice. Who ever thought it could be otherwise?

You can organize so that those who feel like you get more control, but to those who disagree with you, that will feel like yet another advance of totalitarianism.

I've long wished we could quit fighting over the right way and get on the with the work we long to do--that a thousand little schools could go their own way.

When I was in grad school I took a class on IQ testing. I always wondered how valid the test is in actually testing IQ vs. verbal ability or SES level.

Fast forward and my 3 year old is given an IQ test when he was being diagnosed with autism. He scored 59. A year later he became "stupider" with a score of 57.

Three years later he was tested using the Tony - 100. Huh? I didn't think IQs were supposed to change that much?

It tells me that there is much to be done in the field of IQ testing. Yes my son had communication/language problems - is that what IQ tests are supposed to test? If that is true then he should never have learned to read, do math, learn science. Yet he does - in a regular classroom, with no aide.

I think IQ tests are a waste of:
1. Money - like schools have tons of it
2. Time - like schools have tons of it
3. Time from actual teaching of good curriculum which has - hey! - placement tests!

In today's economy, how is any public school system in this country able to rationalize the luxury of a gifted and talented program to its taxpayers?

I'm always curious about the phrase "in today's economy," which always seems a prelude to what we can't afford...

Yes, the last few months have been an economic downturn, but taking a slightly longer view we have one of the highest standards of living -- if not the highest standard of living -- that the world has ever seen.

And we "can't afford" to nurture the talents of school kids??


Not to be the bearer of bad news but; the stock market is in the toilet, foreclosures are off the wall, and the price of oil/gasoline spikes anytime someone in Venezuela or Nigeria sneezes.

We "can afford" to nurture the talents of our school kids if classroom teachers pay equal attention to all students, learning disabled, gifted, or average. All kids are different. They arrive in September with different strengths and weaknesses and progress at different rates for myriad reasons. If teachers stopped whole group instruction (one math lesson, one science lesson, etc.) and picked each student up individually, according to their appropriate level(s) then we wouldn't need gifted and talented programs. It's more work but IT CAN BE DONE.

Think of what it would be like if medical doctors or attorneys attempted to duplicate the delivery system of public school teachers. Disaster?????

how do you do the test

I agree completely. Just bc u have a high IQ doesn’t make u a success. I have tons of friends with average IQs that do way better than me in school and this is coming from an 18 year old with a “genius” IQ of 145. In my opinion its all about work ethic. Yeah I usually begin to understand things faster then them, but the fact that they study more makes them more familiar with the subject. As a result, they get better grades.

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