Saturday, March 29, 2008


Speaking of "difficulties in the way not belonging to it" what do you think when your developmentally delayed child takes an IQ test at the local school and is given a set of four pictures:

  • a grey shorthaired dog
  • a grey shorthaired cat
  • a tan or yellowish shorthaired cat
  • a calico longhaired cat

When asked which one doesn't belong with the others, he points to the calico cat.

Well, he got it marked wrong on the test, obviously.


  1. He is more interested in cats right now than dogs, and this particular calico was a remarkably fine specimen of cat-ness; AND
  2. He sees a longhaired vari-colored creature and opposes it to the other short-haired single-colored creatures. Visually the calico cat stood apart from the others, and that was just a plain fact.

This is what led my husband to remark, "These IQ tests usually only demonstrate that the people who devise the tests aren't very smart."

And the kids that do well on these have learned to choose what they know the adults want. This IS a skill, and it even shows some intellectual ability (the ability to abstract enough to understand what someone else is trying to communicate; I was very good at this and therefore have always been a good test-taker) but this is NOT the intellectual skill the test purports to measure.

Another test involved cartoon fish.

  • This is Ko.
  • This is Neef.
  • (Turn the page to a bunch of fish).
  • Which one is Ko?
  • Which one is Neef?

When we got to the sea-plant called something like Tweekle-plee (honestly, I'm not making this up) Aidan was lost, and so was I, and the school psychologist was too. She apologized for the silliness of the test. I said, "It's OK, I think Aidan is enjoying this." Well, he didn't mind it, but he also didn't really see what it was in aid of, and indeed that was quite a sane reaction.

Again, there is a skill that the test purports to measure (probably something to do with how many random pieces of information you can fit in your short-term memory) and then there is the skill it really measures, which would be something like "the ability to bear patiently and even try to understand something that is pure nonsense."

The child who coined the phrase "I LIKE your guts, Paddy!" and paraphrases the Scarlet Pimpernel when he's trying to run away from me putting his AFO brace on "They chase him here, they chase him there...." is just way above Neef and Tweekle-plee and Co. (excuse me, KO).

Twaddle to me isn't so much what kids like when they have a choice (Aidan loves Pokemon and if the fish test had been about Pokemon, he would have aced it) but what adults impose on kids.

Charlotte Mason gives the telling example of the kindergarten teacher telling the school-children to pretend they are trees, and wave their arms like little branches. But left to themselves, children will play at being Ulysses, or Robinson Crusoe (or nowadays, perhaps Jedi Knights).

Aidan wants to take pictures (self-portrait on the left there, and a picture he took of his little brother above). He wants to roll and bake cookies. He wants to help me build shelves, and help his dad program games. In a nutshell, he wants to learn to be a competent adult, and every day is an apprenticeship for him in that.

There is nothing wrong with logic puzzles. The one above is silly, obviously, but there are fun real ones that my kids like to play.... for fun.

But using them to measure the human potential of a child? That reminds me of what Alison McKee once wrote in an issue of Growing Without Schooling -- about how she was having fun taking one of those standardized tests at school -- solving the thinking puzzles, filling in the little bubbles -- and then suddenly looking around and realizing, "this is a TEST. They didn't make this for people to have fun doing it, but as a MEASUREMENT." Suddenly it wasn't as fun anymore.


Stephanie said...

Willa, was the rest of that so-called measuring tool as silly as those two examples? As far as I'm concerned, Ko and Nee are whoever I want them to be on that page (who knows! maybe they switched names just for fun, right?), and honestly I kid you not, I had to read that dog/cat thing three times to figure out why the long-haired cat was a "wrong" answer!

Let's give that test to a classroom full of grad students and see how they do. Silliest thing I ever saw! How on earth does a test asking opinion questions measure anything near "intelligence"?

Faith said...

Will right now is taking all this tests so the pschologists can get a picture of his ADHD. I haven't even looked at the test to tell you the truth, I just drop him off and he takes them for hours. He never says one word about them afterwards.

Maybe I should look at them.

JoVE said...

A friend tells a story of his nephew taking some kind of admission test for a pre-school. The woman asked him if he had any pets. The kid says that he has a Rottweiler. The woman asks if his doggy is a nice doggy (imagine the tone of voice). The kid looks at her like she's lost her mind and says very slowly and clearly "It's a Rottweiler."

momof3feistykids said...

I'm with your husband. IQ tests have their uses, but they are HIGHLY overreated. My daughter took the WISC twice; just a few months passed between them. Her IQ scores were quite different. A reliable instrument, huh? When Sarah was in preschool, she would sometimes toy with the examiner, giving wrong answers on purpose just to see what she would say. Sometimes this testing nonsense is just something we have to go through with our kids to get services we believe will help them.

momof3feistykids said...

Oops ... overrated, that is.

Theresa said...

Totally with you on this, Willa. I was always an ace test taker, solely for my ability to recognize what it was they wanted me to see. And although that is a kind of "intelligence" I suppose (interpersonal?) I'm not sure exactly how that specific skill translates to success in any other setting. Unless you strive to be a professional yes-man. Then it would be handy to be able to anticipate your bosses desires.Not sure that is quite the career goal I have in mind for my kids, though. LOL!

Willa said...

What great comments and anecdotes : ). Thanks so much. LOL about the preschool admissions test. I can so see that. There is a story that Charlotte Mason tells about twaddle that is very similar to that -- the one where the gentleman visitor thinks to make himself entertaining to the 3 year old by talking about the "pretty baa-lambs" only to get a round-eyed stare and the solemn answer, "Isn't it a dreadful horrid thing to see a pig killed?"

Stephanie, I think that Ko and Neef did actually transpose at one time -- I am 90% sure the tester pointed to the wrong fish at one point when she was giving Aidan a correction. I am very sure that is one of the clever properties of cartoon IQ-testing fishes; they can juggle identities for the fun of it.

We stopped after the third test which was straightforward repeating back numbers -- you know, to check on how many bits fit into the Short Term Memory. So I am not sure what the rest of it will be like.

It is like you say, Steph Mom of 3 and Faith, that you try to bear with the silly bits in order to get services. The tester was extremely kind and as I said rather apologetic and she let Aidan flip through the testing pictures and play with it on his own and test us on what the fish were called (we couldn't remember either).

Schuyler said...

I got a book the other week off of called What is Intelligence: Beyond The Flynn Effect which discusses why people's I.Q. scores have been rising over the past 100 years. It is about exactly what you discovered, that I.Q. tests are all about knowing what answer is being sought by the test giver. It isn't really about how capable the test taker is.

Stephanie said...

Schuyler! Wow! That sound like a very interesting book indeed.

Doesn't it make you wonder:

--if it's possible to test such things as we think we want tested, and

--if it's advisable?

Achievement testing - that makes some sense as to indications of learning. The Charlotte Mason idea of "show me all you know" is vastly superior to the multiple guess "let me see if I can catch you out" mentality, but still. Either way, there's something to measure.

But measurement of potential? Doesn't that call in too much contextual circumstance? Assume too much about common perspective and common goals between test writer, test giver, and test taker?

Willa, this is a fascinating blog entry. You've really got my wheels turning!