A lengthy exploration of IQ testing for kindergarten placement from the New York magazine’s website adds to the growing chorus of those questioning of the role of tests in our kids lives. This article’s focus is on kindergarten placement tests but also touches on issues of class, equality, corporate influence, and, offers insights into better ways to approach assessments.
The Junior Meritocracy
Should a child’s fate be sealed by an exam he takes at the age of 4? Why kindergarten-admission tests are worthless, at best.
Let’s start with the most basic problem: School starts in kindergarten. No matter how a child is doing at that moment, no matter where that child is in the great swoop of his or her developmental arc, that’s when parents send their kids off to school.
There was a time, not that long ago, when few parents attempted to prep their 4-year-olds for kindergarten-admission exams. But then a few more began to do it, and then a few more after that, and then suddenly, normal-seeming people with normal-seeming values began doing it, too, and an arms-race mentality kicked in.
As it turns out, intelligence tests miss lots of things, not just creativity. And perhaps that explains why IQs alone are not especially good predictors of excellence. In the twenties, for instance, Lewis Terman, a psychologist and deep believer in intelligence testing—it was he who revised Alfred Binet’s original test and came up with the Stanford-Binet model—started a now-famous longitudinal study of nearly 1,500 California children with extremely high IQs. He grandiosely called it “Genetic Studies of Genius,” and his hope was to show that these children, whom he called “exceptionally superior,” would one day form the backbone of the nation’s intellectual and creative elite, making crucial advances in sciences and public policy and the arts.
One of the most compelling reasons to get rid of it, he [Nelson, head of Calhoun school] notes, isn’t because the test is intellectually pointless. It’s because it’s emotionally insidious. “When we resort to any kind of measure of kids that’s supposed to be qualitative at a young age,” he says, “no matter how cheerfully we do it, no matter how many lollipops we hand out to de-stress the process, young children are extraordinarily discerning. They absorb their parents’ anxiety about it, they absorb the kinds of judgments people are making about them. So there’s a process of organizing kids in a hierarchy of worth, and it’s beginning at an age that’s criminal.”
Given his druthers, Meisels, at Erikson Institute, says he’d try to get a more comprehensive picture of the child. “And that can only be found through watching children in classroom situations,” he says. “And looking at the products of their work. And getting to know them. And that can be done through observational assessments.”
I try to interrupt him, but he anticipates my objection. “It’s not very practical, I know,” he says. “It means teaching teachers how to do it. It’d be more expensive.
In reading through this piece I found myself muttering that it is about time this picture gets painted. The head of Calhoun school is quoted as saying, “I want kids who are cynical enough at age 4 to know that there’s really something wrong with someone asking them these things and think, ‘I’m going to screw with them in the process!”
My thought is that we would all be better off if more parents were skeptical of the process of schooling for their kids.
Read the whole piece here.