Making Sense of Educational Intelligence

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When parents and educators talk about their children/students, there is a commonly held understanding of the type of smarts they are talking about that loosely combines brain power with demonstration of brain power in school. For example, “Susan is so smart because she reads the assignment and then writes a great summary of the passage.”

However, when you ask teachers and parents for a more precise definition, the conversation breaks down, as the description of brain power and the description of demonstration of that brain power become particular to their conversations. For educators this break down in commonly understood definitions of smart students is observable but harder to measure in classrooms. Educators need a more nuanced, cause and effect definition that includes “students demonstrating their smarts.” Researchers need even a more nuanced, and really a more valid and reliable way to collect “evidence of student learning.”

Parents might consider Wikipedia for an overview of intelligence, whereas teachers need curriculum tests to help them measure student achievement, and district leaders and researchers need standardized tests that are “normed” to a wide diversity of students across districts or states.

What is Intelligence?

Smarts and intelligence would seem to be the same thing. Smart kids have lots of intelligence. Street sense, where students exhibit practical smarts is connected to academic intelligence, but the environments in which each takes place, or are valued, differ widely. Wikipedia cites a particular group of 52 psychologists who made a statement on a single definition for intelligence in 1994:

A very general mental capability that, among other things, involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience. It is not merely book learning, a narrow academic skill, or test-taking smarts. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings—”catching on,” “making sense” of things, or “figuring out” what to do (Gottfredson, Linda S. (1997). “Mainstream Science on Intelligence (editorial)”Intelligence24: 13–23. ISSN0160-2896).

This general capability of the mind to learn and learn more quickly is the hope of educators everywhere. The real problem for educators becomes when we want to measure this capability. When students are young, we give them pictures to interpret. When they get older we give them vocabulary, then sentences, then passages to read and interpret. And this has two inherent problems, these tests narrowly measure student’s verbal abilities and the speed with which those verbal abilities can be measured.

Psychometric Testing

Using tests to measure brain power generally fall under the term “psychometric,” the measure of the psyche, called intelligence types of tests. Closely related to these tests that measure other types of capabilities, such as achievement, aptitude, or even scholastic intelligence.

Intelligence quotient (IQ) tests include the Stanford-BinetRaven’s Progressive Matrices, the Wechsler Adult Intelligence Scale and the Kaufman Assessment Battery for Children. There are also psychometric tests that are not intended to measure intelligence itself but some closely related construct such as scholastic aptitude. In the United States examples include the SSAT, the SAT, the ACT, the GRE, the MCAT, the LSAT, and the GMAT. (Neisser, U.; Boodoo, G.; Bouchard, T. J. , J.; Boykin, A. W.; Brody, N.; Ceci, S. J.; Halpern, D. F.; Loehlin, J. C.; Perloff, R.; Sternberg, R. J.; Urbina, S. (1996). “Intelligence: Knowns and unknowns”. American Psychologist51 (2): 77. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.51.2.77.edit Article in Wikipedia: Intelligence: Knowns and Unknowns).

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