On my train home Friday I met a parent with a child in a school different than my daughters who was bemoaning the policy of requiring a school psych eval on kindergarten kids before they could advance to the next grade. My daughter’s school has the same policy, and I was therefore intrigued by Charles Murray’s op-ed in today’s Wall Street Journal on the topic of intelligence and schooling. I am generally opposed to forcing testing on parents for a number of reasons (aside from the fact that the cost is passed directly to parents but the schools generally refuse to give you a copy of the eval). My wife and I have come across more than one person in various schools reviewing scores who have been simply ignorant as to how to interpret testing scores properly (full disclosure: I have a graduate degree in ed, but the truth is any parent who makes an effort to become informed can, in my opinion, become more knowledgable in these areas that many teachers). A 100 on an IQ test is not like a 100 on a school test – 100 is simply an average score based on the test being normed among a large population. How far your score is from the norm is a measure of how far statistically you differ from the average member of the population. The magic question is how much deviation is statistically significant and what impact the degree of deviation has - a score of 95, for example, is not a significant deviation and no matter how hard your school preaches that your child is below average, that is simply a lie. Just to show you how far the twisting of ideas goes, note this sentence from Murray: “Today's simple truth: Half of all children are below average in intelligence.” This is supposed to come as a shocker, but it leaves me scratching my head and saying “Huh?” If intelligence is an average measure, by definition half the population will have below average scores and half above average! This statistical silliness is child’s play compared to what some schools do with test evals – beware! The second problem with testing is that the schools rely on a single evaluator to make all determinations, and that evaluator has a financial exclusive with the school. Is that truly an independent assessment of a student, and is it holistic? Not really. These evaluations will result in large numbers of students referred to the district or state for special ed classes (with the parents reassured not to worry as it costs than nothing - it also costs the school nothing and lightens teachers' burderns, but only a cynic would think of that). Logically, since 100 is an average IQ score, there should be as many students in need of advanced work and enrichment because they have high scores as students in need of remediation, yet I am not aware of any programs of these type offered in yeshivos or students referred outside the school for them. Finally, I wonder to what degree low IQ really need be an obstacle to success in school if teachers work to engage a fuller range of students’ abilities than the narrow subset measured by IQ tests (Howard Gardner is a good read on this; it is too complex to address here).
Murray did get me thinking about the system of Bais Medrash learning most teens are forced into – given that haf the population will inevitably have below average IQ, does it make sense to force teens into programs that demand rigorous reading and cognitive analysis that they simply cannot perform? Might it not be better to design programs that offer a range of learning experiences so a student can find success on his/her own level?