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An Argument for Banning IQ Tests

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In 1979, a California judge ruled that the proliferation of IQ testing in the state was unconstitutional. Some claimed that the ruling discriminated against minority students while others claimed that the banning would be protecting them from testing which is racially and culturally biased. The Judge in Larry P. v Riles (see Wade, 1980 for an exposition) sided with the parents, stating that IQ tests were both racially and culturally biased and therefore it was unconstitutional to use them to place minority children into EMR classes (educable mentally retarded).

While his decision applied to only one test used in one state (California), its implications are universal: if IQ tests are biased against a particular group, they are not only invalid for one use but for all uses on that group. Nor is bias a one-dimensional phenomenon. If the tests are baised against one or more groups, they are necessarily biased in favor of one or more goups — and so invalid. (Mensh and Mensh, 1991: 2)

In 1987 in The Washington Times, Jay Matthews reported:

Unbeknownst to her and most other Californians, a lengthy national debate over intelligence tests in public schools had just ended in the nation’s most populous state, and anti-test forces had won.

Henceforth, no black child in California could be given a state-administered intelligence test, no matter how severe the student’s academic problems. Such tests were racially and culturally biased, U.S. District Court Judge Robert F. Peckham had ruled in 1979. After losing in the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last year, the state agreed not to give any of the 17 banned IQ (intelligence quotient) tests to blacks.

But one year later in 1980, there was another court case, Parents in Action on Special Ed, and the court found that IQ tests were not discriminatory. However, that misses the point because all of the items on IQ and similar tests are carefully chosen out of numerous trial items to get the types of score distributions that they want.

Although the ban on standardized testing for blacks in California was apparently lifted in the early 90s, Fox News reported in 2004 that “Pamela Lewis wanted to have her 6-year-old son Nicholas take a standardized IQ test to determine if he qualifies for special education speech therapy. Officials at his school routinely provide the test to kids but as Lewis soon found out, not to children who are black, due to a statewide policy that goes back to 1979.The California Associatiotn of School Psychologists wants the ban on IQ tests for black children lifted, but they are not budging.


There is an argument somewhere here, and I will formalize.

Judge Peckham sided with the parents in the case Larry P v. Riles, stating that since IQ tests were racially and culturally biased, they should not be given to black children. He stated that we cannot truly measure nor define intelligence. But he also found that IQ tests were racially and culturally biased against blacks. Thus, the application of IQ testing was funneling more black children into EMR classrooms. All kinds of standardized tests have their origins in the IQ testing movement of the 1900s. There, it was decided which groups would be or would not be intelligent and the tests were then constructed on this a priori assumption.

Let’s assume that hereditarianism is true, like Gottfredson (2005) does. Gottfredson (2005: 318) writes that “We might especially target individuals below IQ 80 for special support, intellectual as well as material. This is the cognitive ability (“trainability”) level below which federal law prohibits induction into the American military and below which no civilian jobs in the United States routinely recruit their workers.” This seems reasonable enough on its face; some people are ‘dumber’ than others and so they deserve special treatment and education in order to maximize their abilities (or lack thereof). But hereditarianism is false and rests on false pretenses.

But if it were false and we believed it to be true—like the trend seems to be going today, then we can enact undesirable social policies due to our false belief that hereditarianism is true. Believing in such falsities, while using IQ tests to prop and back up our a priori biases, can lead to social policies that may be destructive for a group that the IQ test ‘deems’ to be ‘unintelligent.’

So if we believe something that’s not true (like, say, the Hereditarian Hypothesis is true and that IQ tests test one’s capacity for intellectual ability), then destructive social policy may be enacted that may further harm the low-scoring group in question. The debate between hereditarians and environmentalists has been on-going for the past one hundred years, but they are arguing about tests with the conclusion already in mind. Environmentalists give weight and lend credence to the claim that IQ tests are measures of intelligence where environmental factors preclude one to a low score whereas hereditarians claim that they are measures of intelligence but genes significantly influence one’s ability to be intelligent.

The belief that IQ tests test intelligence goes hand-in-hand with hereditarianism: since environmentalists lend credence to the Hereditarian Hypothesis by stating that environmental factors decrease intellectual ability, they are in effect co-signing the use for IQ tests as tests of ability. If we believe that the Hereditarian or Environmentalist Hypotheses are true, we are still presuming that these tests measure intellectual ability, and that this ability is constrained either by genes, environment or a combination of the two.

So, if a certain policy could be enacted and this certain social policy could have devastating consequences for a social group’s educational attainment, say, then why shouldn’t we ban these tests that put a label on individuals that follow them for many years? This is known as the Pygmalion effect. Rosenthal and Jacob (1965) told teachers at the beginning of the new academic year that this new test would predict which students would ‘bloom’ intellectually throughout the year. They told the teachers that their most gifted students were chosen on the basis of a new test, but they were just randomly selected from 18 classrooms while their true scores did not show that they were ‘intellectual.’ Those who were designated as ‘bloomers’ showed a 2 point increase in VIQ, 7 in reasoning, and 4 points in FSIQ. The experiment shows that a teacher’s thoughts on the abilities of their students affect their academic output—that is, the prophecy becomes self-fulfilling. (Also see Boser, Wilhelm, and Hanna, 2014.)

So if a teacher believes their student to be less ‘intelligent’, then, most likely, the prophecy will be fulfilled in virtue of the teacher’s expectations of the student (the same can be said about maternal expectations too, see also Jensen and McHale, 2015). This then could lead them to getting placed into EMR classes and being labled for life—which would screw up one’s life prospects. For instance, Ercole (2009: 5) writes that:

According to Schultz (1983), the expectations teachers have of their students inevitably effects the way that teachers interact with them, which ultimately leads to changes in the student’s behavior and attitude. In a classic study performed by Robert Rosenthal, elementary school teachers were given IQ scores for all of their students, scores that, unbeknownst to the teachers, did not reflect IQ and, in fact, measured nothing. Yet just as researchers predicted, teachers formed a positive expectation for those students who scored high on the exam vs. those who scored low (Harris, 1991). In response to these expectations, the teachers inevitably altered their environment in four ways (Harris, 1991): First, the teaching climate was drastically different depending on if a “smart” child asked questions, or offered answers, vs. if a “dumb” child performed the same behaviors. The former was met with warm and supportive feedback while the latter was not. Second, the amount of input a teacher gave to a “smart” student was much higher, and entailed more material being taught, vs. if the student was “dumb”. Third, the opportunity to respond to a question was only lengthened for students identified as smart. Lastly, teachers made much more of an effort to provide positive and encouraging feedback to the “smart” children while little attention/feedback was given to the “dumb” students, even if they provided the correct answer.

Conclusion

This is one of many reasons why such labeling does more harm than good—and always keep in mind that such labeling begins and ends with the advent of IQ testing in the 1900s. In any case, teachers—and parents—can influence the trajectory of students/children just by certain beliefs they hold about them. And believing that IQ=intelligence and that low scorers are somehow “dumber” than high scorers is how one gets ‘labeled’ which then follows them for years after the labeling.

Even though it is not explicitly stated, it is implicitly believed that the hereditarian hypothesis is true, thus, believing it is while also believing that IQ tests test intelligence is a recipe for disaster in the not-so-distant future. I only need to point to the utilities of IQ testing in the 1900s at Ellis Island. I only need to point to the fact that American IQ tests have their origins in eugenic policies and that such policies were premised on the IQ test assumption, which many American states and different countries throughout the world got involved in (Wahlsten, 1997; Kevles, 1999; Farber, 2008; Reddy, 2008; Grennon and Merrick, 2014). Many people supported sterilizing those with low IQ scores (Wilson, 2017: 46-47).


The formalized argument is here:

(P1) The Hereditarian Hypothesis is false
(P2) If the Hereditarian Hypothesis is false and we believed it to be true, then policy A could be enacted.
(P3) If Policy A is enacted, then it will do harm to group G.
(C1) If the Hereditarian Hypothesis is false and we believed it to be true and policy A is enacted, then it will do harm to group G (Hypothetical Syllogism, P2, P3).
(P4) If the Hereditarian Hypothesis is false and we believed it to be true and it would harm group G, then we should ban whatever led to policy A.
(P5) If Policy A is derived from IQ tests, then IQ tests must be banned.
(C2) Therefore, we should ban IQ tests (Modus Ponens, P4, P5).


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