Inclusion Now 51

Beyond Intelligence Testing

Following an earlier piece (see Inclusion Now 46) on the failings of intelligence testing, educational psychologist Colin Newton looks at alternative means of assessment.

Colin Newton

See the earlier article here.

So does intelligence really exist? Probably not as any kind of single entity or potential. What else can we conclude about ‘intelligence’?

  1. Intelligence can not safely be reduced to a single measure
  2. Language and culture impact upon an individual’s performance on any kind of psychometric test
  3. Movement differences and difficulties including issues with spoken language make such testing invalid and unreliable
  4. Intelligence measures are only dealing with experiences the tested person has had, they do not truly access underlying processes
  5. Intelligence assessment is based on highly questionable assumptions about thought and language.

Intelligence would appear to be a fluid, context dependent variable that is not quantifiable but is a social construction. Multiple intelligences (Gardner, 1983) are perhaps one more useful way to consider thinking and problem solving processes.

Perhaps we should simply refer to specific thinking, linguistic, memory and problem solving processes without ever trying to bundle them up as one entity. We certainly should be wary of giving more value and credence to certain skills over others such as verbal over non verbal for instance.

Such a stance will call for more tentative, sophisticated ways of sketching out how someone operates in the world. Such sketching will need to be done in collaboration with those who know and love the person themselves and with their full participation. The tools used for such sketching may need to be more humble than the oppressive pseudo scientific assessment tools of the past, but in turn are likely to be more useful and respectful.

Let us live with uncertainty and accept respectfully the messiness of the unknown whilst always assuming that more is present and possible.

What should would be assessors do instead?

– Ask those who love a person or who spend most time with them to describe their strengths, gifts and needs.This is where true wisdom about a person exists. Structured questions may help and shared reflection and theory building after collecting stories may enrich a picture and better inform decisions and strategies.

– Beware of dangerous assumptions when assessing. Always assume competence when in doubt or when movements are difficult for a person.

– Paint or sketch portraits in words and images of the whole person and their context. Instead of trying to be the pseudo scientific objective tester we should adopt tools more familiar to the artist creating a portrait (O’Brien 2002).

The latter investigation demands different and more nuanced tools – those that enable the search for what is healthy. Listening to children or co-constructing a narrative with them? This means reshaping the relationship between the psychologist and the learner to arrive at an end product which influences future dialogues between the young person and those closest to him or her. To deepen the conversations we might have about that young person and their inclusion/place in the world. Details are given of the particular – the complexity and detail of another’s experiences are documented in the hope that readers will see themselves in it even if it is exotic.

We only truly understand if we feel some sense of connection or identification with the person in the picture or story– stand in the shoes of the child with autism – nobody sees themselves in the generalisations of the ‘Triad’. Context is a source of understanding – not a source of data distortion. Behaviour may give us a clue – but it is the meanings people attach to the behaviours that ought really to concern us.

The standard is authenticity rather than ‘truth’ so there is never a single story – many could be told. The narrowest stories about individuals are drawn from the psychometric encounter – “Kevin has a mental age of 2 years”.  “Listening for a story vs. listening to a story” (Wilson, D. 2009).

– Make use of criterion referenced or curriculum based assessment to inform planning. How is a child progressing in relation to what they are being taught as opposed to presumed underlying intellectual processes. One of the aims of criterion referencing is to focus on individual, differentiated assessment. By moving away from norm-referencing, to a system which describes what students know, understand and can do, assessments can be used to provide feedback and to inform future teaching and learning needs.

– Use authentic assessment processes that respect context and learning. This is a form of assessment in which students are asked to perform real-world tasks that demonstrate meaningful application of essential knowledge and skills.

“…Engaging and worthy problems or questions of importance, in which students must use knowledge to fashion performances effectively and creatively. The tasks are either replicas of or analogous to the kinds of problems faced by adult citizens and consumers or professionals in the field.” (Wiggins, 2006)

– Use the wider frame suggested by the work being done on ‘Multiple Intelligences’, and always notice and respect if not starting by noting diverse Learning Styles.

The theory of multiple intelligences was developed in 1983 by Dr. Howard Gardner, professor of education at Harvard University. It suggests that the traditional notion of intelligence, based on I.Q. testing, is far too limited. Instead, Dr. Gardner proposes eight different intelligences to account for a broader range of human potential in children and adults. These intelligences are:

  • Linguistic intelligence (“word smart”)Logical-mathematical intelligence (“number/reasoning smart”)
  • Spatial intelligence (“picture smart”)
  • Bodily-Kinesthetic intelligence (“body smart”)
  • Musical intelligence (“music smart”)
  • Interpersonal intelligence (“people smart”)
  • Intrapersonal intelligence (“self smart”)
  • Naturalist intelligence (“nature smart”)

– Engage in participant observation which has a long and respected history in the world of anthropology. Participant observation is the involvement of the anthropologist in the activities of the people in that society, so that instead of just observing the people, the anthropologist is able to get a more hands on experience of how these people live their lives. The main advantages of participant observation are that it allows the anthropologists to obtain a deeper and more experienced insight on the activities that the individuals of a society perform and the ways in which they think and that it also allows the anthropologists to gain a good overview of how and why a society functions.

Who are the participants who will have best knowledge about a child or young person? How long will we need to be part of a young persons life to get a real handle on who they are what they bring?

– Always respect the social model of disability! The social model of disability proposes that barriers and prejudice and exclusion by society (purposely or inadvertently) are the ultimate factors defining who is disabled and who is not in a particular society.


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