American education and the IQ trap

Lauren Williams's picture
Monday, July 22, 2013

What does it mean to be gifted in the United States?

A national survey in 2011 found that the predominant method of assessment, by far, is the administration of IQ tests and standardized academic tests. At least 34 states, including California, consider such tests an indication of giftedness; they are mandated by at least 16 states. In contrast, only nine states require the use of tests that measure "creativity" and even fewer require the assessment of leadership, motivation or a talent for the performing arts. Although no state permits a single IQ score to determine gifted eligibility, 18 states set strict cutoff scores, and testing is typically a one-shot deal: You're either gifted or you're not, for the rest of your life.

On every count, these policies profoundly limit the intellectual and innovative possibilities of all students.

I can attest to just how limiting the process is. As a child, I was diagnosed with an auditory disorder that made it difficult for me to process speech in real time. I repeated third grade. Then, after an anxiety-ridden IQ testing session in fourth grade, I was sent to a school for students with learning disabilities. By the time I reentered public school in sixth grade, the label "special ed" was hard to overcome, despite my yearning for more intellectual challenges. If it weren't for a couple of teachers (thank you Mrs. Jeuell and Mrs. Acton!) who considered the kid rather than the system's preconceptions, I might never have earned a doctorate at Yale.

Read more »