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Educational Psychology
Vol. 25, No. 6, December 2005, pp. 609\u2013630

ISSN 0144-3410 (print)/ISSN 1469-5820 (online)/05/060609\u201322
\u00a9 2005 Taylor & Francis
DOI 10.1080/01443410500344696

Intelligence and IQ: What teachers
should know
Ted Nettelbeck* and Carlene Wilson
University of Adelaide, Australia
Taylor and Francis Ltd
Educational Psychology
0144-3410 (print)/0144-3410 (online)
Original Article
Taylor & Francis Ltd
6000000December 2005
Department of PsychologyUniversity of AdelaideNorth TerraceAdelaideSA 5005Australiated.nettelbeck@adelaide.edu.au

We review past and current psychometric theories about intelligence and critically evaluate the usefulness of modern IQ tests in guiding decisions within an educational context. To accomplish this we consider whether knowledge about intelligence extends beyond mere description to provide a scientific framework for further advancing our understanding. We conclude that it does. We also conclude that current evidence supports the importance of general ability, as well as several differ- ent specific abilities, although whether emotional intelligence can yet be affirmed is not clear. Additionally, we conclude that creativity is something separate from intelligence. Despite strong evidence that intelligence and IQ must be different constructs, we conclude that the latter provides the best available means for investigating and making decisions about the former, with higher validity for this purpose than has frequently been realised. We therefore recommend aptitude and achievement testing as useful tools for educational settings, provided they sample a broad range of different intellectual domains in addition to general ability. We also emphasise the importance of such tests being culturally compatible with the child\u2019s background.

Why might teachers be interested in IQ? Even in special education one encounters the argument that IQ testing, initially invented to identify children likely to encoun- ter educational difficulties and to facilitate decision-making about them, serves little purpose because it lacks prescriptive utility. According to this line of argument, IQ can describe someone as more or less able in some general way but, that established, the IQ score provides few leads about what to do next \u2013 which is what an educator will be most concerned with. And is there any point, in any case, in attempting to define intelligence? Can\u2019t it mean many different things? Some certainly think that IQ testing serves no useful purpose, can cause harm, and should be abandoned (Strydom & Du Plessis, 2000). Arguments along these lines commonly point to misuses of IQ testing, with particular emphasis on inappropriate practices in the past, especially early during the 20th century when these new measures were first

*Corresponding author. Department of Psychology, University of Adelaide, South Australia 5005.
Email: ted.nettelbeck@adelaide.edu.au
610T. Nettelbeck & C. Wilson

being enthusiastically taken up on a large scale (Gould, 1981). That misuse has occurred and continues to occur is undeniable and, clearly, procedures for reducing this must be applied. But IQ tests can be useful; for an investment of no more than an hour or two it is possible to gain insights into a child\u2019s capacities that would otherwise be hard won by detailed observation over very much longer periods of time.

Researchers into the nature of intelligence have certainly not yet achieved consen- sus about how to define or measure it. Twenty years ago, definitions from several experts working in the field revealed unresolved differences of opinion (Sternberg & Detterman, 1986). That outcome would probably be much the same today. None- theless, such differences are more related to detail than substance and there is now wide agreement within the field that, at least in part, \u201cintelligence\u201d is an \u201cability to understand complex ideas, to adapt effectively to the environment, to learn from experience, [and] to engage in various forms of reasoning to overcome obstacles by taking thought\u201d (Neisser et al., 1996, p. 77).

In this paper we argue that intelligence should be of interest to teachers and that IQ provides a useful albeit somewhat limited proxy for aspects of intelligence imme- diately relevant to academic and other important life achievements. As we shall see, IQ should not be viewed as a pure measure of intelligence; but it does tap a general ability that predicts success to a useful extent in cultures like ours.

A review of test validity commissioned by the American Psychological Association during 1996\u20131999, and based on more than 125 meta-analytic reviews, found that, contrary to long-held assumptions in some quarters, IQ and other psychological tests compared very favourably with the validity of medical tests (Meyer et al., 2001). This is a point worth emphasising; we would be surprised if those so opposed to IQ testing held similar concerns about, for example, home pregnancy testing or mammogram screening for breast cancer \u2013 tests that are less precise as predictors of expected outcomes than IQ.

On the other hand, it should be recognised that opposition to IQ testing has not been limited to issues of validity. As previously noted, there has also been consider- able concern about ethical considerations, like the misapplication of testing and the effects of labeling an individual on the basis of an IQ score.

Reviewing what is known about intelligence and IQ and the relevance of these constructs to education, we revisit controversies that have characterised the field of individual differences in abilities for a century: whether \u201cintelligence\u201d exists as a useful scientific construct, how many different kinds of intelligence exist, whether creative talents represent something different, whether \u201cemotional intelligence\u201d predicts something about future achievement that IQ or personality traits do not, and whether IQ can be improved by education.

The attempt to improve understanding of human intelligence has thus far predominantly been limited to the field of psychometrics \u2013 essentially the develop- ment and validation of mental tests. The main method has sought to reduce perfor- mance on many variables to a smaller number of underlying psychological domains (language, number, divergent thinking, memory, and so on). These domains, and

Intelligence and IQ611

structures that link them together somehow, have been inferred from patterns of individual differences in scores from a broad, representative sample of persons performing a wide range of activities. This approach to defining intelligence has always struggled to avoid the tautological circularity of relying on a descriptive term to explain the thing described but, in our opinion, modern tests have overcome this dilemma to an appreciable extent and do have good construct validity.1

To clarify our position from the outset, our opinion is that IQ and similar aptitude/achievement tests for assessing abilities can inform decisions about children\u2019s capabilities.2 They therefore have a useful role in educational settings. Past uses have been more to do with screening and diagnosis than with prescribing appropriate educational interventions, but more recently tests have become avail- able that can be used for treatment planning. Besides standardised testing, assess- ment certainly involves other information-gathering activities \u2013 qualitative as well as quantitative. Thus, interpreting an individual\u2019s IQ score continues to require both art and science because of validity limitations. As a consequence, it should not be assumed that a given IQ score or profile of scores provides more than a guide to a relatively narrow range of capabilities for that individual at that point in time.

Is \u201cIntelligence\u201d a Useful Scientific Construct?

The Frenchman Alfred Binet developed the first IQ test at the beginning of the 20th century, successfully demonstrating that his test could identify schoolchildren who could be expected to encounter learning problems within the normal curricu- lum. However, the test was rapidly refined by others to permit distinctions among those with average and above average abilities. The early success of the IQ test in predicting academic performance led to its widespread use and, within the community at large, it is now probably psychology\u2019s most widely familiar innova- tion. Tests have revolutionised educational policies and employment selection procedures, based on the proposition that a person\u2019s intellectual capabilities can be identified in advance and therefore matched to work requirements or appropriate educational practices. There is considerable evidence to support both of these assertions.

Nevertheless, almost since its invention, IQ has remained a controversial tool. In part, this has reflected poor consensus among \u201cexperts\u201d about the nature of intelli- gence. First, intelligence is defined in terms of observable behaviours that are valued by the relevant culture, so that intelligent behaviours can vary across cultures, or subcultures, or even between different groups residing within a majority culture. It is widely accepted that some universal biological substrate must underpin intelligence, irrespective of the particular ways in which it is culturally defined and, as far as is known, all cultures value \u201cbeing clever\u201d, regardless of how that is culturally defined. But recent advances in researching the neurological bases of intelligence notwith- standing, current theories are couched in terms of performance on ability tests, which reflect cultural priorities.

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