The Reality of Testing Human Beings

As I sit in my chair one day, and across several days, ask 10 different  10 year-olds  this question: “Who discovered America?”. It’s  one of the questions on the INFORMATION subtest of the Wechsler IQ scales for children. It’s a simple “right-wrong” item. Isn’t it? Easy to score?  It should be. But it’s not! Below is what you may well hear as  responses. Decide how you would score the response: right earns one point; wrong earns a zero.

Alison: “God, we learned that in second grade. Mrs. Jones . She was mean. Lessee, discovered America?? Well, the Indians. I mean people say Columbus. But it was really the Indians. (You ask: “So, what’s your answer?”). “Well…Indians. I’ll go with that. “

Greg: ” The Norsemen!…I’m pretty sure. Yeah, that’s it!”

Rene: “Christopher…uh…oh, what’s his name? Christopher…Vespucci? No, No. Oh, god! I KNOW this! I can’t get it! Aw, I don’t know!” 

Benny: “George Washington! Wait. What’d you say? I forgot. (You repeat the question). Oh! Columbus!”

Rosalie: “It begins with a “C”. I never really learned it. Leif Ericson? Jefferson? Something Columbia? I know his first name was Leonardo. I can’t remember. We were never taught it!”

Bill: “America? That’d be, uh , can I  take a guess? Columbus? Naaa. He was another explorer who came over and found, like, the Bahamas. So, I’ll pass…I don’t know!”

Raine: ” I can never remember this! We studied it a loooong time ago. The Pilgrims did, right before Columbus!”

Charlie: “Welp…that’s eeeezee! Vikings. I remember that because Mrs. Dinwiddie showed us pictures of their boats. It gets confusing sometimes, because my kindergarten teacher said the guy’s name was ‘Clumba’. But he was later.

Jim: “Columbus! Christopher Columbus! Is that it?  Just a sec…Yeah. Whatever”

I don’t know how easy it was for you to score these right or wrong. If you score it as wrong, the child gets a zero and is thereby less “intelligent” than the one who gets it right.

Human beings simple don’t do what they’re supposed to do, even when they try their hardest to do so. The sheer variation in these responses is sufficient to demonstrate that no matter how much you STANDARDIZE test items, you can’t standardize  responses to those items. And this “Columbus” question is just one of the many, many items on the 10 or so subtests of the IQ battery. As variations pile upon variations, it doesn’t take long to discover the uniqueness of human beings. But how can this uniqueness be defined and communicated to others? That is the question to be addressed, And I’ll be doing it in many postings to follow. Come along!


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