by William Van Ornum, Ph.D. on
In all disciplines, it is good to study history. This is especially important in the mental-health field. In our efforts to be up to date, we overlook very helpful achievements from the past; and these can be helpful in creating new advances.
The term Intelligence Quotient (IQ) has carried extra baggage since it was devised by Terman at the beginning of the 20th century. Commonsense tells us that it is impossible for one number to summarize intelligence. Further, how can a number, or indeed, any human idea, truly predict what is going to happen for an individual in the future?
Binet’s original idea was that testing could provide another opinion to the views held toward a child by teachers, parents, and others, a view that, it was hoped, would be more standardized and objective. Binet’s famous dictum, forgotten by many, was that tests were meant “to classify not measure.” By this, he meant that tests were to be used to help match children to the kinds of help they needed or into the kind of class where they would do best.
Over the early decades of the 20th century, IQ scores became more and more imbued with extra meanings, notions suggesting that a mere number could measure one’s intelligence (a quality fixed throughout life) and that these scores had specific predictive ability.
In decades hence, psychologists with true knowledge of testing became more aware of its purpose and limited value in many situations.
In the early 1970s, Dorothy McCarthy developed a test for children ages 2 1/2 through 8. Instead of the term INTELLIGENCE QUOTIENT, she came up with the concept COGNITIVE INDEX. This suggests that a child’s score was more a snapshot of cognitive abilities at a particular time. Further, cognitive abilities could be viewed as just one domain falling under the wider term of intelligence.
She also had the wisdom to create factor scores, which would give an estimate of particular skills related to success in schoolwork in the early years. These included verbal, quantitative, fine-motor, gross-motor, and performance factors. Low scores on any factor could be used to see if a child might be helped by early education remediation or speech therapy, occupational therapy, or physical therapy. Her worked began to bring the field back to the original idea developed by Binet.
Now when a child, adolescent, or adult takes a test within the genre of cognitive testing, scores will most likely be reported in terms of Factors or Indices, implying that these concepts are most fruitfully used for finding academic help in the present rather than trying to predict the future 20 or 30 years hence.