This came from an essay on my educational background and philosophy. It tied into the developmental psychologist Howard Gardner’s concerns about IQ tests having a measurable impact on the students.
When I was going for my education masters, I realized the effect badly administered assessments have had, and that I’m no exception to this. As a student, I usually tested well, but there was one bad experience that my mother describes as her least favorite situation involving one of her three children and an academic examination (medical exams too, come to think of it.) I was sick towards the end of fifth grade, on the day of a test that I knew to be significant. However, my mother felt that it was important that I take the test, determining that the thing that mattered was that I pass.
We were unaware that the test would determine what classes I would take when I went into sixth grade. The intermediate school I went to essentially had tracking (where kids are grouped according to perceived academic ability and kept in those groups), so the students would be staying in the same class for the three years. So the 601 class would become the 701 class would become the 801 class. And there was a hierarchy, with 6SP1 and 6SP2 above the standard classes, and higher numbers indicating lower expectations (the 610/ 710/ 810 class was at the bottom.) I was in the 604 class, mainly due to the exam and partly due to some preferences (Spanish over Italian as a foreign language class, Art over Music) which determined the group for the three years. Because I had been sick during one examination in fifth grade, that’s where I was stuck. I had not appreciated the significance of the test, nor was I aware that I could have made up for it later.
There was a satisfying coda a few years later, when I had the highest score in the school for the Specialized High School exam, confusing members of the PTA who wanted to know why their children in the SP classes did not do as well. My younger brother was in the 601 class at the time, and was promoted to the 7SP1 class the next year, which meant there was less explanations when he got into Stuyvesant as well. My youngest brother started out in the SP class. I’m not sure if it’s because of his scores on the fifth grade test, or because the school determined that the performances of the other Mets brothers were a better indicator of academic potential than their exam. I feel obligated to mention that he was another Stuyvesant alumnus.
An obvious mistake my school had made was having such a clear hierarchy. The designations for classes were different in the schools I observed. I don’t recall much gloating in middle school about who is in the smarter class and who isn’t. It seemed to matter much more to the parents. It could also be that students spent most of their time with classmates, so there wasn’t as much opportunity for anyone to make others feel bad.
The attempt at tracking did have one slight downside when I went to High School. The SP classes had received a slightly different program that seemed to be the norm for incoming Stuyvesant freshmen. Their math classes were more advanced, and they all took Earth Science courses, which were typical for High School Freshmen outside of the specialized schools. In a freshman class of about 600+ students, I was one of 30 who took Sequential Math I. The majority of the students were on Sequential Math III. I started biology in Freshman year, so I never did make up for missing that Earth Science course. This was all the result of one bad assessment in fifth grade.
I could understand Gardner’s concern with the IQ tests that claimed to measure intelligence in 4-5 minutes. (13)