Classics in the History of Psychology

An internet resource developed by
Christopher D. Green
York University, Toronto, Ontario)

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Introduction to:

"The uses of intelligence tests"
Lewis M. Terman (1916).

Henry L. Minton, University of Windsor

© 1998 Henry L. Minton
All rights reserved.

Lewis M. Terman received his Ph.D. from Clark University in 1905, coincidentally the year the Binet-Simon scale first appeared. For his dissertation, Terman carried out a study of individual differences in intelligence. Cognizant of the disappointing results of Galton's and Cattell's sensory discrimination measures, he used a variety of available tests--including measures of creative imagination, memory, mathematical ability, and language mastery--to differentiate between "bright" and "stupid" preadolescent boys. Although he did not become acquainted with Binet's 1905 scale until 1907, his multi-test approach of cognitive measures was consistent with Binet's work.

Due to circumstances of poor health, Terman did not return to his interest in mental testing until 1910, the year he was appointed to Stanford University's department of education. By this time, the American mental testing movement was revivified by the dissemination of translations of the Binet-Simon scales. Terman was thus in the company of several competitors. Henry H. Goddard, also a Clark Ph.D. and the research director at the Vineland Training School for the retarded, had introduced the original Binet tests in America in an article published in 1908. By 1911, several translations of the second Binet-Simon scale had appeared. Unlike Goddard, Terman went considerably beyond simply translating the Binet-Simon scale. He methodically gathered extensive normative data on each of the existing tests and based on this data placed many of these tests at different age levels than in the original. Furthermore, he added some of his own tests and borrowed some that had been developed or suggested by other testers. The fact that his Stanford revision proved to be the most successful version of the Binet reflected his thorough and comprehensive approach to test construction. Unlike most of his competitors, he also had the benefit of a university appointment, which allowed him to draw upon graduate students for research assistance.

In 1912, Terman published his first tentative revision of the Binet. Over the next several years, Terman and his team of graduate students continued their work, and in 1916 the final "Stanford" revision was published along with an accompanying monograph explaining the scale and containing guidelines for its use. The first chapter of the monograph, reproduced here, provides the rationale underlying the development and use of the scale. The most noteworthy innovative feature of the Stanford revision was the inclusion of one numerical index to represent test performance. This was the "intelligence quotient" or "IQ"--the ratio between chronological age and mental age (Binet's "mental level"). This numerical index had been devised in 1912 by the German psychologist, William Stern. In comparison with the 1911 final version of the Binet-Simon scale, the Stanford revision was considerably longer. The Binet-Simon consisted of fifty-four tests, while the Stanford revision had ninety tests and sixteen alternatives. The Terman version also had two adult levels (average and superior), compared with the original's one adult level (based on a sample of fifteen-year olds).

In this chapter, Terman spells out what he sees as the future benefits and uses of mental tests like his Stanford revision. He points to the faulty assumption held by educators that all schoolchildren within the normal intellectual range can make relatively equal academic progress. School administrators must recognize that there are wide differences in "original mental endowment" and act accordingly by developing a differentiated curriculum. In contrast to Binet, Terman is explicit about etiology--differences in intelligence are primarily determined by heredity. Like Binet, Terman buttresses his arguments by appealing to the authority of scientific knowledge. Mental tests, based on the principles of scientific methodology, can move beyond trial-and-error practices to provide an objective foundation for accurate diagnosis and classification. IQ tests will therefore be especially useful in detecting the "higher grade defectives" who enter the general education pool. Once appropriately classified by IQ tests, these high-grade defectives can come under the surveillance and protection of society. With eugenics principles in mind, Terman points to the benefits of segregating this population. Reproduction will be controlled; crime, industrial inefficiency, and poverty will be reduced. The mentally weak are susceptible to delinquency and crime because they lack self restraint and have poor judgment about the consequences of their actions. Thus, as Terman argues rhetorically, all the feeble-minded are potential criminals and feebleminded women, potential prostitutes. In the spirit of the progressive era's valuation for efficiency and control, Terman's comments about the application of IQ testing to mental retardation point to how psychological technology can protect the gene pool, reduce crime, and elevate morality.

One of Terman's goals in revising the Binet scales was to obtain a finer gradation in the distribution of test scores than Binet had himself achieved. Terman accomplished this by lengthening the test and extending the age range in his normative sample. Unlike Binet, who was interested in identifying retarded children for diagnostic purposes, Terman was concerned with generating test scores that would be normally distributed. With a normal distribution of IQ scores, it would be feasible to make specific educational placements based on where in the distribution a child's score was located. Terman thus notes that IQ tests can be useful in sorting pupils into grades and making decisions about promotion and school transfers. In subsequent writings, Terman argued for the sorting of schoolchildren into a tracking system that matched their intellectual potential with the rate of academic progress. Curriculum tracks, such as a five-track system, would range from a highly accelerated level of academic learning for the intellectually gifted to a vocationally-oriented curriculum for the higher-grade mentally retarded. Terman was especially interested in identifying gifted children through the use of IQ tests. In this chapter, he advocates that intellectually superior children must be given an education that matches their intellectual potential. To counteract the tendency in schools to think of these children as nonconformists or misfits because they are out of step with their peers, he strongly endorses the need to place them in special classes. With the appropriate education, these children can become the future leaders of society. In fact, as he states later in the chapter, the stage of social evolution has reached the point where intelligence is increasingly significant in a child's future. Differentiating the labor force by the "rule of brawn" is no longer appropriate. Intelligence testing is, by implication, increasingly necessary for an efficient and progressive social order. In this context, Terman also points to the usefulness of IQ testing for the vocational fitness of workers as well as the long-term prediction for children regarding their vocational potential.

Terman's Stanford Revision of the Binet, which subsequently was relabeled the Stanford-Binet, proved to be the most widely used individually-administered intelligence test until the Wechsler intelligence scales were developed in the 1940s. The Stanford-Binet went through the first of several revisions in 1937. Shortly after the publication of the 1916 Stanford-Binet, Terman set about to promote the widespread use of IQ testing in the schools. In his subsequent book, The Intelligence of School Children, he advocated that teachers should be trained to administer the Stanford-Binet (though psychologists would be needed to interpret the results). With the test results and supplementary data on school achievement and personal traits, teachers would then be able to appropriately classify students into ability groups; that is, a tracking system. These recommendations, however, were overshadowed by the development of group intelligence tests during World War I, a project in which Terman played a central role. After the war , Terman was at the forefront of promoting school IQ testing, which could now be more efficiently and widely used through the advent of group-administered tests.