Letter IQ tests measure potential, not accomplishment

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From Professor Joan Freeman

Sir: If Dr James Tooley, the "educationalist" (" 'IQ tests should replace exams' ", 26 June), knew more about the long-term predictions of IQ scores, he would not recommend them as indicators of life success. They are only reliably predictive of school-type achievement - for which they were designed.

For the greatest reliability, information on any human abilities should be collected at different points in an individual's life. Many outstanding people such as Freud and Einstein were not seen as highly intelligent even by the age of 20, and certainly not by the age of 10, the age at which Tooley suggests children are sorted. Picasso always had difficulty with reading because he had very little schooling, and so would have scored a very low IQ. The tests are not even a sensitive measure of exceptionally high intelligence because of the "ceiling effect", the upper limit of the tests being too low to distinguish between the top few per cent.

All long-term follow-up studies using an IQ measure show that, in whatever ways intelligence is defined and measured, it is only part of the complex dynamics of success, which must include opportunity and the will to strive. For example, the latest results from the Terman studies on gifted children in California, which have been going on since the Twenties, has found that - regardless of their IQ scores - the subjects were not noticeably more successful in adulthood than if they had been randomly selected from the same social and economic backgrounds.

The big influences in determining future achievement are socio-economic status and gender. In the Far East, though, success is attributed to hard work rather than any IQ score, which probably explains why in America many young Asians with lower IQs are more successful than others of higher measured intelligence.

The IQ measure is undoubtedly a help in making decisions about an individual child's education, but we are all too aware of the effects of labelling children in this way since the 11+ exam, from which millions of adults are still suffering. Defining a person's potential by a number is not only totally lacking in humanity, but it also detrimental to the best interests of the nation.

Yours faithfully,

Joan Freeman

University of Middlesex

London, W1

26 June