Assessing intelligence(s)

Sir Ken Robinson in his book Creative Schools states that our understanding of intelligence over the past hundred years (measured largely by IQ) presents “a narrow and misleading conception of how rich and diverse human intelligence really is.”

As societies and cultures develop, new theories emerge and one of the most prominent theories of intelligence is Howard Gardner’s multiple intelligences. However in 1985, American psychologist Robert Sternberg proposed the theory of successful intelligence.  Sternberg says he became interested in human intelligence because his teachers and his parents thought he was ‘stupid’ (thanks to an IQ test) and so he ended up believing that he was.

According to Sternberg, the theory of successful intelligence is the ability to work out what Einsteinyou want to do with your life and to succeed given the constraints of your environment.  While IQ measures a single intelligence (analytical), successful intelligence is defined as creative, practical and analytical.

Sternberg has been particularly interested in how his theory applies to teaching by questioning whether you could improve student outcomes if teachers recognise students learn in different ways.  Sternberg suggests teaching in different ways at different times so that every student’s creative, practical or analytical strengths are being developed.

For schools, we need to look to assessments that measure a broad range of skills including, as Dr Yong Zhao says, ‘non-cognitive such as motivation, persistence, confidence and personality traits’.  It re-affirms Sternberg’s message that we must teach and assess in ways that reflect how students learn best and not the other way around.

Interestingly, the OECD is recognising the importance of social and emotional skills in addition to analytic skills by beginning to develop international measures. Earlier this year, OECD’s Director for Education and Skills, Andreas Schleicher commented that cognitive abilities still remained critical but ‘people with strong social and emotional foundation skills thrive better in a highly dynamic labour market and rapidly changing world’.




4 thoughts on “Assessing intelligence(s)

  1. I’m always interested in secondary schools why we ask students to complete an assessment task in a way that suits us. Could we not ask them to present it in any form as long as it meets the criteria. Could we give them the flexibility of demonstrating their learning in a manner or form that showcases the student skills. Just a thought.

    1. Good point as always Peter. Too often not enough priority is given to the assessment tasks. As Zhao says it’s critical to ensure what we assess actually matters – count what counts. It’s the beginning of an important discussion within schools and across systems.

  2. This is a well timed post, as many of our high school students in the Diocese have attended the annual Nepean Careers Market at Rooty Hill today (and tomorrow). In my many years of experience I have noted that the majority of young people do not know what to do with their lives and they need guidance through this process. Parents need this help too. This is the role of a well trained career counsellor. Ultimately this is one of the most fundamental outcomes of a good school education- to discover one’s vocational options for work and/or further study. Sadly many OECD countries, including ours, do not resource schools properly to engage full time career counsellors to deliver this important educational outcome.

  3. “The ability to work out what you want to do with your life and to succeed given the constraints of your environment.” – this sounds like the meaning of education! I think Sternberg has a far more realistic view on intelligence than most psychologists, who use IQs to portray intelligence rather than real learning, do. This again brings NAPLAN, HSC, PISA and other assessments as well as some parental expectations into a debate about what is our real purpose and what therefore should our measures be. Unfortunately many people want to box education and assessment into neat parcels that can then be used as comparisons. While this continues we lose focus on the real aim of learning – “working out what you want to do with your life and succeed given the constraints of your environment.”

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