Intelligence Tests Of Retarded School Children

Numerous studies of the age-grade progress of school children have afforded

convincing evidence of the magnitude and seriousness of the retardation problem.

Statistics collected in hundreds of cities in the United States show that between a

third and a half of the school children fail to progress through the

grades at the expected rate; that from 10 to 15 per cent are retarded

two years or more; and that from 5 to 8 per cent are retarded at least

three years. More than 10 per cent of the $400,000,000 annually expended

in the United States for school instruction is devoted to re-teaching

children what they have already been taught but have failed to learn.

The first efforts at reform which resulted from these findings were

based on the supposition that the evils which had been discovered could

be remedied by the individualizing of instruction, by improved methods

of promotion, by increased attention to children's health, and by other

reforms in school administration. Although reforms along these lines

have been productive of much good, they have nevertheless been in a

measure disappointing. The trouble was, they were too often based upon

the assumption that under the right conditions all children would be

equally, or almost equally, capable of making satisfactory school

progress. Psychological studies of school children by means of

standardized intelligence tests have shown that this supposition is not

in accord with the facts. It has been found that children do not fall

into two well-defined groups, the "feeble-minded" and the "normal."

Instead, there are many grades of intelligence, ranging from idiocy on

the one hand to genius on the other. Among those classed as normal, vast

individual differences have been found to exist in original mental

endowment, differences which affect profoundly the capacity to profit

from school instruction.

We are beginning to realize that the school must take into account, more

seriously than it has yet done, the existence and significance of these

differences in endowment. Instead of wasting energy in the vain attempt

to hold mentally slow and defective children up to a level of progress

which is normal to the average child, it will be wiser to take account of

the inequalities of children in original endowment and to differentiate

the course of study in such a way that each child will be allowed to

progress at the rate which is normal to him, whether that rate be rapid

or slow.

While we cannot hold all children to the same standard of school

progress, we can at least prevent the kind of retardation which involves

failure and the repetition of a school grade. It is well enough

recognized that children do not enter with very much zest upon school

work in which they have once failed. Failure crushes self-confidence and

destroys the spirit of work. It is a sad fact that a large proportion of

children in the schools are acquiring the habit of failure. The remedy,

of course, is to measure out the work for each child in proportion to

his mental ability.

Before an engineer constructs a railroad bridge or trestle, he studies

the materials to be used, and learns by means of tests exactly the

amount of strain per unit of size his materials will be able to

withstand. He does not work empirically, and count upon patching up the

mistakes which may later appear under the stress of actual use. The

educational engineer should emulate this example. Tests and forethought

must take the place of failure and patchwork. Our efforts have been too

long directed by "trial and error." It is time to leave off guessing and

to acquire a scientific knowledge of the material with which we have to

deal. When instruction must be repeated, it means that the school, as

well as the pupil, has failed.

Every child who fails in his school work or is in danger of failing

should be given a mental examination. The examination takes less than

one hour, and the result will contribute more to a real understanding of

the case than anything else that could be done. It is necessary to

determine whether a given child is unsuccessful in school because of

poor native ability, or because of poor instruction, lack of interest,

or some other removable cause.

It is not sufficient to establish any number of special classes, if they

are to be made the dumping-ground for all kinds of troublesome

cases--the feeble-minded, the physically defective, the merely backward,

the truants, the incorrigibles, etc. Without scientific diagnosis and

classification of these children the educational work of the special

class must blunder along in the dark. In such diagnosis and

classification our main reliance must always be in mental tests,

properly used and properly interpreted.

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