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The Flynn Effect and the Demography of Schooling


by Geraldine McDonald — 2010

Background/Context: Although the Flynn effect has been recognized for 60 years and a wide range of factors has been suggested, there is still no agreement on cause. The effect is generally interpreted as a phenomenon involving changes in mental functioning as a consequence of various forms of environmental influence.

Purpose: The purpose of the account is to argue that at least part of the change in intergenerational IQ scores is an artifact of the age-based scoring system of IQ tests, together with historical changes in age-grade patterns in school systems.

Research Design: This is a logical argument using secondary analysis to illustrate historical change in the demographic patterns at the level of the classroom, together with a survey of psychometric documents and accounts of constructing Otis-type tests to explain the role of age in calculating an IQ. A review of research focuses on whether the IQ measures age or grade and whether age change in a school population can account for an IQ change.

Conclusions/Recommendations: It is concluded that because the age-based scoring systems of IQ tests interact with generational changes of age by grade, a Flynn effect should not be interpreted as a massive intergenerational rise in mental functioning unless the two generations match age in grade in the case of school populations, and highest grades achieved in the case of adults.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 112 Number 7, 2010, p. 1851-1870
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 15918, Date Accessed: 10/23/2017 12:30:43 AM

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About the Author
  • Geraldine McDonald
    Victoria University of Wellington
    E-mail Author
    GERALDINE MCDONALD is a research associate in the Faculty of Education, Victoria University of Wellington. She was formerly assistant director of the New Zealand Council for Educational Research, where one of the council’s functions was the development of standardized tests. She then taught at Victoria University of Wellington in teacher education and at the Wellington College of Education in a graduate course for teachers. She has a longstanding interest in the demographic patterns of schooling and their effects, particularly on the children of indigenous and minority groups. Recent publications include: with Huong Le, Joanna Higgins, & Val Podmore, “Artifacts, Tools and Classrooms” in Mind, Culture and Society (2005); “Literacy and the Achievement Gap” in Curriculum Matters (2006); and, with Joanna Higgins and Mary Jane Shuker, “Addressing the Baseline: Erving Goffman and Ethics in a Postgraduate Degree for Practising Teachers” in Teaching in Higher Education (2008).
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