Public and Catholic School Responses to IQ Testing in the Early 20th Century
by Ann Marie Ryan & Alan Stoskopf — 2008
Background: Between 1910 and 1930, IQ tests were introduced to and institutionalized in American schools. IQ testing represents an important component of the first wave of test-driven educational reform in American history, but surprisingly, there is relatively little research focusing on public educators’ perception of these tests at the time, and even less so for Catholic educators.
Focus of Study and Research Design: In this article, we compare the public and Catholic school discourse that accompanied the introduction of IQ testing during these early and critical years. This historical study analyzes the discourse among educational researchers, administrators, and teachers in these two parallel educational settings through an examination of conference proceedings from the National Education Association and the Catholic Educational Association.
These documents reveal the evolving attitudes toward the role of IQ testing in teaching and learning during the 1910s and 1920s. Our analysis demonstrates significant differences between these two groups in their responses to test-driven reform. We argue that these differences can be attributed to the contrasting ideological stances, institutional practices, and historical experiences of public and Catholic school educators.
Conclusions: We found a greater degree of questioning the purposes of IQ testing among Catholic educators due to a culture of skepticism toward modern notions. This allowed Catholic school educators to debate the validity and value of IQ testing much earlier and for a longer period than their public school counterparts. Critical reexaminations of IQ testing in public schools occurred well after the tests became a standard mechanism for placing students into learning tracks, making it considerably more difficult to advocate for undoing a practice that seemed to be addressing students’ needs. Whether more educational opportunities were really opening up for students because of IQ testing was not seriously questioned by most public school administrators during this era.
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