Many to figure out how to measure a

Many people have heard of IQ, but do you know the story behind measuring intelligence? Watch this video to find out about Alfred Binet, the man who designed the first intelligence test, and how his work has influenced education.


Callie is in a pickle. She’s a teacher and really wants all of her students to succeed. But some of them just seem to be lost, and she’s not sure what the problem is.

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When parents ask her, ‘Is my kid smart?’ she’s not always sure how to respond.Intelligence is scholastic aptitude. That is, it is how well a student will do in school.

Callie knows that the earlier she can identify the students who need extra help, the better it is for them. That way, she can get them the assistance they need as soon as possible. But she isn’t sure how to figure out which of her students will struggle and which ones will be fine. In other words, Callie doesn’t know how to figure out a student’s scholastic aptitude, or intelligence, in order to offer help.To help Callie figure that out, let’s explore the impact that Alfred Binet had on education.

Alfred Binet

If Callie struggles to figure out which students need help today in the 21st century with all the tools and technology she has to help her, you can imagine how much harder it was in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when teachers had very little to help them figure out how well a student would do.Back then, teachers had to rely on their own observations and interpretations of students.

But there was a problem with that method: if a teacher didn’t like a student, he or she was more likely to say that the student was not intelligent.Alfred Binet was a psychologist who wanted a more scientific way of evaluating students. He wanted to remove teacher bias and to identify at-risk students who would need help and extra attention to succeed in school.The French government hired Binet to figure out how to measure a child’s scholastic aptitude, so that they could identify students early on that would need extra help. They could then get the students what they needed to succeed.So Binet developed the first intelligence test.

Through his research, he identified aspects of thinking that contribute to a student’s ability to do well at the things taught in school.In Binet’s intelligence test, a child was given a mental age, which corresponded to how well they did compared to other students of various ages. For example, if one of Callie’s students does as well as the average eight-year-old on the intelligence test, they would have a mental age of eight years old.A person’s mental age does not have to be the same as his or her chronological age, which is how long it has been since they were born. For example, if Callie’s student was born six years ago, her chronological age is six, but her mental age might be eight.A child’s mental age might be the same as his or her chronological age, or it might be older (as Callie’s student’s is), or it might be younger. The students whose mental age is younger than their chronological age are those that might be at risk in school.

For example, if Callie’s student has a chronological age of six years old, while her mental age is only four, this is a clue to Callie that her student might need some extra attention and support.

Impact on Education

As we’ve seen, Alfred Binet developed an intelligence test that uses mental age to help identify students who are at risk and might need help in school. And, as Callie’s situation has illustrated, this can have a big impact on teachers and education.

One major impact that Binet has had on education was that he showed that intelligence is a complex process. There isn’t a single question that can be asked that will tell a teacher, like Callie, whether her student might need extra attention or not. Instead, what Binet discovered was a group of skills that work together and interact with each other to make a child successful in school. Skills like problem solving, logical thinking, and noticing patterns are all part of the complex cluster of skills that make up intelligence.Binet’s research was a positive step in education because it was about using intelligence tests to help children in the areas where they need help. That is, when Callie sees the results of the intelligence tests of her students, she might notice that one student is struggling more in a particular area.

She can help that student grow in that area and see greater results.However, the educational aspects of Binet’s research have not always been so good. Some people have taken the tack that intelligence is a fixed thing and that a student who does not do well on an intelligence test will never get any smarter. But Binet’s test was developed simply to identify students who might need extra help; it was not about saying that a particular student couldn’t do well, only about saying that the student might need some more attention.

Lesson Summary

Intelligence is defined as scholastic aptitude. At the beginning of the 20th century, psychologist Alfred Binet designed the first intelligence test as a way to identify at-risk students. The test gave a mental age for a student, which is often contrasted with the student’s chronological age.

Through his research, Binet showed that intelligence is a complex process, made up of many different skills. However, some educators use Binet’s research in a negative way, to label students as smart or not smart, instead of in the way that it was intended – to identify students who need extra support.

Learning Outcomes

Following this lesson, you should have the ability to:

  • Define intelligence
  • Summarize the development of the first intelligence test
  • Differentiate between mental age and chronological age in intelligence testing
  • Describe the positive results of Binet’s research and also its negative uses

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