Missing the Mark: Intelligence Testing in Los Angeles Public Schools, 1922–32

  • Judith R. Raftery


This is a study of how Intelligence Quotient (I.Q.) testing, which was always controversial, became a tool for one of the nation’s most advanced and progressive school systems, the Los Angeles public schools. Rather than considering what advocates said about intelligence testing, this essay focuses on the actual testing in schools. It argues that teachers never completely accepted I.Q. tests as the unambiguous instruments their designers had claimed. Instead, teachers immediately detected the cultural biases in the tests, and administrators recognized that they did not provide the revolutionary, educational, or diagnostic tool that had been expected. This essay does not suggest that I.Q. testing played no role in “tracking.” What it does demonstrate is that the test generated far more confusion and frustration for teachers and administrators than historians have thought. Educators initially expected that the test would provide a clear-cut pattern for separating students by intelligence. When they discovered that the test was unreliable, many looked for alternatives. Ability grouping in Los Angeles public schools in the 1920s and early 1930s depended less on I.Q. testing than other historians have led us to suppose.


Intelligence Quotient Black Student Achievement Test Intelligence Test Black Child 
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Copyright information

© John L. Rury 2005

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  • Judith R. Raftery

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