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

  • Judith R. Raftery

Abstract

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.

Keywords

Migration Mold Tuberculosis Explosive Assimilation 

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Notes

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    A study of the New York City schools, by Leila Zenderland, presents complementary information. Leila Zenderland, “Psychological Expertise and Public Education: The Battle over Intelligence Testing in New York City, 1910–1915” (Paper presented at the Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting, April 1985).Google Scholar
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    The 1920 U.S. Census notes the number of Mexicans in Los Angeles at 21,653, an increase from 5,632 in 1910. Many scholars find these figures low, but they indicate the dramatic rise in Mexican population in the ten-year period. Bureau of the Census, Fourteenth Census, vol. 2, Population (Washington, D.C., 1920), 731, Thirteenth Census, vol. 1, Population (Washington, D.C., 1910), 855. See Albert Camarillo, Chicanos in a Changing Society: From Mexican Pueblos to American Barrio in Santa Barbara and Southern California, 1848–1930 (Cambridge, Mass., 1979), 200–01.Google Scholar
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    Tyack, One Best System, 191. Tyack notes that experts hired to make school surveys published 67 of them between 1910 and 1919 and 114 between 1920 and 1927. His term “administrative progressives” aptly describes Los Angeles school people. Los Angeles Board of Education, Minutes to the Board, 18:399. Walter Jessup and Albert Shiels, Report of the Advisory Committee to the Board of Education (Los Angeles, 1915). In 1916 Jessup became president of the State University of Iowa.Google Scholar
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    Ibid. Rudolph Pintner authored several intelligence and performance tests, but in 1924 Raybold most likely administered the standard Pinmer-Cunningham. Pintner had used his Pinter Non-language Group Test on foreign children and published the results in 1922. Pintner and Ruth Keller, “Intelligence Test of Foreign Children,” Journal of Educational Psychology 13 (Apr. 1922): 214–22. In 1930 he published the Pintner Non-language Primary Mental Tests for use on deaf children in kindergarten through second grade with directions administered in pantomime, and he established the test’s validity by correlations with the Stanford-Binet and the Pintner-Cunningham.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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  24. 22.
    In 1935 Hershel T. Manuel, professor of educational psychology at the University of Texas, published his findings on the “Spanish and English Editions of the Stanford-Binet in Relation to the Abilities of Mexican Children” in the university’s Bulletin. Manuel’s interest in school performances of children of Mexican heritage in Texas had made him sensitive to some of the difficulties the children had in the often hostile environment of public schools. Manuel and his staff, including George I. Sanchez, one of the first Mexican Americans to criticize the conclusions drawn from conventional testing, had rejected the two commonly used Spanish translations of the 1916 Stanford Revision because neither fit the needs of their subjects. They felt that their translation closely followed the English version, but they allowed for some changes. Because the two languages were not always parallel, some of the idioms differed, and their translation better fit the dialect used by Mexicans living in Texas. The Texas University staff administered the Spanish and English editions of the Stanford-Binet in 1931–32 to Spanish-speaking children in San Antonio. The findings reinforced the assumptions made by Los Angeles school people on the relationships among such factors as intelligence, language ability, socioeconomics, and years spent in school. In most cases, the Spanish version yielded higher mental ages and intelligence quotients than did the English edition. In grades two to five, the average I.Q. was 82.5 on the Spanish edition and 80.5 on the English. After careful analysis, Manuel concluded that the lower scores represented a lack of training or experience. He speculated: “On account of their generally low cultural level and their retardation in school their experiences are greatly restricted. It is possible that this is reflected in such tests as the giving of differences between a president and a king and perhaps even in arranging the weights. … The parents of 10 out of 14 children in the fifth grade said that their children had never had toys such as blocks or puzzles.” Hershel T. Manuel, “Spanish and English Editions of the Stanford-Binet in Relation to the Abilities of Mexican Children,” University of Texas Bulletin, 22 Aug. 1935, 30.Google Scholar
  25. 31.
    Ibid., Feb. 1928, 13–15; for a discussion of matriculation of Italian and Jewish students in Providence, Rhode Island, public schools during this period see Joel Perlman, “Who Stayed in School? Social Structure and Academic Achievement in the Determination of Enrollment Patterns, Providence, Rhode Island, 1880–1925,” Journal of American History 27 (Dec. 1985): 588–614.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. 37.
    Lawrence DeGraaf, “Negro Migration to Los Angeles, 1930–1950,” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1962); and idem, “The City of Black Angels: Emergence of the Los Angeles Ghetto, 1890–1930,” Pacific Historical Review 39(Aug. 1970):323–52.Google Scholar
  27. 38.
    Bulletin, 12 Nov. 1923, 1–8; American Blacks sometimes, but not always, surprised the examiners. In a 1924–25 Massachusetts report, Black students scored higher than Portuguese children. As editor of American Ethnic Groups, Thomas Sowell noted that in Massachusetts schools with mixed ethnic populations of French-Canadians, Italian, Polish, and Portuguese, Blacks had the highest percentage of I.Q. scores over 120. Thomas Sowell, ed., American Ethnic Groups (Washington, D.C., 1978), 207–08.Google Scholar
  28. 40.
    Wynn Commodore, ed., Negro Who’s Who in California (Los Angeles, 1948) 128;Google Scholar
  29. Irving C. Hendrick, principal investigator, “Public Policy toward the Education of Non-White Minority Group Children in California, 1849–1970” (Unpublished Report, National Institute of Education Project No. NE-G-003–0082, University of California, Riverside, 1975). Whitaker recommended encouraging talented Blacks rather than dissuading them. She found the school’s practice of admonishing bright Blacks against advancing academically one of the “most reprehensible … to be found among educators.”Google Scholar
  30. Hazel G. Whitaker, “A Study of Gifted Negro Children in the Los Angeles City Schools” (MA. thesis, University of Southern California, 1931), 82.Google Scholar
  31. 41.
    Some of the classes fitted Blacks into subservient occupations; for example, no other high school except Jefferson offered vocational training to become a maid. For a comprehensive account of Black school segregation see Hendrick, “Public Policy toward the Education of Non-White Minority Group Children in California,” and Bessie Averne McClenahan, The Changing Urban Neighborhood (Los Angeles, 1929), 92. Community groups pressured the board through their petitions; see Los Angeles Board of Education Minutes, 21 July 1921, 433.Google Scholar
  32. Also see, David Ment, “Patterns of Public School Segregation, 1900–1940: A Comparative Study of New York City, New Rochelle, and New Haven,” in Schools in Cities: Consensus and Conflict in American Education, ed. Ronald K. Goodenow and Diane Ravitch (New York, 1983), 67–110.Google Scholar
  33. 46.
    U.S. Department of Interior, Office of Education, “The Education of Spanish Speaking Children in Five Southwestern States,” by Anne Reynolds, Bulletin 7 (Washington D.C., 1933), 46–47.Google Scholar
  34. 51.
    Gilbert G. Gonzales, “The System of Public Education and Its Function within Chicano Communities, 1920–1930” (Ph.D. diss., University of California, Los Angeles, 1974).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John L. Rury 2005

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  • Judith R. Raftery

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