Intelligence – the elusive multifaceted diamond

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CHAPTER 2 Dynamic assessment – the next phase in test theory and practice – theoretical underpinnings

« If the misery of the poor be caused not by the laws of nature, but by our institutions, great is our sin. »
– Charles Darwin


The following section investigates the development of dynamic assessment, the nature of the course it has taken since the early part of the twentieth century and its often estranged and tenuous link with classical test theory, which is not, as it is commonly understood, its predecessor. The early notions and ideas of dynamic assessment have been with the intelligence research community since the inception of modern test theory and have, in fact, progressed in parallel. The main contributors and their theories and main assumptions in the field dynamic assessment receive attention as does contentious issues such as important classical test theory concepts – reliability, validity and scoring.1

Intelligence – the elusive multifaceted diamond

Definitions of intelligence have been the bane of many psychologists’ research endeavours and are not without a contingency of researchers who maintain that such an elusive concept will never be adequately defined. Numerous intelligence researchers have sought to define intelligence, and bar the more popular understandings of what it supposedly refers to, there has never been, there is not and will probably never be consensus as to what intelligence refers to. There are, of course, numerous definitions of intelligence (Sternberg, 1997). This does not imply a fatalistic stance on the topic where future attempts to define it will be relegated to the heap of other definitions. Perhaps the progress of science will have it such that the definitions become more closely aligned. Without exception, treatize, theses, articles, papers, books and other accredited literature both locally and internationally explicate the meanings and definitions of intelligence as understood throughout the ages. It is not the aim of this study to try and add further defining criteria to this already plagued field.2 However, the manner in which different types of intelligence are measured is the focus of this study. It is important to determine whether dynamic assessment seeks to measure intelligence or the propensity towards intelligent behaviour or whether it is merely another attempt to introduce more definitions and jargon to the intelligence field.

Intelligence classifications and definitions

« Concepts of ‘intelligence’ are attempts to clarify and organize [a] complex set of phenomena. Although considerable clarity has been achieved in some areas, no such conceptualization has yet answered all the important questions and none commands universal assent » [own emphasis]3 (Neisser, Boodoo, Bouchard, Boykin, Brody, Ceci, Halpern, Loehlin, Perloff, Sternberg & Urbina, 1996, p.77). Neisser et al. (1996) add that current theories of intelligence (of which there are many) contend that there are many kinds of intelligence and that psychometric tests capture only a select few of these types.
Clearly there is a divide between those who advocate the use of psychometric testing and the opposing camp who vehemently deny its overall usefulness. After all, if there is no consensus as to a definition of intelligence, why are psychometric tests used at all? Apart from the fact that different types of psychometric tests exist for the sole purpose of investigating specific intelligence issues within narrowly confined contexts (Daniel, 1997), the psychometric school has received grave criticism with due legitimacy. This argument begs the question of the suitability of traditional or conventional psychometric tests. Neisser et al. (1996) discuss the current efforts in the intelligence field and systematise the conceptualisation of intelligence, referring to a number of broad classifications within the field, namely:

  • The psychometric approach – involving intelligence tests, intercorrelations between such tests, the notion of the as yet ill-defined concept of « G » 4 or commonly referred to as « g »
  • Multiple forms of intelligence – theories developed by Gardner and Sternberg5
  • Cultural variation – aspects of intelligence considered intelligent in one culture and not in another
  • Developmental progressions – Piaget and Vygotsky,6 typically understood as developmental theories of intelligence emphasising opposing views as to what enables intelligence to flower, namely, biological preparedness (Piaget) or proximal development via social mediation (Vygotsky)7
  • The biological approach – in which the aspects of brain anatomy and the workings of the brain receive more attention in the intelligence research.

Daniel (1997) compartmentalises the field into three « status of instruments », namely:

  • Tests based on psychometric abilities with its concurrent emphasis on « g » and abilities commonly « …identified through factor analysis of sets of diverse cognitive tasks » (p. 1039)
  • Tests based on neuropsychological-processing models and theoretically driven tests which differ in outlook and outcome from the psychometric approach, models which emphasise the workings of the brain and its constituent regions responsible for different aspects of functioning. Even though these models are said to correlate with psychometric tests, this « …does not preclude them from measuring a different system of processes, …[they] are overlapping but independent » (p. 1040)
  • Dynamic assessment, which Daniel states as referring to diverse approaches to intelligence which share some common assumptions. These shared assumptions include the adverse role played by what is measured, i.e. that familiarity with certain types of thinking are necessary in order to complete certain psychometric tasks, secondly, that what is measured should be a good predictor of learning and that information gathered should be utilised for educational planning and, perhaps most importantly, the fact that dynamic assessment seeks to create enduring changes through modifiability. Daniel states further that dynamic assessment is akin to neuropsychological based assessment owing to their emphasis on cognitive processes and the « teachability of those processes » (p. 1041).

In most case-studies and formulations of intelligence, many variables are considered, most of all the environment, which itself ranges from the built environment to the social environment. Environmental effects on intelligence are implicated in many studies dealing with intelligence (Neisser et al. 1996; Sternberg, 1997).
Taylor (1994) offers an integrated approach to cognitive assessment, based on three traditional approaches to assessment. Through the fusion of these three approaches, Taylor seeks to accommodate their theoretical underpinnings and thus construct a test battery reflective of all three approaches, which can be used within the local multicultural context. The approaches stipulated are:

  • The conventional or structural approach, which is characterised by a factor-analytic approach to the study of cognition, personality, interests and so forth, relying heavily on the scientific method, is data driven and « …rather theory-weak » (p. 185)
  • The information processing approach, in which four main paradigms are discussed at length by Taylor. As opposed to the structural approach to cognition, the information processing approach is characterised by what Taylor refers to as « …[its] fine-grained [nature], they tap one or a few specified cognitive activities or processes » (p. 186). A limitation imposed by this approach, states Taylor is the need for computer administration which limits the number of persons that can be tested at any one time, yet the constructs measured by this approach are more clearly defined than those of the structural approach
  • The learning or dynamic approach, characterised for Taylor mainly by the nature of the assessment procedure, and its use of « novel tasks » and measurement of adaptation to these tasks « …as a result of repeated exposure, instruction, examples or hints » (p. 88). Taylor cites the work of numerous researchers in the field of dynamic assessment, concluding that although it lends itself to cross-cultural research, it nevertheless compares unfavourably with structural tests, for instance, when considering variance in results. In other words, some testees score lower in conventional tests than in dynamic tests.

The origins of dynamic assessment – early twentieth century ponderings

Dynamic assessment is often greeted with initial enthusiasm and a positive frame of mind and is thought to be quite a unique approach to assessment. Dynamic assessment as an idea or philosophy in fact finds its roots in the early twentieth century, with the work of Binet. Binet’s original intention with his 1905 test was « …that it should be used as an empirical guide to identify children who need special help and that emphasis should be on improvement through special training » [own emphasis] (De Beer, 2000, p. 42). Binet advocated process assessment but did not devise a test for such an assessment (Grigorenko & Sternberg, 1998). Although the aim of this section is not to elaborate on the history of intelligence testing, it cannot be ignored, as it has had such an overwhelming influence on the development of dynamic testing. A brief summary outlines the course and development of intelligence testing as a precursor to dynamic assessment.
Of interest is that mental testing has been around for over four thousand years, with the Chinese having developed standardised « civil service testing programmes » (Thorndike in Flanagan et al., 1997, p. 3), which was implemented in an attempt to select people for government service and was done because China had no ruling class at the time (Du Bois, 1970). In fact, in 1219 testing took place at the University of Bologna in which examinations were first conducted in private and then conducted in public. In England, oral examinations took place where they were introduced in 1636 at Oxford and written tests were implemented as early as 1803 (Du Bois, 1970). The need for universal education and the need to determine who would benefit from such education lead to the development of testing instruments and, spurned by the quantitative sciences, psychology found its niche in quantifiable testing procedures. Testing for the American civil service also took place as a means of evaluating candidates’ suitability for government (ibid.).
Francis Galton measured sensory acuity and is considered the founder of the scientific study of human differences, James Catell coined the term « mental test » and initiated testing at two universities in America and Alfred Binet,8 who believed that intelligence could only be measured by investigating mental tasks, set about devising a means to differentiate between mental retardation and other cognitive malfunctions which lead to poor scholastic ability (Ittenbach, Esters & Wainer in Flanagan et al., 1997; Thorndike in Flanagan et al., 1997). Together he and his colleague, Simon, introduced, the Binet-Simon (1905) scale which was intended to be an unbiased measure of intelligence (Ittenbach, Esters & Wainer in Flanagan et al., 1997). It was Henry Goddard who took the Binet-Simon scale to the United States (1908) with Lewis Terman adapting the Binet-Simon scales in his own work; and in 1916 and again in 1937 and 1960 revisions were made to the scales and the system was renamed the Stanford-Binet scales 9 (Du Bois, 1970; Gould, 1996; Huysamen, 1980; Thorndike in Flanagan et al., 1997).
At the time of these many developments the intelligence quotient (proposed by the German psychologist William Stern in 1911) was at once hailed and rejected. Either way, there was much controversy surrounding the idea of mental age divided by chronological age, as the rate of change during childhood and adolescence differed, leading to disparities. During the army testing programme which tested army recruits en masse in the first world war, tasks on the Army Alpha10 were biased due to the number of testees who were not English speaking, English being the language of the tests. These test results « revealed » the very low intelligence level of average American citizens. The 1920s was a period in which intelligence testing flourished much to the dismay of those for whom it was not normed nor standardised.
Before the first quarter of the twentieth century had reached its end, the intelligence community was polarised between Charles Spearman’s two factor theory of intelligence which maintained that there were « …methods for determining a general factor [« g »] underlying a group of tests » (Du Bois, 1970, p. 42; Thorndike in Flanagan et al., 1997). Spearman is also credited as having developed the idea of test reliability. Rejecting the notion of a general factor of intelligence, advocates of multiple intelligence such as Edward Thorndike and Leon Thurstone11 came to the fore. Development of clinical batteries applicable to every phase in human development as well as the emerging technicalities with which to deal with these dimensions of intelligence led to the development of factor analysis.12 During this period the Wechsler scales for children and adults began to compete with the Binet-Simon test and this proved quite successful both with civilian and military populations, as the test also made use of non-verbal tasks (as the Binet-Simon test was quite heavily loaded on verbal tasks). The period from 1925 – 1975 unfortunately was not a period in which great strides (in terms of theory) were made in intelligence testing, and in fact many tests were only revised in the 1960s (an exception being the Binet-Simon scales which were revised in 1916 and 1937 respectively). The work of Raymond Cattell and John Horn did however contribute ideas about the nature of intelligence such as fluid and crystallised intelligence.
The 1960s was a period characterised by lawsuits and unfair discrimination based on seemingly biased test results. Defenders of these tests such as Arthur Jensen and Richard Hernstein have caused debates and battles that have since not been settled.13 Each side has merit, a discourse which cannot now be delved into. Since the late seventies, progress has been made in terms of addressing the vast disparities of the past in testing, such as culture, gender and class bias. Latest developments have also seen the advent of item response theory and computer adaptive testing, all welcome additions and changes to the field of intelligence testing (Devlin, Fienberg, Resnick & Roeder, 1997; Thorndike in Flanagan et al., 1997).

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CHAPTER 1 Introduction and background to the study
1.1 Background to the research
1.2 Problem statement
1.3 The aim of the study
1.4 Format of the presentation of the study
CHAPTER 2 Dynamic assessment – the next phase in test theory and practice – theoretical underpinnings 
2.1 Introduction
2.2 Intelligence – the elusive multifaceted diamond
2.3 The origins of dynamic assessment – early twentieth century ponderings
2.4 The biological basis of learning – a brief interlude
2.5 To what exactly does dynamic assessment refer?
2.6 Dynamic assessment and conventional psychometrics – uneasy alliance or mutual beneficiaries?
2.7 Dynamic assessment as a means to enrichment
2.8 The influence of Lev Vygotsky and Reuven Feuerstein – precursors to the study of dynamic
2.9 Various theorists and their contribution to the field of dynamic assessment
2.10 Assessment versus test
2.11 Dynamic assessment and learning potential
2.12 Issues at stake within the field of dynamic assessment
2.13 Assessment in South Africa – how far have we come?
CHAPTER 3 Methodology 
3.1 Introduction
3.2 Topic delineation and preliminary sources gained from the literature study
3.3 Consolidation of information gathered
CHAPTER 4 South African research into dynamic assessment as alternative or complementary assessment procedures: Results 
4.1 Introduction
4.2 Main findings
4.3 Results of literature studies – sources gained from the literature databases
4.4 Results from other South African research efforts – a brief overview
4.5 Results of the informal interviews – information gathered from Technicons and Universities
4.6 Alternative admissions and dynamic assessment
4.7 Unimplemented work as it stands
CHAPTER 5 Implications of results for dynamic assessment in South Africa 
5.1 Introduction
5.2 Summary of results from literature sources
5.3 Main findings of documented literature
5.4 Summary of results from informal interviews
5.5 Main findings of informal interviews
5.6 Main themes running throughout the results
5.7 Limitations of the study
CHAPTER 6 Conclusion and recommendations 
6.1 Introduction
6.2 What the results point to – recommendations for further studies in South Africa

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