Society and Culture, Education

How political correctness will kill an easy way to identify more of our most talented students

Image Credit: Shutterstock

Image Credit: Shutterstock

The United States’ economy desperately needs all the scientific, engineering, and IT geniuses it can find. One of the most important functions that the SAT can serve is to identify young Americans with that kind of intellectual potential.

For many years, the scholarly literature has indicated that we have been missing a lot of that talent because one of its key components, spatial ability, is not identified by the verbal component of the SAT and only partially identified by the math component. The current best guess is that we’re failing to identify about half of students within the top one percent of spatial ability. That estimate comes from an important new study by scholars at Vanderbilt University about to be published in Psychological Science and already summarized in the New York Times.

The good news is that IQ tests have accurately measured spatial ability for decades and the items to do so could easily be incorporated into the SAT. The bad news is that it’s extremely unlikely that the College Board, which administers the SAT, will have the nerve to do so. Why? Because the largest gender differences and the largest ethnic differences are found in the subtests that measure spatial skills. Here’s the dilemma facing the top brass at the College Board: if they add a spatial component to go with their math and verbal components, they will indeed identify lots of extremely talented students whose potential is underestimated by the existing components of the SAT. But that spatial component will also show larger gender and ethnic differences than the other components (if you’re curious, the big winners from such a revision of the SAT would be Asians and males). What do you suppose the chances are that the College Board will be willing to take the heat for such a result? If you want to make a bet, I’ll take zero and you can have everything else.

6 thoughts on “How political correctness will kill an easy way to identify more of our most talented students

  1. The goal of the educational establishment is political correctness, not education. Disgusting. No wonder foreign STEM graduates make US-born students look dumb.

  2. Bravo, Dr. Murray !
    I remember some special fun: to invent 3-dimensional proofs of 2-dimensional theorems (i.e. theorems of planar geometry.)
    Example: prove that 3 medians of a triangle intersect each other in one and the same point, without using the notion of parallel straight lines (i.e. essentially without the use of 5-th Euclidian postulate.)

    On the other hand, watching Zimmerman trial, I was persuaded extra time, what a waste of human talent: profession of a lawyer. I am not talking about “narrative”, but these guys, on both sides, could follow rather elaborate logical constructions.
    How nice would it be —
    to use this “nuclear power”
    for science and industry !!!

  3. it’s never been about opportunity. Only about outcomes. So if you want “equal” outcomes, you rig “opportunity”.

    because obviously there is only one way to validate you “equal opportunity” actions. And that is through outcomes.

    This isn’t one single difficult thing about this to figure out.

  4. It’s interesting that Google no longer takes GPA’s seriously. They have discovered from internal research that they do not correlate to improved performance, except to a marginal degree for staff fresh out of college. And that positive correlation apparently disappears completely after about 1 or 2 years on the job.

    This is the first research I’ve heard of that tests for the commercial relevance (actual job-performance) of higher education, while normalising for our professional/cultural assumptions.

    If higher education does not achieve what we think it achieves, then in some cases it could be functioning as much as a false-filter of skill, than an enhancer of skill. Alas – we must be careful how we both measure and define talent!

  5. One thing about the IQ tests:

    I remember Bill Gates saying that if you make a computer programme do twice as much stuff, it becomes 10x more complex. I would assume that extra complexity comes from the need to *integrate* the functionalities into the master system.

    I think human intelligence may be similar. I’m suspicious that, maybe, most of our brain power/work is not localised to relatively narrow and separate functions, but instead to the integration of those functions. Ultimately, every real-world mental skill we have is made up of multiple functions. The whole brain, not just a part of it, lights up when we perform a given task (well, at least to some degree).

    But, the IQ test only tests for the brains intelligence in isolated parts. But, the IQ test nonetheless correlates well to real world professional performance….

    I think there could be two reasons for that. First, you can expect a positive correlation with real intelligence and almost any task requiring mental aptitude (over broad groups) for natural reasons. But also, we live in an institutionalised society where “compartmentalised” thinking…or should I say “technician” thinking…is in hot demand. Our need for hyper-specialisation may be creating an exaggerated value for thinking ability that has little to do with the integration between the functions.

    However, as I believe, the essence of brilliance comes from the integration (often unusual, and intensive) of a number of specialised functions, leading to unusual mental skills.

    Is our practical need for (mostly) technicians leading to an education system that effectively suppresses the potential for real human brilliance? Are we ignoring (and failing to test for) a major part of human intelligence?

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