Teaching to the Average in Same-Aged Classrooms
By Deborah L. Ruf, Ph.D.
Remember how I said that the average IQ difference between people who get our jokes-people most likely to become our friends-is 12 points (on a 100 point scale with a 100 IQ being average)? And remember I told you that the typical same- aged elementary classroom has a 70 to 80 IQ range in it? You probably have been told by others-not me-that this is good for children because it teaches them about the real world. Well, in the real world we choose our friends and our activities by how comfortable we are in that environment and by who else we get to spend time with. Also, although it may be nice to have a mix of abilities in the office, we pretty much want all CPAs or medical doctors to have a certain high ability, no lower than what is required to get the job done, right? That's why we have examinations at the end of such training to guarantee that everyone who earns the title actually can do the job.
Did you know that every job or career actually has its own IQ average and its own proven necessary minimum? Google Linda Gottfredson and Frank Schmidt to get you started. They are among those who have shown that people in the professions or other very complex careers need a minimum IQ of about 120 in order to both learn what they need to learn and perform it well. Like IQs or not, these numbers keep correlating with real life outcomes. Oh, and in case you are assuming that you can change somebody's IQ, there are no replicated studies that show any more than an average 6 point temporary increase in testable IQ with even the most intrusive interventional approach, adoption. So, the way I look at it, we need to start educating and training people for what they can do and for what will give them satisfaction, pride, and the ability to take care of themselves.
Most people think that teachers teach to the average. Well, no, they don't. They can't! If they taught to the average, too many of the slower learners simply wouldn't catch on to most of what was happening in the classroom. Teachers teach to the top of the bottom third once they know their class. This way, they reach the slower learners fairly well and the majority of the kids in the middle get lots of encouragement and opportunity to manage their time, learn study skills, and how to handle a certain amount of intellectual struggle and feel success when they finally "get it." The sad truth, though, is that the brightest students end up spending a lot of time waiting for something new to happen. Depending on a number of other factors, like whether they are male or female and their personality profiles, they learn a lot that ends up not being helpful to real life. They learn that if you are smart, you don't need to study or work hard. They learn that their parents and teachers don't know what they are talking about if they think this assignment matters. They learn that they are smarter than everyone else in the class and are in for a shock when they actually do get out into the real world.
David Lohman says that by 1st grade the typical same-aged mixed-ability classroom already has 12 grade equivalencies of achievement in it. Brighter children absorb more from their environments than lower ability children, so regardless of their preschool environment, brighter kids will know a great deal more than low ability children by the time they reach 1st grade. Environment is an extremely important factor in someone's development, but it does not change whether or not someone is very bright or very slow. A child whose IQ is 120 could finish the typical elementary curriculum in about 4½ years, not six. A child whose IQ is 130 could finish it in less than three years. Above 140 needs only one year, but they are required to stay all six and go at the pace of everyone else their age. What a waste of time and talent. Folks, there has got to be a better way.