Even as Wallace Wallin and others were questioning the validity of the Goddard- Binet test, Lewis Terman, a professor of education at Stanford University, was creating a new version that would be later known as the Stanford-Binet test. It offered eugenicists a more reliable, less costly, and more efficient way of measuring the mental abilities of large groups of people.
To avoid Henry Goddard’s errors, Terman normed every question—that is, he determined whether an “average” person could answer it by testing it on about 1000 children between the ages of 5 and 14 and 400 adults in his own community. Terman had difficulty finding enough adults to survey. In the end, he decided to treat anyone over the age of 14 as an adult. His 400 “adults” included 150 “tramps,” 30 businessmen, 159 adolescent delinquents, and 50 high school students. Because the teenagers and the grown men got about the same number of items right on his test, Terman decided that “native intelligence, in so far as it can be measured by tests now available, appears to improve but little after the age of fifteen or sixteen years.”
All of the individuals Terman tested were native-born Protestant Americans of Northern European descent. He made no secret of the fact that he eliminated “tests of foreign born children” “in the treatment of results.” Commenting on the scores of immigrant children, Terman wrote:
The tests have told the truth. These boys are ineducable beyond the merest rudiments of training. No amount of school instruction will ever make them intelligent voters or capable citizens. . . . They represent the level of intelligence, which is very, very common among Spanish-Indian and Mexican families of the Southwest and also among Negroes. Their dullness seems to be racial, or at least inherent in the family stocks from which they come.1
At first Terman’s test, like the Goddard-Binet test, had to be administered individually by a trained examiner. An important breakthrough came in the spring of 1917, soon after the United States entered World War I. With the help of Henry Goddard and psychologist Robert Yerkes, Terman quickly devised a new version of the Stanford-Binet test—one that an untrained examiner could administer to hundreds of individuals at the same time. They planned to use the new test to determine which of the thousands of men recently drafted into the army were candidates for officer training and which were unfit to serve at all. Between May and June of 1917, the testers created eight Alpha and seven Beta tests.
(Researchers often use the Greek letters alpha and beta to differentiate between two versions of the same test.) The Alpha tests were for draftees who could read English and the Beta for those who were illiterate or had little or no knowledge of English. While army officials were never completely convinced of the value of these tests, Terman, Goddard, and Yerkes had no doubts about their importance. They drew on the results of the so-called “army tests” again and again in their research. Yerkes wrote:
Most of us are wholly convinced that the future of mankind depends in no small measure upon the development of the various biological and social sciences. . . . We must . . . strive increasingly for the improvement of our methods of mental measurement, for there is no longer ground for doubt concerning the practical as well as the theoretical importance of studies of human behavior. We must learn to measure skillfully every form and aspect of behavior which has psychological and sociological significance.2
- 1 The Measurement of Intelligence by Lewis Terman. Houghton Mifflin, 1916, p. 91.
- 2 Quoted in The Mismeasure of Man by Stephen Jay Gould. W. W. Norton, 1981, p. 193.