“Please Don’t Label Kids: Because We Are All ‘Gifted, Average, or Slow’ Depending On The Task At Hand”


Over thirty years ago I came across this article, written by Harry W. Forgan who was, at the time, an assistant professor of Elementary Education at the University of Miami, Florida.

“When teaching a course on tests and measurements at Kent Sate University recently, I decided to administer an adult group intelligence test to the class. I wanted the students to “feel” what it was like to take such a test and realize what items we use to measure intelligence. I also thought they might be more aware of the short time it takes to obtain a number which is regarded as very important by many educators.

The students were told not to write their names on the test papers, but rather to use a code such as their house number, physical measurements, or any less obvious symbol. I explained that I really didn’t have faith in IQ scores; therefore, I didn’t want to know their IQ’s. The administration of the test required only 50 minutes. The students seemed to enjoy taking it and chuckled at some of the tasks they were expected to perform. I had to laugh to myself when I saw some of them looking at their hands and feet when responding to items concerning right and left.

Upon scoring the test I found that the lowest IQ was 87 and the highest 143. The mean IQ for the 48 students was 117. I was not astonished by the 87, even though all of the students had successfully completed the general education courses and student teaching at Kent State and were ready to graduate by the end of the term. After all, IQ tests have many limitations. Then I got an idea. I decided to prepare a report for each student, writing his code on the outside and the “IQ 87” on the inside of each. I folded and stapled each paper, after all, an IQ is confidential information!

At the next class period I arranged all of the folded papers on the table at the front of the room. I wrote the range and the average IQ on the chalkboard. Many students snickered at the thought of somebody getting an 87. The students were eager and afraid as I began by explaining the procedures for picking up their papers. I made a point of telling them not to tell others their IQ score because this would make the other person feel as if he too had to divulge his “total endowment”. The students were then directed to come up to the table, row by row, to find their coded paper. I stood sheepishly ready to laugh out loud as I watched the students carefully open their papers and see “IQ 87”. Many opened their mouths with astonishment and then smiled at their friends to indicate they were extremely happy with their scores.

There was dead silence when I began to discuss the implications of the IQ scores. I explained that in some states a person who scores below 90 on an IQ test is classified as a slow learner. The fact that group intelligence tests should not be used to make such a classification was stressed. I also emphasized the fact that someone in this class could have been classified as a slow learner and placed in a special class on the basis of this test. I told how many guidance counselors would discourage a child with an 87 IQ from attending college. Again I emphasized the fact that one person in this room was ready to graduate from college having passed several courses in history, biology, English, and many other areas.

I then went on to explain that the majority of elementary and secondary school teachers believe in ability grouping. This is usually done on the basis of intelligence tests, so I explained that I would like to try ability grouping with this class, again to see “how it feels”. Some of the students objected right away, saying that “I do not want to know their IQ scores”. I calmed them by saying it would be a worthwhile learning experience and assured them that I really didn’t believe in IQ scores. I told the students not to move at this time, but I would like all of those with an IQ below 90 to come to the front so they could sit nearer to me for individual help. I told the students who had an average IQ (between 90-109) to go to the back of the room and then take the seats in the middle of the class. The students with an above IQ were asked to go to the side of the room and take the seats in the back because they really didn’t need much more help.

“O.K., all those who got an IQ below 90 come to the front of the room.” The students looked around to find those who scored below 90. I said that I knew there was an 87 and maybe a couple of 89’s. Again there was dead silence. “O.K., all those students whose IQ is between 90-109 go to the back of the room.” Immediately, to my amazement, 9 or 10 students picked up their books and headed for the back of the room. Before they could get there I said, “Wait a minute! Sit down! I don’t want to embarrass you, but you would lie and cheat, the same way we make our students lie and cheat,  because you don’t want to be classified as “slow”. I wrote ‘IQ 87’ on every paper!”

The class erupted. It was in an uproar for about five minutes. Some of the women cried. Some indicated that they needed to use the rest-room. All agreed it was a horrifying and yet valuable experience. I asked them to do one thing for me: Please don’t label kids. Because we are all “gifted”, “average”, and “slow”, depending on the task at hand. They promised.”(“Teachers Don’t Want to Be Labeled”)

These “soon to be” teachers didn’t want to be labeled.  This article reminds us that students don’t want to be “labeled” either. Let us “remember the worth of souls is great in the sight of God.”  (Luke 12:7) As we teach and serve, let us do so with a Christian attitude and love for those who we teach but in particular, let us be extra kind to those students who seem to have been labeled with a much lesser value by the world then their real worth as a son or daughter of God.



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