Do higher test scores mean higher intelligence?

We score much higher on intelligence scores now than our grandparents. Does that mean we're smarter, or is it something else? (Public domain photo via Unsplash.com)

We score much higher on intelligence scores now than our grandparents. Does that mean we’re smarter, or is it something else? (Public domain photo via Unsplash.com)

As an eighth grader, I was part of a program where I took the SAT test. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I gave it a shot.

Then the results arrived.

I wasn’t totally sure what the scores meant as an eighth grader, but it all became clearer when my mom saw them.

“I think that was my score when I was in high school,” she said. We checked and verified it — I scored the exact same as an eighth grader as my mom when she was a junior in high school.

I was feeling pretty good about myself until we started talking about it. We rationalized that the test must have changed since then. Students learn more complex material earlier on. After that, I didn’t feel like quite the Einstein I thought I was!

Turns out, there’s research evidence to back this up. I recently heard James Flynn’s TED Talk and there’s a phenomenon — called the Flynn effect — that we’re “smarter” than our grandparents. Well, our test scores are largely higher than theirs, at least — since the 1930s to be specific.

How is this? We’re all still humans, right? What has changed so drastically?

There are many hypotheses. One: Students are more familiar with the test-taking process and have an advantage. They’re constantly taking tests, and the act of test-taking is a skill that’s more developed in students these days.

Another: Work and school are more cognitively complex today than they were decades and decades ago. Manual labor was more common in the 1930s. Today, doctors, lawyers, software engineers and other cognitively complex jobs make up a significant part of the workforce.

Regardless, the numbers show that something is changing. It doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re smarter, said Ulric Neisser, deemed the “father of cognitive psychology.”

Test scores are certainly going up all over the world, but whether intelligence itself has risen remains controversial,” Neisser said.

So, what does this mean in the classroom? We can draw plenty of conclusions here, but this is the one I keep coming back to.

Simple information is no longer at a premium. We can’t just be brokers of facts and details. The world just doesn’t value that as much anymore. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t learn facts anymore; knowing nothing and Googling everything you need is inefficient and no way to live. (Especially if your cell phone battery dies.)

What matters is what we do with information. I think one of the key ways we can do this is to focus on asking good questions or — maybe even more important — helping students find the questions that really drive them. If students are passionate about tracking down a solution to a problem that really intrigues them, they’re more equipped than ever to make it happen.

The bottom line, though, is this — education can’t be the same today as it was in the 1930s. The world has changed. We have limitless information and access to people whenever we want.

If we continue to teach as we did in the 1930s, we’re robbing students of a bright future that won’t look anything like today.

Question: What does the Flynn effect mean to you? What do you think causes it? What impact should it have on schools? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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+ 01/19/2015
Western Wayne (Ind.) SchoolsPershing, IN
 Full-day Seminar:Ditch That Textbook: Why and How?Private Event
+ 01/31/2015
9:00-12:00 p.m.
U. Indy's Power of Education ConferenceIndianapolis, IN
 Keynote:Ditch That Textbook: My JourneyPublic Event
Sponsor:University of Indianapolis Student Education AssociationRegister to attend
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+ 02/03/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
World Languages Workshop @ Lafayette Jeff HSLafayette, IN
 Venue:Jefferson High School
1801 S. 18th St.
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765-772-4700
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+ 02/26/2015
9:00-4:05 p.m.
Indiana Conference on LearningIndianapolis, IN
 Workshop:Ditch That Textbook (et al)Public Event
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Indianapolis, IN 46241
317-248-2481
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08:00-04:00 p.m.
Fall Creek Intermediate School WorkshopFishers, IN
 Venue:Fall Creek Intermediate School
12011 Olio Road
Fishers, IN 46037
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Private Event
+ 03/19/2015
7:30-3:00 p.m.
Hamilton Southeastern (Ind.) SchoolsFishers, IN
 Full-day Seminar:Ditch That TextbookPrivate Event
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04:00-06:00 p.m.
PVETI Social Media WorkshopRockville, IN
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Venue:Rockville High School
506 N. Beadle St.
Rockville, IN 47872
765-569-5686
+ 04/11/2015—04/12/2015
08:30-05:30 p.m.
Indiana Google Apps for Education SummitFranklin, IN
 Sponsor:EdTech TeamPublic Event
Venue:Franklin Community High School
2600 Cumberland Drive
Franklin, IN 46131
317-346-8100
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+ 05/01/2015
09:00-03:00 p.m.
Ditch That Textbook workshop @ CIESCIndianapolis, IN
 Venue:Central Indiana Educational Service Center
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Indianapolis, IN 46278
317-759-5555
Public Event
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Education On Air by Google for Education 
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
Ditch That Textbook workshop (CIESC) 
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Ivy Tech Community College Tech Workshop 
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PowerED Up ConferenceLeopold, IN
 Sponsor:Indiana Department of Education Office of eLearningPublic Event
Venue:Perry Central Jr/Sr HS
18677 Old State Road 37
Leopold, IN 47551
812-843-5576
+ 06/04/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
HSE Summer Learning FairFishers, IN
 Sponsor:Hamilton Southeastern SchoolsPrivate Event
Venue:Fishers High School
13000 Promise Road
Fishers, IN 46038
(317) 915-4290
+ 06/08/2015
Greencastle EdTech ConferenceGreencastle, IN
 Sponsor:Indiana Department of Education Office of eLearningPublic Event
+ 06/10/2015
08:00-04:00 p.m.
Connecting the 4 C's Conference @ Mt. Vernon (Ind.)Mount Vernon, IN
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Venue:Mount Vernon High School
700 Harriett Street
Mount Vernon, IN 47620
812-833-5136
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8:00-3:00 p.m.
Yorktown WeLearn ConferenceYorktown, IN
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Yorktown, IN 47396
(765) 759-2550
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
Summer Spark SymposiumMilwaukee, WI
 Venue:University School of Milwaukee
2100 West Fairy Chasm Road
Milwaukee, WI 53217
414-352-6000
Public Event
+ 06/17/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
eLEAD Madison CountyAnderson, IN
 Sponsor:CAPE of Madison CountyPublic Event
Venue:Anderson University
1100 E. 5th St.
Anderson, IN 46012
+ 06/22/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Seymour Schools Tech WorkshopSeymour, IN
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1350 W. 2nd St.
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812-522-4384
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Digipalooza 2015Scottsburg, IN
 Sponsor:Indiana Department of Education Office of eLearningPublic Event
Venue:Scottsburg Middle School
425 S. 3rd St.
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812-752-8926
+ 06/25/2015—06/26/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
South Vermillion trAnSfoRM ConferenceClinton, IN
 Sponsor:Indiana Department of Education Office of eLearningPublic Event
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770 Wildcat Drive
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765-832-3551
+ 06/27/2015
09:00-03:00 p.m.
#ReadTL15 ConferenceReading, West Berkshire, UK
 Sponsor:Reading College (Reading, West Berkshire, United Kingdom)Public Event
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+ 06/28/2015—07/01/2015
ISTE Conference 2015Philadelphia, PA
 Full-day Seminar:Sharing Is Caring: Collaborative Google Apps ActivitiesPublic Event
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Philadelphia, PA 19107
800-428-9000
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+ 07/08/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
USD 242 Weskan Schools Staff DevelopmentWeskan, KS
 Venue:Weskan Schools
219 Coyote Blvd.
Weskan, KS 67762
785-943-5222
Private Event
+ 07/22/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Northeastern Middle School WorkshopFountain City, IN
 Venue:Northeastern Middle School
7295 U.S. 27 North
Fountain City, IN 47341
(765) 847-1331
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+ 07/24/2015
08:00-3:00 p.m.
Greater Clark Connected ConferenceJeffersonville, IN
 Sponsor:Greater Clark County SchoolsPublic Event
+ 07/28/2015—07/29/2015
Catching the Wave of eLearningLafayette, IN
 Sponsor:Indiana Department of Education Office of eLearningPublic Event
+ 07/30/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Seymour Schools Tech WorkshopSeymour, IN
 Sponsor:Seymour Community SchoolsPrivate Event
Venue:Seymour High School
1350 W. 2nd St.
Seymour, IN 47274
812-522-4384
+ 08/10/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Idabel Public Schools 
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+ 08/13/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Palmer ISD (Texas)Palmer, TX
 Workshop:Ditch That TextbookPrivate Event
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
Brandywine Heights Area School DistrictTopton, PA
 Workshop:The Digital PIRATE 
Sponsor:Brandywine Heights Area School District
+ 09/08/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Cascade Middle SchoolClayton, IN
 Venue:Cascade Middle School
6423 S. County Road 200 West
Clayton, IN 46118
(317) 539-9285
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+ 09/15/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Ditch That Textbook workshop @ SIECJasper, IN
 Workshop:Ditch That TextbookPublic Event
Sponsor:Southern Indiana Education Center
+ 09/23/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Ditch That Textbook workshop @ WVECWest Lafayette, IN
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+ 09/24/2015
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Ditch That Textbook workshop @ CIESCIndianapolis, IN
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 Keynote:Ditch That TextbookPrivate Event
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weLEAD SymposiumIslamabad, Pakistan
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Pakistan
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
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 Workshop:Ditch That TextbookPrivate Event
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+ 10/07/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Ditch That Textbook workshop @ Region 8 ESCDecatur, IN
 Workshop:Ditch That TextbookPublic Event
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
Ditch That Textbook workshop @ NIESCPlymouth, IN
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+ 10/12/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Tyler ISDTyler, TX
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08:00-03:00 p.m.
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Noblesville, IN
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+ 10/22/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
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 Workshop:Ditch That TextbookPrivate Event
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+ 11/10/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Cascade Middle SchoolClayton, IN
 Venue:Cascade Middle School
6423 S. County Road 200 West
Clayton, IN 46118
(317) 539-9285
Private Event
+ 11/11/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Hamilton Southeastern Schools (Indiana)Fishers/Noblesville, Indiana
 Full-day Seminar:Ditch That TextbookPrivate Event
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+ 11/14/2015
09:00-02:30 p.m.
Northeast Literacy RetreatFort Wayne, IN
  Public Event
+ 11/17/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Ditch That Textbook workshop @ ECESCConnersville, IN
 Workshop:Ditch That TextbookPublic Event
Sponsor:East Central Educational Service Center
+ 11/18/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Ditch That Textbook @ WCIESCGreencastle, Indiana
 Workshop:Ditch That TextbookPublic Event
Sponsor:West Central Indiana Educational Service Center
+ 11/19/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Elgin Local Schools (Ohio)Elgin, OH
 Sponsor:Elgin Local SchoolsPrivate Event
+ 01/13/2016
8:00am-3:00pm
Madison eLearningMadison, IN
  Private Event
+ 01/18/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Hudson ISD (Texas)Lufkin, TX
 Venue:Hudson Indpendent School District
6735 Ted Trout Drive
Lufkin, TX 75904
936-875-3351
Private Event
+ 01/26/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
South PutnamGreencastle, IN
 Sponsor:South Putnam SchoolsPrivate Event
+ 02/03/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Sheridan MS/HSSheridan, IN
 Sponsor:Sheridan Community SchoolsPrivate Event
+ 02/09/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Southern Indiana Education CenterJasper, IN
 Sponsor:Southern Indiana Education CenterPublic Event
Venue:Southern Indiana Education Center
1102 Tree Lane Drive
Jasper, IN 47546
812-482-6641
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+ 02/15/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Educational Service Unit #13Scottsbluff, NE
 Workshop:The Digital PIRATEPublic Event
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+ 02/16/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Rockford Public SchoolsRockford, MI
 Keynote:Ditch That Textbook!Private Event
Sponsor:Rockford Public Schools
+ 02/24/2016—02/25/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
ICE ConferenceSt. Charles, IL
 Sponsor:Illinois Computing EducatorsPublic Event
Venue:Pheasant Run Resort and Conference Center
4051 E. Main St.
St. Charles, IL 60174
(630) 584-6300
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+ 02/25/2016—02/26/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
ICE Conference (Illinois)St. Charles, IL
 Sponsor:Illinois Computing EducatorsPublic Event
+ 03/07/2016
01:15-03:30 p.m.
Mandan Public SchoolsMandan, ND
 Sponsor:Mandan Public School DistrictPrivate Event
+ 03/09/2016—03/11/2016
MACUL ConferenceGrand Rapids, MI
 Sponsor:Michigan Association for Computer Users in LearningPublic Event
Venue:DeVos Place
303 Monroe Ave NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49503
(616) 742-6500
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+ 03/14/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Concordia Lutheran HSFort Wayne, IN
 Sponsor:Concordia Lutheran High SchoolPrivate Event
+ 03/23/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Westwood Community School DistrictSloan, IA
 Sponsor:Westwood Community School DistrictPrivate Event
+ 04/13/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Wabash Valley Education CenterWest Lafayette, IN
 Workshop:Ditch That Textbook!Public Event
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Venue:Wabash Valley Education Center
3061 Benton Street
West Lafayette, IN 47906
(765) 463-1589
+ 04/18/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Monroe #1 BOCES (New York)Fairport, N.Y.
 Full-day Seminar:The Digital PIRATEPublic Event
Sponsor:Monroe #1 BOCES
+ 04/26/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Caesar Rodney School DistrictCamden, DE
 Keynote:Ditch That TextbookPrivate Event
Venue:Caesar Rodney High School
239 Old North Road
Camden, DE 19934
+ 05/03/2016
Paoli Community School CorporationPaoli, IN
 Venue:To be determined
Paoli, IN
Private Event
+ 05/25/2016
09:00-09:45 a.m.
Pacific Northwest Apprenticeship Education ConferencePortland, OR
 Sponsor:The Bureau of Labor and Industries, Oregon Building Congress and Oregon Tradeswomen Inc.Public Event
Venue:DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel and Conference Center
1000 NE Multnomah Street
Portland, OR
Register to attend
+ 05/31/2016
10:30-12:00pm
West Central Career CooperativeCrawfordsville, IN
 Venue:Crawfordsville Country Club
Crawfordsville, IN
Private Event
+ 06/06/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
PowerED Up ConferenceLeopold, IN
 Venue:Perry Central Schools
18677 Old State Road 37
Leopold, IN 47551
(812) 843-5576
Public Event
+ 06/07/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Making a Splash with Digital Learning ConferenceBatesville, IN
 Venue:Batesville Community School Corporation
626 N. Huntersville Road
Batesville, IN 47006
(812) 934-2194
Public Event
+ 06/08/2016—06/09/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Ignite Your SuperpowerLafayette, IN
 Venue:Sunnyside Intermediate School
530 N 26th St
Lafayette, IN 47904
(765) 771-6100
Public Event
+ 06/13/2016—06/14/2015
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Summer Spark (Wisconsin)Milwaukee, WI
 Sponsor:University School of MilwaukeePublic Event
+ 06/15/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
REMAST Conference (South Dakota)Brookings, S.D.
 Sponsor:South Dakota State Noyce Scholarship ProgramPublic Event
+ 06/20/2016
Indianapolis Sister Cities Int'l ConferenceIndianapolis, IN
 Keynote:Connecting Your Classroom to the WorldPublic Event
Sponsor:Indianapolis Sister Cities InternationalRegister to attend
Venue:Covenant Christian High School
7525 W. 21st St.
Indianapolis, IN 46214
+ 06/22/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Western North Dakota ESADickinson, ND
 Workshop:The Digital PIRATEPublic Event
+ 06/26/2016—06/29/2016
ISTE ConferenceDenver, CO
 Venue:Colorado Convention Center
700 14th St.
Denver, CO 80202
Public Event
+ 07/12/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
MSD of MartinsvilleMartinsville, IN
 Sponsor:MSD of MartinsvillePrivate Event
+ 07/13/2016—07/14/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Pulaski County Special School DistrictLittle Rock, AR
 Sponsor:Pulaski County Special School DistrictPrivate Event
+ 07/18/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Sheridan/Hamilton HeightsSheridan, IN
  Public Event
+ 07/19/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Launching INquiryFishers, IN
 Venue:Fishers High School College & Career Academy
13000 Promise Rd
Fishers, IN 46038
Public Event
+ 07/20/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Blended Learning SummitSalina, KS
 Sponsor:Smoky Hill Education Service CenterPublic Event
Venue:Smoky Hill Education Service Center
605 E. Crawford
Salina, KS 67401
785-825-9185
+ 07/21/2016
08:30-04:00 p.m.
iPadpaloozaEastTXLongview, TX
 Keynote:Ditch That Textbook!Public Event
Sponsor:Region 7 Education Service CenterRegister to attend
Venue:Pine Tree High School
900 Northwest Drive
Longview, TX 75604
(903) 295-5031
Get more information
+ 07/22/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Tyler ISDTyler, TX
 Sponsor:Tyler ISD 
+ 07/25/2016—07/26/2016
E3 Technology ConferenceWarsaw, IN
 Venue:Warsaw High School
1 Tiger Lane
Warsaw, IN 46580
(574) 371-5098
Public Event
+ 08/01/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Catholic High SchoolNew Iberia, LA
 Sponsor:Catholic High SchoolPrivate Event
Venue:Catholic High School
1301 de La Salle Drive
New Iberia, LA 70560
+ 08/05/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Fort Wayne Lutheran Schools PartnershipFort Wayne, IN
 Sponsor:Fort Wayne Lutheran Schools PartnershipPrivate Event
+ 08/09/2016
Southwest School CorporationSullivan, IN
 Venue:Southwest School Corporation
110 North Main Street
Sullivan, IN 47882
(812) 268-6311
Private Event
+ 08/11/2016
Groesbeck ISD Tech ConferenceGroesbeck, TX
 Keynote:Ditch That Textbook!Private Event
Venue:Groesbeck Independent School District
1202 N. Ellis
Groesbeck, TX 76642
(254) 729-4100
+ 08/15/2016
Beggs Public SchoolsBeggs, OK
 Venue:Beggs Public Schools
1201 West 9th
Beggs, OK 74421
(918) 267-3628
Private Event
+ 08/16/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Etoile ISDEtoile, TX
 Sponsor:Etoile ISDPrivate Event
+ 08/17/2016
8:00-3:00 pm
Tech Academy 
  Private Event
+ 08/22/2016—08/23/2016
West Central School DistrictHartford, SD
 Venue:West Central School District
705 E. 2nd St.
Hartford, SD 57033
(605) 528-3217
Private Event
+ 08/24/2016
8:00am-3:00pm
Walled Lake Consolidated School District 
  Public Event
+ 08/25/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
Hillsboro School DistrictHillsboro, OR
 Sponsor:Hillsboro School DistrictPrivate Event
+ 08/29/2016
8:00am-3:00pm
Service Learning School DistrictDetroit, MI
 Sponsor:Service Learning School District 
+ 09/16/2016
New Prairie High SchoolNew Carlisle, IN
 Venue:New Praire High School
New Carlisle, IN
Private Event
+ 09/19/2016
Big Walnut Local SchoolsSunbury, OH
 Workshop:The Digital PIRATE: Tech Like a PIRATEPrivate Event
Venue:Big Walnut Local Schools
36 Harrison St
Sunbury, OH 43074
(740) 965-3205
+ 09/20/2016
08:00-03:00 p.m.
NH Best Practices in Curriculum, Assessment and Assessment ConferenceConcord, NH
 Sponsor:New Hampshire School Administrators AssociationPublic Event
Venue:Grappone Conference Center
Concord, NH
+ 10/12/2016—10/13/2016
Mississippi Bend Area Education AgencyBetterdorf, IA
 Sponsor:Mississippi Area Bend Education AgencyPrivate Event

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3 thoughts on “Do higher test scores mean higher intelligence?

  1. Students have been programmed during their toddler years to learn at a faster rate. Therefore they learn more. Also, we now teach how to learn, and not what to learn. Students are able to expand and build upon a learning foundation.

  2. It’s not that we’re smarter, just that we have access to more information at our finger tips. More information doesn’t equate to higher intelligence. Yes, people are exposed to more stimuli at earlier ages, but are not necessarily exposed to how to use such knowledge. Ever seen anyone trying to give change when the cash register/scanner goes out? Then there’s math class – some classes teach students how to use the calculator to find answers, but don’t explain the necessary pencil and paper procedural steps for finding those answers so that if the student had to explain them, he would not be able to.

    Intelligence is taking something that you learn or see, internalizing it, and being able to use it in practical ways. Yes, it takes intelligence to use/run a calculator to find the solution to a problem, but it takes more intelligence to use the math concept in practical everyday usage. I can get a recipe for a cake, but until I can put it together and bake a delicious cake, it’s just a bunch of words and numbers on a paper. There is nothing delicious about that.

  3. And yet we have all no doubt seen tests posted online from decades past (like this one from 1895 http://grandfather-economic-report.com/1895-test.htm) and know with certainty that students of today, despite their technical fluency, would be hard-pressed to pass it. Although I use a large amount of technology in my instruction, probably more than any other teacher in my building, I see that it has made an unacceptably large percentage of students lazier rather than smarter. If the instruction is not entertaining, they are not interested. It is a difficult conundrum.