Unveiling Intelligence: Spearman vs. Gardner in Academic Assessment

In the early 20th century, Charles Spearman introduced a unilinear testing approach to gauge general intelligence (g). Spearman's theory, developed in 1904, emphasized a positive correlation among diverse subjects such as mathematics, earth sciences, and vocabulary. In contrast, Howard Gardner, in 1983, challenged the singular perspective on intelligence, proposing the existence of multiple intelligences (MI). Gardner identified seven distinct areas of intelligence: linguistic, musical, logical-mathematical, spatial, bodily-kinesthetic, intrapersonal, and interpersonal. According to Gardner, each individual possesses a unique combination of these intelligences.

Spearman's Unilinear Testing Approach

Spearman's theory laid the foundation for an environment that heavily prioritized obtaining high IQ scores and excelling in placement tests, particularly beneficial for academic pursuits.

The emphasis on a unilinear approach, however, has been criticized by Gardner. He argued that solely relying on IQ and test scores neglects certain intelligences and abilities that individuals bring to the workforce.

Gardner's perspective suggests that an exclusive focus on IQ test scores not only hampers an individual with exceptional talents from receiving appropriate education in their area of expertise but also potentially excludes them from the broader educational and professional arenas.

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Human beings are inherently endowed with various genetically determined forms of intelligence, which can be developed through practice and learning. Unfortunately, Spearman's approach tends to overlook this richness of human cognitive diversity.

Gardner's Multiple Intelligences in Practice

Despite the dominance of Spearman's theory, Gardner's multiple intelligences are gradually finding application in the educational landscape. An illustrative example is the case of Wallace Shilkus, a middle school technology education teacher in Illinois.

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In 2001, Shilkus embarked on a study to assess the relevance of technology education for middle school students, the impact of his instructional methods, and the potential role of Gardner's multiple intelligences in the classroom.

Through action research, Shilkus documented his teaching methods and their benefits, focusing on an activity involving CO2 cars. His findings revealed that students, engaging in the CO2 car activity, demonstrated proficiency in most of the intelligences outlined by Gardner. Notably, Shilkus observed transformations in both his role as a teacher and his students' approach to learning. By presenting material and requirements in diverse forms, Shilkus noted enhanced student performance, reinforcing Gardner's theory.

Implications for Intelligence Testing and Education

While Spearman's unilinear theory still holds sway, the success observed in Shilkus's implementation of Gardner's ideas prompts reflection on the potential impact of widespread adoption. Gardner's assertion that students are held back by traditional testing methods gains support through such practical applications. If Gardner's multiple intelligences were implemented on a scale comparable to Spearman's approach, the possibility arises that all students could excel, thereby increasing their chances for success in the workplace.

The contemporary societal landscape aligns more with Gardner's multiple intelligence theory. Knowledge cannot be confined to just two types, as suggested by Spearman's approach, and testing should reflect this diversity. The inclusion of various knowledge types in assessments, coupled with a departure from timed tests, could provide a clearer understanding of why some individuals struggle with traditional testing methods. Common sense, a form of intelligence often overlooked in traditional assessments, deserves recognition. A person may excel academically but lack common sense, and true genius, according to Gardner, lies in a holistic combination of intellectual capacities.

It is evident that IQ tests, as championed by Spearman, lack accuracy and depth in assessing the multifaceted nature of human intelligence. Designing a comprehensive test to identify an individual's all-around genius poses a formidable challenge. Gardner's emphasis on diverse intelligences opens avenues for reimagining intelligence testing, allowing for a more inclusive and nuanced evaluation of human cognitive abilities.


In conclusion, the debate between Spearman's unilinear testing approach and Gardner's multiple intelligence theory continues to shape the discourse on intelligence assessment. While Spearman's theory has dominated traditional education and IQ testing, Gardner's perspective offers a more comprehensive and inclusive framework. Practical applications, as exemplified by Shilkus's success, highlight the potential benefits of embracing Gardner's multiple intelligences in educational settings. The evolving understanding of intelligence in society today calls for a reevaluation of testing methods to better capture the diverse forms of human cognition.

Updated: Jan 02, 2024
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Unveiling Intelligence: Spearman vs. Gardner in Academic Assessment. (2016, Jul 20). Retrieved from https://studymoose.com/spearman-vs-gardner-essay

Unveiling Intelligence: Spearman vs. Gardner in Academic Assessment essay
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