LOS ANGELES – Are children today less intelligent than children a century ago, as some test scores indicate, or are they smarter than they appear?
I.Q. scores are rising dramatically while achievement scores are falling. From a genetic standpoint, humans haven't evolved in the past 100 years. But, according to some experts, the average child of today is as bright as the genius of yesteryear.
The I.Q. gains suggest that environment plays a greater role in determining intelligence than previously thought. Researchers are pointing to crowded computer screens, video games, puzzles and mazes as the pivotal factor, and as the perfect training ground for the types of pattern analysis that I.Q. tests assess.
"[It] gives them a lot of problem solving skills because largely computer games, video games, they're based on problem solving, they're based on figuring things out," said Lisa Snell of the Reason Foundation.
That's the same multitasking, channel surfing, downloading teenager that — on average — does poorly on standardized tests in reading, math and science.
"You can't put in what the culture has left out," said radio talk show host Hugh Hewitt. "If the culture is leaving out attention span, it is going to be very difficult to compensate for."
So how does that translate into classroom performance?
"Well, it means that you won't score well on your achievement tests if you aren't reading books and practicing math," said William Dickens on the Brookings Institution.
Another explanation for the discrepancy between I.Q. and achievement test scores charges public schools with failing to keep up with modern youth's need for stimulation.
"It's really an indictment of public education that kids are really smart but somehow public schools can't tap into that," said Snell.