What was Walter Lippman's critique of the Army Alpha tests?

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Lippman's primary critique of the Army's use of the Alpha Test was rooted in skepticism about the perfectability of the standardized test.  Lippman believed that the Alpha Test was not able to accurately measure intelligence, as it is too complex an entity to be measured in solely diagnostic terms:   "But 'intelligence' is not an abstraction like length and weight; it is an exceedingly complicated notion which nobody has as yet succeeded in defining."  Within this, Lippman criticizes the administering of the test as well as the idea that the test generators have themselves fully understood what "intelligence" actually is:

The intelligence tester starts with no clear idea of what intelligence means. He then proceeds by drawing upon his common sense and experience to imagine the different kinds of problems men face which might in a general way be said to call for the exercise of intelligence. But these problems are much too complicated and too vague to be reproduced in the classroom. The intelligence tester cannot confront each child with the thousand and one situations arising in a home, a workshop, a farm, an office or in politics, that call for the exercise of those capacities which in a summary fashion we call intelligence.

In a very progressive move, Lippman makes the argument that what is deemed as "intelligence" is not residing in one domain.  The construction of intelligence is one that can be seen in different arenas, and not merely in the classroom setting.  Lippman's thesis is that the Alpha test examines an intellectual or academic notion of intelligence and not a form of it that could translate to success in the Army's setting.  For this reason, Lippman criticizes the use of the Alpha test.

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